Helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless.

singalong, opus moreschi, flickr


I’ve always seemed to have a penchant for musicians with voices that have some character – the quivery Neil Young, the droning Leonard Cohen, the gravelly Lucinda Williams or Tom Waits, the nasal Bob Dylan, the symphonic Rufus Wainwright, the piercing Iris DeMent or the multi-layered Joni Mitchell.

I have, at one time or another, in both public and private settings, attempted to sing along to all of these artists (and many more) with a remarkable consistency. Bad (and that’s not a Michael Jackson bad). Off-key. Somewhat out of step. Just bad.

Nonetheless, this hasn’t deterred me. Whenever I hear a tune I particularly love (and there are many),  I am ready to belt it out and sing along. Without hesitation. Yet, as my children have grown older, public “performances” have been virtually eliminated due to their collective embarrassment while private performances are on a steady decline. I just don’t have the gift of a golden voice I guess – and my children are quick to remind me. Perhaps this explains why I have been drawn to such artists – their “savoury” voices are a good camouflage to my vocal prowess.

Now, I could blame this all on Parkinson’s Disease. Since being diagnosed 15 years ago, my voice has definitely weakened. I speak softer and am frequently being asked to not mumble or repeat what I have said. I cannot project my voice in any kind of crowd without amplification. I speak in more condensed sentences and often with pauses that I believe are sometimes physiological and other times cognitively generated. My mouth dries out constantly from the medications I am on.

This might be a familiar refrain to some. You may have heard the story of a brilliant singer whose career was tragically struck short by PD. After repeated commercial success and mercurial rise in the pop charts, this singer was silenced by Parkinson’s. That’s Linda Ronstadt’s story though. Not mine. I was never that blessed with musical talent.

Instead, I have been blessed with a deep appreciation for those with such talent. A joyfullness that comes from singing along to a favorite tune. An appreciation for healthy vocal chords. And a certain degree of vulnerability that still allows me – nay, requires me – to join in whenever I hear Neil sing….

Big birds flying across the sky,
Throwing shadows on our eyes.
Leave us…




11 thoughts on “Helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless.”

  1. Good one, Rob. I was listening to the McGarrigle Sisters’ first album again today. I ALWAYS sing along to “Heart Like a Wheel” and “Talk to Me of Mendocino”. Beautiful sings that bring one close to tears. How does that happen? Best wishes.


  2. Thanks Clive. You’ve just struck a chord. I didn’t touch at all (at least directly) upon the emotion invoked by music and how Ive noticed how much more quickly i am drawn to tears with PD – not just with music – works with tv, film, theatre – heck, life itself! Thanks for setting up future blog entry my friend 🙂


  3. Rob,I can’t quite explain it but when my drugs are not working and my speaking voice is muted,if the band starts one of the songs that I know and sing, I can belt it out louder and more in tune than when I am “ON”. A speech pathologist explained it to me, but my memory being what it is I can’t remember . Something about singing, because of its rythmical nature originates from a different chamber and is a different brain transmission than speaking.
    So I say ‘Sing ON!!!’


  4. Singing must lift the spirits. I need to try because I have such a hard time breathing. I’ M so happy for you and think it’s funny that you are so bad. But I mean that in a good way.



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