FIRST: Program Update. I will be on 790 KABC radio tonight from 9-midnight PST. Among my guests will be Stephanie Edwards from Rose Parade fame. Join me. And tomorrow, I'll be on the air in Seattle. Details in the morning. Okay, back to today's post:
I’m not a great singer. Oh, I can fake it on karaoke night if everybody is drunk and I can carry a tune if need be for an improv sketch. But really singing – making someone swoon who wasn’t swooning already – that’s never been my strength. I always wish I could sing. It just seems like such a great outlet; a way to really let your emotions out without being diagnosed as a sociopath. How uplifting to be able to take a great song and do it justice. That must be so good for the soul.
So I envy good singers. They have a real gift. And yet, many of them squander it. How? By taking a wonderful song and stylizing the crap out of it, or worse, doing patter in the middle of it.
Barbra Streisand is a big offender of both. Maybe the finest pure singer of our time, she sends chills when she just sings a song as written. Take a modest tune like “Shadow of Your Smile.” Her rendition is just gorgeous.
But on other songs she flexes her vocal gymnastics to where the melody is unrecognizable.
AMERICAN IDOL has helped perpetuate this bad habit. There’s a big difference between “making a song your own” and “napalming it.”
And then there’s the patter issue. Watch a Streisand live performance. She’ll be singing a heartbreaking torch song like “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” and stop to ask some kids in the audience how old they are and make a joke about how young her audience is before returning to the song. In a sense she has obliterated the song. Any emotional resonance is completely gone. And if you’re not going to sing a song like that to evoke a mood and emotion then what’s the point?
To say nothing of the fact that it’s so disrespectful to the songwriter. How thrilled would Tennessee Williams be if in the middle of STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, Marlon Brando had turned to the audience and said “anyone know a good Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side?” You wanna talk to kids, Barbra? Unless it’s Depression Day on SESAME STREET don’t do it during agonizing torch songs.
Streisand isn’t alone of course. Singers I’m sure get tired of singing songs they’re known for over and over. They spice them up to keep themselves interested. But the audience doesn’t give a shit that you’ve sung “People” eight-gajillion times. They want to hear it the way they know it. Pure. Simple. Like the fucking record. Especially in Streisand’s case when audience members have all had to mortgage their homes to afford tickets.
I blame Sinatra and all that “Rat Pack” shit he started. Maybe the greatest crooner of all time, his “Rat Pack” albums are painful. He’s not entertaining an audience he’s amusing himself. There's another word for that and it starts with the letter M.
And Sinatra wasn’t funny. Not for a second. And what’s worse was that he thought he WAS funny. That's a lethal combination. Terrible racial jokes, insensitive remarks, bad double entendres, musty old clams – that was ole Blue Eyes' comedy repertoire. And all at the expense of the treasure trove of music he at one time sang masterfully.
Bob Dylan I put in a whole separate category. I went to Dylan concert and couldn’t understand one word he was singing or recognize one melody. He was three minutes into a song before I realized it was “Like a Rolling Stone.” What does it say about my generation when the voice of my generation slurs?
I guess I’m just a purist. Whether it’s Bono or Barbra, I want to hear the best most honest version of the song you can sing. Joke around after but when the music starts take me to where the songwriter intended. If only I had the God-given talent to be able to just show you what I mean.