On November 9, 2018

Rock and a hard place

By Dom Cioffi

The opportunities to sing were plentiful when I was a child. I just never had the guts to stand up and try it.

I belonged to a church where I watched people sing religious songs on a weekly basis. Obviously, there were opportunities to join the choir, but I would have never considered it. In my mind, singing was for “the other kids.”

On the rare occasions when my father would attend a service (usually Christmas Eve), I would watch him with awe as he belted out the popular hymns. He rarely sang, but when he did, he did it with projection and confidence.

I attended camps every summer where there was always someone with an acoustic guitar belting out songs around the campfire. I remember one camp counselor who played “Hey Jude” ad nauseam. I quietly joined in on the chorus when others were singing, but I would have never dared to dive into a verse as a soloist.

In grade school there were countless opportunities to sing in the chorus. But again, that was an activity for the other students. I was into kickball and baseball cards. I had no time for mincing activities like singing. And even when it was required, I usually only mouthed the words.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like singing (because I did), I just never thought I was good enough to do it in front of other people. Like most people, I assumed my voice wasn’t good because no one ever said it was. Of course, I never had a lesson or practiced, so how was I supposed to be good?

The funny thing was, music was a huge part of my life. I loved listening to albums in my bedroom; I had a huge collection of cassettes that I played in the car; and when I got older, I reveled in going to the live concerts of my favorite artists.

It wasn’t until after high school, when a couple of buddies and I decided it might be fun to start a garage band, that I finally gave it a shot. We had rudimentary skills at best, but we were determined to make some noise. It took us a few weeks, but we finally got to the point where we could play a recognizable song.

The problem was that none of us wanted to sing.

I suppose the other two were more adamant about not singing than I was so I became the vocalist by default. Initially, it was uncomfortable. I experienced the classic “mic fright” every time I heard my voice amplified. But then something interesting happened: the more I did it the better I got and the more confident I became.

After a while, I started to enjoy singing. I realized that it wasn’t so much about how good you were, but rather how confident you were.

Before long, I didn’t have a problem singing in front of people. I figured I was good enough to be acceptable. And for the first time in my life, I didn’t care what other people thought. The fact was, I now enjoyed singing and if someone had a problem with that, then that was their problem.

Singing and playing guitar became one of the most enjoyable parts of my life. Every apartment or house I moved into had to have a corner or room reserved for playing music. When friends would visit, I would try to coerce them into joining in for a singalong.

And then I got cancer in my throat and my ability to sing was taken away from me. I have no range now and while the gravely sound is distinct, it is difficult to use when interpreting most songs. I still play my guitar daily but I miss singing my favorite songs terribly.

I’ve been trying to get my son to sing in my place but he’s embarrassed. I realize that he’s experiencing the same fear that I had. I keep trying to tell him how beautiful and exhilarating singing can be but he’s simply not there yet. I can only hope that one day he figures it out and discovers the joy and musicality of the human voice.

Freddie Mercury understood this point. The lead singer of the rock band Queen was one of the greatest singers of his generation and widely considered one its most energizing performers.

This week’s feature, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” is the story of Freddie’s life, from his humble beginnings as an immigrant in Britain to his commanding performances as one of rock and roll’s most beloved leading men.

This is a satisfying biopic that music lovers will enjoy. The performances and visuals were dead on with poignant attention given to Queen’s music. Unfortunately, two hours simply isn’t enough time to do this story justice. Subsequently, many important events were whitewashed.

Check this one out if you love Queen or rock and roll in general. You won’t be blown away but you will be entertained.

A rollicking “B” for “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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