As a rule, I don't sing where people can hear me. It's a vestige of humanity that I cling to, along with liking dogs and despising the Yankees.
If I'm in my car, however, all bets are off. Can you hear me from the next car over? That's your problem. I know it's bad, but try not to drive into a bridge abutment, please.
My habit of singing in the car — together with my awful singing voice and my eclectic taste in music — has led to awkward moments. Take for instance the time one December when a neighbor pulled up next to me at a stoplight and caught me singing along with Handel's Messiah, specifically the part that quotes Isaiah 53:6. Since Messiah is an oratorio, bits and pieces repeat quite a bit. So the neighbor pulled up to witness me singing this at the top of my lungs:
All we like sheep
All we like sheep
All we like sheep
Which comes out sounding like "Oh, we like sheep!" The light turned green before she could hear the next verse, "have gone astray," which takes the quote firmly out of the bestiality-celebrating context. Her expression suggested that her children would not be trick-or-treating at our house any time soon.
Anyway, I'm not new to humiliating myself by singing in the car. But I got a new car last week, and with it a new way to humiliate myself.
The car has a high-tech stereo system that offers, among other things, a way to connect and control one's iPod or iPhone or other overpriced Apple device, a hard disk drive on which one can store music, and most dangerously, a voice-recognition system to instruct the car which music to pay.
Here we encounter my problem. My wife enjoys country music, which tends towards songs with simple words in the title like lost and truck and dog and beer and tractor, arranged in simple declarative statements and the occasional plaintive question. My tastes include some modern stuff, but runs mostly to classical music, particularly opera.
The designers of the voice-recognition system on this car apparently did not foresee that someone would be trying to tell it the names of operas, or bits therein, in their original language. The car responds by suggesting other songs, apparently at random, or possibly in an ironic way to mock me.
I have tried better enunciation. I have tried varying among Italian and German and French operas. As in all difficult foreign language situations, I have tried raising my voice and, eventually, losing my composure.
As a result, these are some of the things I have spoken in an unkind tone of voice to my car this weekend:
"No, NOT JOHNNY CASH. What about LE NOZZE DE MOTHERFUCKING FIGARO sounds like Johnny Cash to you, bitch?"
"JESUS CHRIST, you piece of shit, how do you get from TANNHAUSER to the Beach Boys? They don't sound alike at all. PET SOUNDS DOES NOT HAVE FALLEN KNIGHTS HELD AS SEX SLAVES TO GODDESSES."
"dongiovannidongiovanniDonGiovanniDonGiovanniDONGIOVANNIDONGIOVANNIDONGIOVANNIDONGIOVANNIDONGIOVANNIDONGIOVANNI I'M GOING TO KEEP SAYING IT UNTIL YOU GET IT DAMN YOU TO HELL!"
And so on.
I try not to do this at stoplights, but I've seen people on the freeway staring at me, so I may be getting kind of loud.
When I use the dial on the stereo to select particular music manually, the car reads it in a monotone bereft of all pronunciation beyond a faint dull twang, sounding like a cross between a circa-1980 voice synthesizer and a teen who has just been asked how school was that day. When I revert to trying to select music by voice, the infernal thing stubbornly reverts to suggesting completely inappropriate alternatives, using a tone of voice that conveys why don't you pick something a little less pretentious, asshole?
It's possible I'm not ready for the digital revolution.
I could go into iTunes and rename all the operas by their English translated names, and even rename all the tracks. BUT THAT WOULD BE SURRENDERING.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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