Recently, there was a story in the New York Times (motto: "Our Motto Alone Is Longer Than an Entire Edition of USA Today") stating that Americans are no longer any good at singing. This is the latest in a series of alarming news stories about things that Americans are no longer any good at, including: reading, writing, arithmetic and manufacturing any consumer product more technologically sophisticated than pizza.
According to the Times, Americans used to do a lot of group
singing, dating back to the days when hardy pioneers crossing the prairie would entertain themselves by sitting around the campfire and singing folk songs such as:
Home, home on the range
Where the deer
And the antelope plAAACK
"AAACK" was the musical sound that the hardy pioneers made when their larynxes were punctured by arrows shot by prairie-dwelling Native Americans, who couldn't stand that song. Another one they hated was "Mister Froggy Went A-Courting," which inspired them to invent the Anthill Torture.
Nevertheless, public group singing remained popular until modern times, when it has been hurt by two factors:
1. The elimination of religion from the public schools. At one time, most public schools held Christmas programs, wherein the children sang Christmas carols. Eventually this was viewed, correctly, as unfair to other religious groups, so the schools started holding winter programs and including songs from other religions, starting with Judaism and gradually expanding, as society got more sensitive, to include Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Scientology and the Cult of the Big Lizard.
Finally, to avoid offending anybody, the schools dropped religion altogether and started singing about the weather. At my son's school, they now hold the Winter Program in February and sing increasingly nonmemorable songs such as "Winter Wonderland," "Frosty the Snowman," and -- this is a real song -- "Suzy Snowflake," all of which is pretty funny, because we live in Miami. A visitor from another planet would assume that the children belonged to the Church of Meteorology.
2. The rise of rock and roll. Let's face it, this is not the ideal music for group singing. The family is not going to gather 'round the old upright piano and belt out a hearty chorus of "Shake Your Groove Thing."
The result is that fewer and fewer Americans can sing. I have seen stark evidence of this in my own office. One of my co-workers, John Dorschner, has a song stuck in his head and can't get it out. You've probably had this happen to you. Your brain, which is easily the most overrated organ in your body when it comes to intelligence, suddenly decides to devote an entire lobe to a certain song. Sometimes it's a song you don't even like, but your brain plays it over and over and over, especially when you're trying to sleep. You're lying in bed, thinking to yourself, "Big day tomorrow! Got to make a major presentation to top management. Got to get some shut-eye." And just as you're about to lose consciousness, your brain shrieks:
It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to!
Cry if I want to! Cry if I want to!
You try reasoning with your brain, then speaking sternly to it, then pounding on its door and threatening to strangle it, but it continues shrieking this song until 4:30 a.m., when you finally fall into a fitful sleep, marred by a recurring nightmare wherein you inform the entire board of directors, using audiovisual aids, that they would cry, too, if it happened to them.
Leading physicians agree that the only way to cure this condition is to go up to another person and say: "I can't get this darned song out of my head!" Then you sing the song, and suddenly, boom, it's gone from your head, because now it's stuck in the other person's head.
John has been trying to infect me with his song for several months, but, like an increasing number of Americans, he can't sing. About once a week he sticks his head into my office and says: "Are you sure you don't know this song?" And then he makes a series of noises that, if you didn't know they were supposed to be a song, you would assume were the desperate moans of a woodland creature that has somehow become lodged in John's trachea.
"Unnhh unnh unhh," moans the creature.
"The chorus goes 'Keep a-rollin',' " adds John, looking at me hopefully.
"Don't know it!" I say. "Sorry!" Although of course I am actually happy. Shoulders slumped, John wanders off, looking for another potential victim to infect. According to the New York Times, we're going to see more and more unfortunate victims like John unless we, as a nation, start singing together again. So come on! Put your ear next to the newspaper and join in with me now!
Oh, I come from Alabama
.` With my banjo on my knAAAACK *