Monday, March 28, 2011

Slip Away

Dissolver of sugar, dissolve me,
if this is the time.
Do it gently with a touch of a hand, or a look.
Every morning I wait at dawn. That's when it's happened before. Or do it suddenly
like an execution. How else
can I get ready for death?

You breathe without a body like a spark.
You grieve, and I begin to feel lighter.
You keep me away with your arm,
but the keeping away is pulling me in.

Pale sunlight,
pale the wall.
Love moves away.
The light changes.
I need more grace
than I thought.  Rumi

When we were all gathered in Pam's house just before her funeral I plied her friend Sue with questions. Sue told me that a week before this moment, Pam's death, they sat together here. In this Pam's living room we sat with our grey faces where my sister spent many hours knitting and reading and watching television. With it's pea green walls, it's glass doors and it's gossamer curtains covered in bees. Sitting in her little white armchair she said to Sue a week before this awful shock, 'Sue, don't you sometimes wish you could just slip away?' Like she might have wished to do at one of mum's parties, slip out of a side door into the night, unnoticed. Like she used to do as a child, everyone talking up a storm when suddenly someone would say,'Where's Pam?'

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Punch-Drunk Singer

Me on the left and Pam at a cabaret she arranged at The Slipper Room, New York

Singing has been a big issue in my family. From as early as I can remember I was forced to sing. Oh come, come Jane 'forced' is a strong word isn't it? Not in my book I say, twitching nervously. I have been blessed (or cursed?) with a robust singing voice, and since my mother passed it on to me she thinks she gets a say in what I do with it. Singing was the be all and end all to my mum. For God's sake don't tell her about this bloody post. Look mum if you do happen to read this, I love you it's just some of your hopes and wishes for me that were hard to take OK? Anyway the pressure was on from the start. I am the eldest of three girls and since Pam came in last she kind of got overlooked in the singing department not to mention everything else. A memory that encapsulates this for me is Pam as a baby in a baby bouncer. They’d just come in fashion so Pam got to test-drive one. She would droop over in this contraption as she fell asleep and just well hang there. A little baby hanging by a thread. Anyway being gentle by nature Pam didn't have a loud screaming voice so she mostly wasn't heard in our family.

I’ve got to the point in life where I’ve stopped singing. It has lost all its joy for me. I got all the praise and the pressure around it. I had a panic attack when I was seven whilst singing my first solo at Sunday school. It resulted in me singing the same line over and over as I watched the expectant grin on my dad's face turn into a look of horror. Then a teacher kindly led me away. This event may well have been a pivotal moment regarding my future as a singer. Anyway I’ve been pushed too much and now singing sticks in my throat. I’ve lost the will to sing. If I hear my parents complain one more time because I am not on the X Factor (English version of American Idol) I think I'll have to be locked away in a padded cell. This is how I feel at the mention of the S word now...

I did join a madrigal group last summer and this I enjoy, no overtones of Frank Sinatra here. Instead a welcome hey diddle diddle of country fayre a far cry from the crooning that now makes me feel like throwing up. The whole sorry business was summed up for me after Pam’s memorial service when we gathered at mum’s golf club. About six friends of my parents were left chatting with us when dad suddenly said, “Jane are you giving a song?” You know like it was any old party. When I declined a woman friend of theirs who runs a night club, grew up in the fifties and has severely latent and blatant 'Rat Pack' tendancies said, ‘Well I’ll say this much Jane, what a waste of talent!”  I should have said, 'Oh sorry Norma you are quite right,' grabbed my top hat and cane and started singing ‘Give me the moonlight give me the girl and leave the rest to me!’ That would have been so fitting don't you think?  

Pam on the other hand didn’t realize she could sing until she was in her thirties. She didn’t even try to sing before that, well it wasn’t her place, she was the flute and piano girl. So one night at our parent's house mum was watching the Three Tenors on TV, her then favourite. Pam started to sing along in the next room and proceeded to surprise herself by how good she sounded. Mum shouted out, 'Is that our Jane singing?' To which Pam replied, 'No it’s me!' That was the start of Pam singing and she didn’t stop. I was already well on my way to my current dried up singer on the shelf self so as far as I was concerned she could have it. You see there was also the small matter of us being a highly competitive family so this could have been a problem. But since it took the pressure off me I was delighted. Although it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to muster enthusiasm for the business of singing no matter who was doing it. I had to snicker to myself at parties during Pam’s coming out years though. ‘Friends’ of the family would strongly imply in my general direction that Pam was by far the better singer. That old competitive spirit rearing its ugly head again. Who was competing? Not me, I’d had a belly full. Still it was nice of them to remind me what a precocious, big-headed singer I used to be thanks to the grandiose praise that had been lavished on me by my parents in their hope that I live out their dreams and become the next Barbra Streisand. Funny thing, it turns out Barbra suffers from nerves singing on stage too. Have you seen the film Shine? Let’s just say I relate. Not that I am in any way as gifted as this you understand...just the film is about too much pressure on him from his father..

Anyway Pam sang and she sang and she sang after that. Like a bird. She could sing like a coloratura and go much higher and faster on the trills than I could. This might have had something to do with the fact that she could make her eyes go very fast from side to side too. Quite amazing to see, like a nature spirit. She made lots of opportunities for herself to sing. She joined a band for a while in New York, sang in church every week and in the last year before she died she joined a dinner theatre cabaret in Newport. She could always be heard singing and whistling in the house something I never did. She could sing opera and even got into a prestigious music college in Leeds, which she decided not to pursue but that’s another story. She loved to sing that’s the top and bottom of it. She loved it, she wanted it and she did it. I’m so glad about that now.

 I have been transferring DVD tapes onto my computer, the ones that aren't getting chewed up by my stupid old camera that is. Oh I have to save them! There is a lot of footage of Pam that I can't transfer for fear of ruining it all completely. I do have some though like the Christmas I spent with her at her place in Long Island in 2002. Watching this film is heart-breaking. It is like she's just walked into the room, as I watch I feel how totally and utterly whacko it is that she is, you know... dead.  WTF?  Honestly I can watch it for a minute and then I have to turn it off because it is so freaky. That Christmas, just the two of us, I spotted an old Jackson Five Cd so I put it on and started singing along loudly, 'Whoooo's lovin you..' I was in the Jackson Five fan club when I was a kid and used to sing my heart out to them. So off I bellowed somewhat territorially, well I had been in the fan club! Pam became furious, her eyes flashed. She went into her 'I'm the youngest and I'm always last in line' stuff.  Like I said at the beginning of this story, singing is an issue in my family.  

Below is a hilarious recording of me singing along to the Jackson Five just like I used to when I was a girl. I taped it last week because I figure Pam would want me to sing. So I'm singing when I remember to. Every time I listen to this it makes me giggle I hope it makes you smile too! You never know I might rekindle a desire to have singing be a part of my life again..

Want to hear something lovely?

Click below to hear Pam singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, 2008