“Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”
I went to go to and see Bright Eyes when I was very young, and I became obsessed with Shirley Temple. In fact, I think I thought I was Shirley Temple for a while. There was a slight resemblance. I, too, had blonde curls and was a bit chubby. I had a Shirley Temple record and would sing along with Shirley. I remember singing, holding an umbrella, to I Love to Walk in The Rain, on the front porch, in the glaring South African sun. At my private, predominantly white, all girl, high school, I performed in musicals where the girls played boys and mostly everyone sang soprano.
On my matric holiday, at St Michaels in KwaZulu Natal, I discovered Leonard Cohen. That was it for me. I never looked back. He sang me through a lot of my life. Our wedding song was, prophetically, Dance Me to the End of Love. He died three years ago. Last December, my family and I had a karaoke night. My two nieces, my sister and her husband and I all took turns to stand on the plinth in the courtyard outside and belt out songs. It was such fun, probably the most fun I had had all holiday. I sang Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. A hymn to my lifelong friend.
I still like sad songs. The sadder the better. The other evening, I sent two of the songs I was listening to, on Spotify, to a friend of mine. He replied, to my surprise, with “Are you alright?”.
Singing and songs have been a constant in my life. My eldest sister and I used to sing a song from Chess- I Know Him So Well- while we washed the dishes. My ex-husband and I always sang to Johnny Cash, on long car trips. We sang to Danny Boy and Folsom Prison, loudly and sometimes operatically. We had camped around Europe when I was twenty-three and he was twenty-five. It was in Marianplatz, in Munich, where we first heard the Mongolian deep throat singers. The low, warbly singing mesmerised us.
I first left my husband when I was thirty-two and we were divorced when I had just turned thirty-five. The years between were joyless, to say the least. Divorce is tough. And I don’t know why it is so tough. I had been through my father’s death, but nothing had prepared me for the daily onslaught of self-questioning, misery and depression of those years. It is the dying of a dream and the end of possibility. There was not a lot of singing at that time. I used to drive around and around the block, in the suburb where we lived, because I did not want to go home. I do and don’t know why my marriage ended. We let it go and our relationship died. It ended. Maybe it would always have ended. I don’t know.
At the company where I was working at the time, a group of employees approached me and asked me if I would sponsor them to start a choir. They were mainly administrative clerks- I don’t think that their jobs were very stimulating. I loved the idea of the company choir from the start. I used to watch them rehearse in the downstairs parking lot.
We decked them out in magnificent choir outfits, and I arranged that they perform at a concert with other choirs. I went to watch them perform. They had stiff competition. The other choirs were very accomplished and had performed in front of audiences before. Have you ever seen a choir in South Africa? They don’t just sing, they move too- stamping feet, swaying rhythmically and clapping hands.
Our choir got on the stage to perform. I was very nervous. I remember standing on the stairs of the auditorium to take pictures of them. When they began to sing, and they were good, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy. There is no other word for it. It remains to this day one of the best memories of my life and one of the best things I have been a part of.
Singing is one of those things that human beings do that have no real purpose. But all do it. It is important, like art is important, because it makes us human. We sing when we’re sad and when we are happy.
This is a reminder to me: Remember songs. Remember to sing.