Tuesday, January 13, 1998

It's All Showbiz

Whether I'm right or whether I'm wrong, whether I find a place in this world or never belong, I've gotta be me, I've gotta be me. What else can I be but what I am?

When I was a kid I used to have quite the collection of dusty, slightly scratched 45's. My favorite, without a doubt was Sammy Davis Jr.'s I've Gotta Be Me. I played it so often the grooves were worn out, making the sound more hisses and pops than actual music. Didn't matter to me whatsoever. I just sang along louder than Sammy. And damn it I sang it with a lot of conviction.

I want to live not merely survive. And I won't give up this dream of life that keeps me alive. I've gotta be me, I've gotta be me. The dream that I see makes me what I am.

In a way Sammy was my first hero. I thought he was an odd looking man, with his glass eye, flashy clothes and jewelry, and sing out of the side of the mouth style. But he was short like me and that boomin' voice spoke the truth like no other. My sister was given a tape recorder for her birthday and somewhere there exists a tape of all my siblings and I doing solo renditions of our favorite songs. Mine of course could be no other.

That faraway prize, a world of success, is waiting for me if I heed the call. I won't settle down, won't settle for less. As long as there's a chance that I can have it all.

I didn't exactly have the luxury of Sammy's childhood skills. But how many of us can say we picked out the theme song of our life when we were a mere five years old? I knew myself even then. I haven't listened to the song much over the years. I do have a coffee mug with a mob of penguins in the middle of which stands one lone little guy belting out, "I've gotta be me." Makes me chuckle while drinking my morning coffee.

I'll go it alone. That's how it must be. I can't be right for somebody else if I'm not right for me. I've gotta be free, I've gotta be free. Daring to try to do it or die I've gotta be me.

Fast forward twenty odd years (and believe me odd is the correct word here) and quite frankly I'm more of a Frank man these days. That didn't stop me from pulling out my Sammy 45 this past week and singing and dancing in front of an audience of one, Mr. Max and an empty chair. He stared at me rather startled, and I'd like to think it's because he didn't know I was such a fine hep cat entertainer and not because he was annoyed by the volume of my singing and my clunky dance steps.

The words today mean something entirely different than when I was a kid. Back then it was an anthem of self expression, of justifying why I felt and thus acted different than the others around me. I didn't hear the isolation and questioning resignation in Sammy's inspired reading. But the words ring more true than ever before. To succeed is to learn there is only one person you can be and often it is too easy to be one's own harshest critic. You can spend a lot of time running away from a voice from the past that can remind you of a thing or two. The same voice is the one that manages to keep the dream focused and afloat.

A friend recently shared something she read that said that who we are is 10% of the things that happen to us, and 90% how we react to those events. It's a powerful thought because though we can't exactly control our lives we certainly can control how we feel about things and decide how we will act and thus shape the future. So instead of being crippled by the flat tire on the last day of 1997 (symbolism extremis?); the broken tooth suffered this week; the interview that went awry (and that ain't exactly a wry observation) where I failed to mention the single most important qualification I had going for me; I'm going to interpret and react in a manner that I haven't been recently. It was an eventful past couple of weeks, slipping down some slopes but look at it this way, at least I can be grateful that I'm not an actual skier. At least I'm not a twenty year old point guard trying to deal with Minnesota winters while looking for New York City nightlife. And that familiar blast of Arctic air? Just gives me the chance to wear my stylish new but worn before soccer coat.

The lesson being learned is that while the music can change, the singer ain't all that different. As long as there still is a song to sing things will be OK. The profound little singer had it right after all. Who is the only person who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew, cover it with chocolate and a miracle or two? And who can take a rainbow, wrap it in a sigh, soak it in the sun and make a groovy lemon pie? It doesn't have to be the other me. Finally, who can take tomorrow, dip it in a dream, separate the sorrow and collect up all the cream? Listen to the man. Just mix it with love and make the world taste good.

So one more time with feeling: I'll go it alone. That's how it must be. I can't be right for somebody else if I'm not right for me. I've gotta be free, I've just gotta be free. Daring to try to do it or die. I've gotta... BE ME. (Max scampers away.)

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