I refuse to over think this song list. These three songs will be the songs most impressive to my favorite or worst memories.
The first most important song to me is “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. Picture it: I am four-years-old in the summer of 1980, going on five in September, and my older brothers think it’s fun to place their huge, generously padded Koss headphones on my little head and press Play on their 8-track tape electric blue boom box. I know all the words of Queen’s Greatest Hits by heart, although some words I make up just to belt out each note in tune. Bohemian Rhapsody was the most fun to sing, of course, and I could punch out that high note with pure effortless joy. I wave my arms about like a lousy conductor, surely my face acts out whatever operatic characters I can muster, and after the song I desperately need some Dr. Pepper or Tang to refresh my pipes before the next song played. I could dig these items out between my parents sitting in the driver’s and passenger seat of the VW Beetle Bus. Just behind the tall skinny shift column sat Mom’s mustard yellow vinyl tote bag full of all the necessary refreshments for a road trip. My brothers, 9 and 11 years older than me, sat behind me, because, you know, they were cool. Only cool kids got to sit in the back of the bus.
The second most important song I can almost try to love again, and I might even try myself a cool jazzy version some day if I ever sing again. But for years this song haunted me: Somewhere Over The Rainbow. For some reason my grade school went through music teachers like a kid goes through sneakers. And every time a new music teacher heard my singing voice for the first time, they, ridiculously predictably, wanted me to sing Somewhere Over The Rainbow as a solo in the next school concert. By the time I was in sixth grade I should have been able to sign the song word for word in my sleep flawlessly and perhaps still with pride, but then it happened. I stepped up to the mic at the school concert, The spot lights flashes down on me and blinded me from the crowd. I stood there listening to the piano plink out the introduction and I froze. The words wouldn’t come to me. After what seemed like a grueling long pause, the crowd of adults started singing the song for me. Even some of the kids behind me started chiming in, until I could finally find my way back into the damn song the followed me like a shadow since Kindergarten.
The third most important song to me is “My Funny Valentine.” This song I sang well in summer music camp when I could finally get into a jazz concert choir. It spoke to me for many reasons, probably because I used to always have a soft spot for the unlikely crush. The creative guy with a big nose or the quiet guy with Elvin ears. But when I sang that song I felt like I belonged in a lounge bar in a slinky Jessica rabbit dress, wooing the crowd who played with the olives in their drinks. And the song sat in memory only for years until one summer night, after my husband had just sold three paintings or so at his art opening in Mr. Helsinki’s, boy days were different then, and we settled into the Bayside Tavern for open mic night. The Groove King was the hired guy to simply start off the open mic night, and the deal was he was supposed to pass it on to the next guy in line. You know, play nice and share. Well this particular night he decided to take over completely, hogging the tall side of the bar that was to be the stage. So eventually, as fellas came and left with their guitars, tired of waiting a turn, and as the Groove Kind slurred so badly the entertainment factor wore off, I simply walked up to the Groove King and grabbed the mic.
“Do you know ‘My Funny Valentine?'” I asked him. He sat smiling at my form-fitting black dress and admittedly coyly that he did not. I said, “Well I do,” and just started singing a cappella, “My funny valentine, sweet comic valentine, you make me smile with my heart…”
My friend’s sitting with my husband at the time looked starry-eyed and stunned. Literally jaws dropped. It was then I realized all my friends after college had no idea that I sang. At least that night, standing next to the whiskey-soaked local legend and watching folks order up another old fashioned with olives, that the Bayside Tavern was my lounge bar for about 5 minutes.