Belonging, Billboard Pop Chart, Black Males, Chorus, Code Switching, Context, High Falsetto, Identity, Masculinity, Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon New York, Music, Ostracism, Pop Culture, Pop Music, Race, Singing, Voice
I know that I’m weird, a freak, and if I were a quarter-century younger, a bit geekish. Well, maybe a geek in a tall man’s body with fourteen percent body fat. Music is one of those things that separates me as weird. Not just because of what I listen to from moment to moment. Smooth jazz to R&B to hip-hop soul to ’80s pop to ’90 White male angst grunge to rap to divas like Mariah Carey and Celine Dion. Few people I know — much less males, much, much less Black males — have any appreciation for eclectic musical tastes. But they’ve had almost no tolerance for my high-falsetto singing voice over the years.
Puberty was the reason I discovered it all. My closest friends and wife don’t believe me when I tell them that I used to be able to hold a tune. That in sixth, seventh and eight grade, I sang with my elementary school and middle school chorus. I was a baritone, and a decent one at that. But the voice changes of puberty cracked my voice and sent it into high falsetto in ’83, ’84 and into ’85, whenever I did try to sing.
So I went with it. Once I reconnected with music outside of school in the ’80s, I sang mostly in that ear-splitting, shaky and unevenly high tone and pitch to everything I liked. And that made me stand out, mostly as the weird guy with the Walkman that my fellow Black males made fun of for not being cool. Did I care? Sure, in an obvious, I-know-I-don’t-fit-in kind of way. But, did I care? For the most part, no. I knew enough to not walk down certain streets in Mount Vernon and certain part of the high school singing in that voice, walking to the beat of my own internal music box.
That voice was my release. As awful as I sounded in it, as imperfect and grating my tone, as much of a strain as I put on my cords, it was one of a handful of ways for me to experience happiness, joy, laughter. Other emotions besides rage, fear and anger. That’s what singing Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” and a-ha’s “Take On Me” well outside my normal vocal range did for me. It gave me a high without the benefit of pot, and a low without the benefit of friends.
Singing in high falsetto still brings a natural high. Except now, I laugh at myself while doing it, and I don’t care about the people who think I’m a freak because I sound like a buffoon. Damn right.