Opinion

Why I Can't Listen to People Singing

I'd like to teach the world not to sing, for perfect harmony.

New York City's Naked Cowboy joins protesters and supporters on the National Mall for the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C.
Jessica Kourkounis, AFP

My son has had trouble falling asleep recently. Maybe he’s having disturbing thoughts about the occupation. Maybe it’s the picture of the chick from the Luli television channel, with the evil look in its eyes, that’s chases him into his sweet dreams.

He should go to sleep already. Good night, my son. I know you’re tired. I’m tired, too. The world is tired. The highways are tired. The sidewalks are tired. The sky is tired. The kiosks are tired. The washing machines are tired. The mailboxes are tired.

I shove in his pacifier. He’s not convinced. His eyes are wide open, as if he had five double espressos. He refuses to sink into the arms of sleep. Tosses from side to side. It’s 9 P.M. and I still have to finish the third episode and start the fourth of “Stranger Things,” Winona Ryder’s series on Netflix. I whisper into my son’s ear, “Winona Ryder is the perfect woman. So beautiful and delicate. Why isn’t your mother Winona Ryder?”

He starts to cry. Seems he’s not a Winona Ryder fan. He didn’t grow up with “Beetlejuice” and “Reality Bites.” What does he know about life? His crying increases in intensity, like a siren. He has no plans to fall asleep.

I don’t know what to do. What would Winona do? I check Wikipedia. Winona Ryder is 45. She has no children. Hasn’t the time come to have children, Winona? Forget it, it’s none of my business. I’m a liberal guy, Winona. Don’t let the pressures of the hetero-normative society get you down, Winona. You don’t want children? I get that. You don’t need children; you’re Winona Ryder. Have a great time, Winona Ryder. Take advantage of every moment, Winona Ryder. Forget about children, Winona Ryder.

What now? It’s 10 P.M. already and I’m exhausted. Done for. My partner comes to help. She pulls out the doomsday weapon: a lullaby. Oy vey, anything but that! As long as she doesn’t start to sing. Oh look, she’s starting to sing.

I flee the bedroom. Shut my ears. Hide under the sofa. Her melody penetrates, against my will. She sounds like a combination of Dana Berger, Billie Holiday, Debbie Harry, a jar of honey and a bicycle horn.

I’m overcome with terrible embarrassment. I’m completely incapable of listening to people sing; I find it unpleasant. Like entering your parents’ bedroom while they’re having sex, and then slamming the door and fleeing. Singing and sex are similar activities. In both you strip away everyday norms and values you thought you had. You go outside yourself. You feel a release. Suddenly you begin to have intercourse and to sing. It’s an abnormal thing. You make funny movements with your body and face. Strange noises. For a generation of people who are busy maintaining their image and being tasteful at all costs, singing is a reminder that we’re all human. But who wants that? It’s embarrassing to be human.

When someone sings, he’s actually declaring: I have dropped all of my defenses. The armor of self-awareness. I’m exposed. I’m now open to judgment and criticism. We keep sex behind closed doors. Only our sexual partner will judge us. But singing is no longer an intimate act. It’s extrovert. It belongs to the masses, with reality shows like “The X Factor” and “The Voice,” as part of the overall self-realization project of the human race.

Everyone’s a singer because everyone has something to say to the world. Even when singing a lullaby to his son. It’s an almost irresistible urge: A person sings because he thinks his voice is pleasant, unique. Because everybody sings. Nobody keeps his mouth shut. More and more people are suffering from social anxiety, because they thought they were special, but have discovered that they’re just like everyone else. They’re part of the crowd, but they deny that crowd and are alienated from them, which creates a neurosis that in turn becomes terrible embarrassment. The crowing rooster doesn’t want to know there are millions of other crowing roosters. Just like you don’t want to know your parents have sex, just like you.

What is embarrassment? Walking by someone sitting on a park bench who’s holding an acoustic guitar and singing a song by Aviv Geffen or Radiohead. His face is contorted in exaggerated self-importance. He’s over-expressive. Externalizes every letter, every syllable. He means every word. He’s earnest. When was the last time you met earnest people? Interpersonal relationships in Western society are based on distance and concealment. Yet here, suddenly, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the street, a man is singing – just like that, to himself.

You avert your gaze. You feel like burying yourself somewhere. You start walking faster. The main thing is to get away from him. As an observer, you have to be embarrassed. You’re embarrassed for him. You’re embarrassed for yourself. You’re embarrassed for all of humanity.

Some people aren’t embarrassed by anything. They open their mouths without fear. I envy them the way I envy adult-movie actors. And I’m equally confused. My greatest fear is that the people around me will suddenly start singing. Imagine a horror film where, instead of zombies, people are singing. It’s called a singalong, and it’s Zionism’s worst invention.

Mankind’s best invention is karaoke. There’s a reason why it’s become one of the most widespread and popular leisure activities in Israel. People all over the country sing karaoke in private rooms, clubs, rented apartments and homes. They sing and drink huge quantities of alcohol, take drugs and turn up the volume.

Karaoke allows us to try and fight the existential embarrassment caused by singing. Karaoke removes the barriers of shame. People aren’t embarrassed when they sing karaoke. They feel comfortable. Their consciousness becomes blurred. They lose themselves. They scream and sing songs by Static and Benel Tavori off-key. When the loudspeakers fall silent, the music stops and the alcohol fumes evaporate, they’ll once again be embarrassed and ashamed. Because that’s the natural state – for some of us, at least.

“Stop singing,” I tell her. “That’s it, he’s fallen asleep.”

“But his eyes are open,” she replies.

“He’s fast asleep.”

“He isn’t,” she insists.

“He is, too. Stop singing. I’m begging of you. It’s not karaoke. It embarrasses me.”

“What embarrasses you?” she asks.

“Your voice. It reminds me of an audition on ‘A Star is Born.’ I can’t stand it when you sing. I find it unpleasant.”

“That’s your problem!”

She continues to sing. She’s purposely defying me.

“Look, he’s closed his eyes,” I say, pointing at him. “You’re preventing him from sleeping.”

“I’m calming him down,” she says.

“Leave him alone. He’s sleeping,” I persist.

“He’s still not at the deep sleep stage.”

She opens her mouth and sings, “Good night, good niiight, good ni-i-ight.” Lyrics: stupid. Music: folk tune.