I was at the gym the other day when I noticed a young man staring at me intensely.
He watched me on the shoulder press and through four sets of lunges. He was about 18 years old, his face covered in a festering sheet of acne. I turned up the Sisters of Mercy on my iPod and mentally cursed him out. As I ramped up the speed on the treadmill, he came over to talk to me.
“I know this may sound odd,” he said, “but God is telling me that you need to pursue music.”
Yes, it did sound odd. I took of my earphones and asked him to repeat it.
“God told me that you will only be happy if you pursue music.”
I waited a few moments thinking he may take out a gun and shoot me or recite a litany of Bible quotes like the drowning DeNiro at the end of Cape Fear. No offense Christians, but sometimes you and your brethren scare the mother-living crap out of me. As a short-haired, tattooed, androgynous-looking lady, I’ve been given a lot of “messages from God” down through the years, most of them in pamphlet form with really groovy ink drawings of the end times.
“Thanks,” I said, slowing down the treadmill as a courtesy. He nodded and walked away.
Was this oddly dressed boy (a white, button-down shirt at the gym) boy a prophet? Am I destined to rocket to singing stardom? To dominate the iTunes charts? What color M & M’s will I not have in my rider? Who will I fuck? Who will I fire?
These are the things that ran through my mind on the ride home. I turned up all the levels for the new Ladyhawke album and sang like that shit was ordained. I sat through green lights and got the finger from other drivers. I missed the turn to my house and went up on the curb a few times. I was singing with pure abandon.
Maybe the kid’s right, I thought.
Maybe this is my calling. It could explain why none of my other career options worked out.
I actually had this thought for a minute or two as I sat in my car outside my house. Then I shut the car off and the music stopped. It was just me, a cappella. Nothing to mask the sound of my own voice.
Divine gifts don’t sound like that. I’m not being modest, here. I have no ear for keys or chords or tonal shifts. Soprano, baritone…it all sounds the same coming out of me though I’ve been taught dozens of times in church and school and by the various poor bastards who’ve had to supply me with lessons. I’m a top notch listener. I know and appreciate every subtle nuance. I can pick out the band’s influences and track them back like a family tree. So why if I know so much about music, can’t I make it myself?
When that strange kid approached me on the treadmill, I thought about going for another round of frustrating guitar lessons or taking up the tuba. I’m deep in a spiritual dry patch right now. I wanted to believe that maybe the answer had come to me that day at the gym. As a yogi, I try keep my channels and mind open to any messages that may ring true—even when I have a strong suspicion that those messages are bullshit. Having grow up in the Christian Church, I have a fairly refined bullshit radar. You have to.
So I called the kid’s bluff—no God would mistake me for Aretha or Stevie or Joan. I thought about this at a Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band show the other night. If you aren’t aware of this band, go on You Tube right now and look them up. If you’ve never seen a washboard shredded like a Fender, look them up. Please; do it for your booty and your soul.Photo: Jill Shropshire
It was hot and humid; an apocalyptic 95 degrees that day. My friends and I were so near the stage we could count the rings of sweat in Rev. Peyton’s armpits. We stomped, screamed and clapped our hands raw. We flat footed in unison. It was the first time in ages that my friends and I had gotten together to sing and dance and make fools of ourselves. We did this on the regular for years. Then we grew up and forgot how good it felt. How mandatory.
Music is one of the primary ways of worshipping anything: your country, mother, lover or god.
It is the ultimate expression of joy and the truest way to communicate pain.
Our heartbeats and our breath have a rhythm. The universe has a rhythm. We tend to forget this amidst the white noise of work and laundry and counting calories and checking our smart phones every fifteen seconds. And then there’s the precious space taken up by the Kardashians.
I have an old stethoscope that I put to my heart when I forget the beat. I cannot play the recorder (according to everyone in my fourth grade music class) or sing the national anthem without inflicting pain. But I have my heartbeat and my breath. I have two sturdy feet to stomp and two callused hands to clap. I can scream like a banshee. I can be a part of it because that’s what I was born to do. You, too.
So when I torture my Kundalini class on Tuesday with an off-key Ong Namo Gurudev Namo, I know they will understand. My boyfriend will understand. The people at the gym who laugh when I unknowingly sing Nicki Minaj on the treadmill (water bottles make a really good mic) will understand. At least I hope they will.
If you are lost: listen. And God is seven. Turn it up to 11. Namaste.
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger