Last week I added another character to the list of roles I’m auditioning for: I became the kind of person who spontaneously jumps on a bus to New York City on a Wednesday to catch a Broadway show by myself. This joins my resume along with a series of fortunate and unfortunate events, known well to all who have experienced the infamous life stage called Your Twenties™. My recent life experience includes being a paleo marathon trainer, a wine drinking divorcée, a full-time dog sitter, a professional nomad — and that’s just in the past 6 months.
But on this particular cold December night, the lyrics sung by that evening’s understudy became a siren song. The story of Carole King did for me what she always hoped her lyrics would: it made me feel like someone else has been where I am. That I am not alone, and I have a story to tell.
With everything that has been in the news lately, the topic of women’s rights has almost been worn out of the public opinion. Every time a controversial article is posted, we have to fight another battle of blurred lines and double standards, breaking the silence only to be met with words of those who don’t even listen to themselves when they speak. Rightly so, I think we’re all just a little exhausted.
But there’s a powerful thing that music can do. It awakens feelings in us that we have been denying, and reminds us of who we are. When I was young, I heard the word feminism and correlated it with a lot of the wrong things: women who yell, the art of hating men, and a doctrine that was a part of history, but a thing to be left in the past. Nowadays, feminist is one of the few labels in life I still identify with, because it’s so intuitive. I believe that all people should be treated equally and have equal rights — and it confuses me as to why that isn’t as common of a belief as the fact that the sky is blue.
I think the issue the every day feminist has is the tune to which our story is played. I just don’t relate to the songs I hear most of the day on the news. But every once in a while, when a familiar song comes on, it breaks something in you. As Bruce Springsteen once said, sometimes music can kick open the door to your mind, and you can’t help but listen to it.
I saw “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” on Wednesday night, which tells the formidable tale of its singer-songwriter namesake. Along with basically anyone who’s turned on a radio in the past several decades, I’d been a listener of her music for years, but I had never heard her whole story. Carole King is the embodiment of the sort of woman I aspire to be: she succeeded because of a belief in herself, and that she had something special to share with the world.
She didn’t do it in spite of men — in fact, she spent years working under them and alongside them to help her get to where she needed to be. She didn’t do so because she had so many powerful female role models — at times, her mother was downright discouraging, and her female coworkers ultra-competitive. She became a six-time Grammy winner, and penned over 1000 top hits, because she believed in herself. Carole King informed the sound of a generation of music because she knew what her gift was, and the world listened.
Storytelling has become a buzzword lately in the world I work in, but it is for good reason. A great story can change the narrative. And that’s what I’m hoping to do. I want to hear my song on the radio, but just like Carole, I’m realizing the only person who can write that song is me.
There’s a line in the show that becomes a central motif — when Carole sells her first song, it’s because her producer Don has noticed that “girls who write girl songs are very popular right now.” While this comment hints at the misogyny of the moment, or at the very least, pop music’s ever-changing focus on the next big thing, I heard it a different way. There is a strength that is undeniable about a girl who sings a song about herself, one that people of all persuasions can relate to.
My gift, unlike Carole King, isn’t songwriting. But I have the uncanny ability to never know when to stop talking — so I thought trying my hand at writing might be a good place to start. I don’t know that anyone will listen to the things I write or that they will change the world — but even if one person can hear it and feel the way I did Wednesday night, then it will have been worth it.
If it hasn’t become clear, I’m starting a blog. It’ll live here at first and eventually move to a place I can call my own. But I want to tell my story, and the stories who’s song I can relate to. I believe that the topic of being a woman in this world shouldn’t be worn out, and it shouldn’t be told by those who can’t relate. I feel a little like Carole did when she went out on her own solo career, but the words of her producer stick out to me.
Carole: “But how do you know that I’ll make it?”
Don: “Because you’re a girl who sings girl songs.”