Before I get into why the tune below stirs me, it deserves some background. Calum Scott was an essentially undervalued voice before 2015. He had some marginal success in local cover bands and the like, but never really broke through to what most would consider mainstream. His younger sister, Jade, who had discovered her own freedom on little stages, began years prior to both emulate and push him. Eventually, partially as an act of support for his determined sister, he agreed to accompany her to auditions for Britain’s Got Talent a couple of years ago. In what would become a bittersweet irony, he and his sister both auditioned, one after the other, the same night. His sister went on first and, while I choose to believe she was derailed by her nerves and a poor choice of song, she was panned by the judges, especially Simon Cowell (who made her switch to another song altogether midway through her opening vocals). In an instant, the confidence she had in her dream was crushed, discarded and forgotten; you could almost see the oxygen atoms being lassoed and yanked from the air immediately around her. Obviously, I don’t know her and have no idea how she internalized and processed that moment, but I do know she was wholly redeemed moments later by someone who loves her dearly. As Calum took the stage, mindful of his sister’s rejection and anchoring her time and again with a sidelong glance as she stood behind the curtain at the edge of the stage, the weight of that moment had to be regretfully heavy—and singularly important. With his chin up and a upon a matter-of-fact face, he went on to sing alongside a piano-driven, more soulful interpretation of Swedish singer Robyn’s 2010 lead single, which up until then had been more the staple of after-midnight dancefloors than the stuff from which emotionally powerful ballads were made. He almost instantly became internationally famous for it.
Now, while I do like hitting the movie theater once a fortnight or so, I’m not an avid watcher of television. I’ve never even seen an entire episode of Britain’s Got Talent; however, I did once have a short-lived faithfulness to The Voice every week with my daughters. I’m the furthest thing from a celebrity junky, and I couldn’t off-cuff tell you the name of even one of the Pitt-Jolie children. I’m more likely to have seen a shooting star than three minutes of the most popular show on any network. I wake up daily to an average, fairly mundane life. I have a job. I have three extraordinarily time-consuming daughters. And I have little more than the daintiest dream, as it stands, for what stories should be written about me on the pages of a year-from-now.
That said, I’m no expert on Calum Scott nor am I aiming to pen his biography. I’m really not an expert of any kind. But I am a fan of and grateful for moments where ordinary people do jaw-droppingly breath-stealing things. And the way this song broke is the first half of such an example. The second half, the reinterpretation of the song itself, is something so special that it didn’t really need the backstory for legs of its very own. I love it for its simple and sweetly lilting piano strokes. Only those close to me know that I’ve had a love affair with the piano since I was a kid. I can’t read music; if I could, I’d be the first in the family. But that didn’t stop my dad’s father and uncle from becoming well-known on the keys. And it didn’t keep me away from the Wurlitzer upright I grew up with, saving me from countless meandering hours of only-child, latch-key boredom. That piano became a portal into a far-off, fantastical place. I figuratively fought a thousand wars with stones flung from those ebony and ivory slings. In the crucible of those battles, it also became one of my closest friends. It wept when I played, and I dreamt when it played. There was even a years-long period of time when weekend evenings belonged only to me and a family member’s mostly in-tune grand, centrifuging emotions into a vast vortex filled with so much melancholy, redemption and hope. To this day, I can hardly stay away from a buttless piano bench.
Then, there’s this guy’s voice. You have to pay attention but he sings from the pit, that darksome hole through which only he knows the way. We have no need to have been where he’s gone, because we can feel every step of the journey in the marrow of our bones. All his feelings implode upon themselves, like a singularity, and the resulting supernova blinds us, filling our eyes with water. It’s real. It’s astoundingly emotional. All at once, it’s as if we’ve been teleported back to our own childhood wishes, wrongs and regrets. There, we look pensively into the mirror. We’re sorry and grateful, broken and mended, childish and wise—at the very same time. We’re left in a condition of suspended animation, a state of stillness. Perhaps, it’s almost as if we’ve felt the pangs of our own heartbeat for the first time: a newborn with all of life laid out in front of us like streaking arcs of electricity. This is how we know a song slices cleanly through to something incredibly important deep within us. Because, after hearing it, if we’re not compelled to cry out, to loosen our grip on what we cannot control, to tighten our jaw and push up from the ground, to stand and take at least one half-faltering step forward—well, then, we’re already husks after the shucking.
My personal experience, even recently, empathizes with the lyrics of the song. The sometimes unwanted good-bye, the wilt of rejection, the way tenderness takes on the shade of jade and the ebb and flow of wistfulness are all feelings unforgettably familiar to me. We’ve all had moments that could be described by the singer’s words, emotionally magnified beneath the lens of the way he wields them. We’ve all, at some well-remembered time in our lives, had a heart condition that came close to killing us. But that’s not why I’m sharing the song, to hang sour remembrances in a frame of sound.
Contrarily, I’m sharing it because we should dance anyway. Even when alone, abandoned, cornered and crestfallen, we must. Especially then. There is no song without a sung-to soul, even if it’s just us in the car on the way to work in the mornings. We owe it to ourselves to be that tenor and tune, to be a pair of ears that truly listen, to be vulnerable and shapeable, to be that openly humbled and, thereby, height-hurdling heart. We owe it to the hope in us, however seemingly distant, to always keep a little gas in the tank and a shake of shimmy in the leg. Because the next song played might be one we haven’t heard yet—but need to.
Believe it: we are magnificently good dancers, all of us in our own right. We belong on the dancefloor of life. Dance to whatever song spins you. But snap, spin, slide and leap. Pop a collar, catch a groove and try to find the edge of crazy. When your dizziness subsides, you’ll find you’re not at all invisible. Not to those who matter and, probably more meaningfully, not to yourself.
Poetry: Alms For An Almanac