I know what it’s like not to know the sound of your own laugh. Some people have distinctive laughs; the snorters, the guffawers, the gigglers but I was never brave enough to have a laugh of my own. I used to try on other people’s laughs to see if they would fit. I’d choose people I admired, copy their laugh and practise it till I got it right.
Sometimes I still hear the echo of a long ago friend or colleague in my laugh.These days it makes me smile but back in those days my own laugh sounded like a cynical shrug. I was too scared to laugh in case I was wrong to think something was funny, or in case a trick was being played on me and I’d look foolish. In such cases cynicism is by far the best attitude to take. But if I copied someones else’s laugh I had no need to feel vulnerable. I could hide behind it.
It seems that I’m not the only one who’s been too scared to express myself in my own unique way. I was listening to an album called Poet, a Tribute to Townes Van Zandt. Townes has been described as a self-destructive hobo saint and the greatest American songwriter of his day. His day ended in 1997 at the age of 52. He was a poet and a drunk, and fully committed to both. I put the album on and without having to look at the cover I could identify the singers; Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Nanci Griffith and Lucinda Williams. All of them with distinctive, individual, brave voices.
What’s happened to brave voices? Where are the Janis Joplins and Van Morrisons of today? Frank Sinatra’s voice was beautiful but it was still distinctly his. Even with the onset of age and toupees he still sounded like Frank. Now there’s just a bunch of wannabes who try to emulate Old Blue Eye’s vocal chords. Why don’t they find their own voice? Too scared or perhaps too cynical, wanting to go where they think the money is.
And what of the endless stream of popstars and idols? Where are their voices? They blend into one homogenous vanilla ice cream soft serve. None of them have enough face or faith to front up and be themselves. Where are the voices that will be remembered, that will travel through time because of their strength and their truth?
Ray Charles tried to sound like every other artist of the time before he found his own voice. It wasn’t until he was brave enough to be himself that he became truly successful.
I can understand that, I can relate to it. When I stopped being scared of what other people thought, I found my own laugh. And funnily enough, I started laughing a lot more.