The slide on the huge screen on the auditorium stage reads:
She's just a small town girl, living in a lonely world
She took the midnight train going anywhere
He's just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit
He took the midnight train going anywhere.
I have no idea what these words refer to. I gather it’s a popular song because
1. Jesse Manibusen, the presenter, guitar in hand, begins to sing.
2. Most of the audience chimes in.
3. I can add 1 + 1.
When they get to “Don’t stop believing,’” a part of my consciousness wades out of the fog. I've heard those words and those bars before.
A few minutes later, Jesse strums, If I Had a Million Dollars. At least that phrase, I’ve heard of. I even know how the first two lines go. But don’t ask me the rest of it. I don’t know the words. I don’t know the tune. I don’t know if I ever knew that the song belongs to the Barenaked Ladies. But I do recognize the name of the group. That’s some consolation.
Strike three comes a few minutes later. Jesse mentions Black Sabbath. Is that a song? A group? I have no idea. Someone mentions Iron Man. I think there’s a movie by that title. Is that what they mean? Is Black Sabbath the theme song of the movie? Once again, I am out of the loop. (Google tells me later that Iron Man is a song by the British group Black Sabbath. Who knew?)
As if to reinforce my separateness, I conjure up the harp that now adorns my living room. A few weeks ago, I purchased a harp. Not exactly on a whim; more a latent influence from time in Ireland and Wales. Who owns a harp? Hardly anyone. But I now own a harp. After two lessons, I am oriented to the notes, and I can play short songs with thirds in both hands. I’m proud of myself. Proud of my progress. Proud of my purchase. Even proud of my boldness.
Almost in telepathic commiseration, Jesse emphasizes two themes in his talk that resonate with me, especially in that auditorium, in that moment. He underlines the value of diversity and the critical role of acceptance in human relationships. He also reinforces the importance of stretching ourselves. “Escape the circus,” he says, “and live beyond the limits of the imaginary lid” of the box we put ourselves in. The harp takes me even further down that road.
I leave the session grounded in my identity. Jesse’s words compensate for my illiteracy in musical pop culture. That I could sing along to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” at the end of the segment didn’t hurt either.