I know where I've been

I follow this voice coach on YouTube.

The girl is 14 years old. Russian. Eva Poklonskaya. I love how Cheryl Porter corrects her on the phrase "the road we've been traveling." She makes clear the black experience to the Russian girl. She is explaining to a Russian girl what that phase is expected to convey: the entire black experience. That phrase is what this song is about.

Queen Latifa sings this song in Hairspray and she does a very nice job of it. She is all over YouTube.

While other soul singers have picked up this song to give their lungs a good workout. They are all very good. Some of them for small town performances of Hairspray. Some of them are a little bit goofy with the other actors onstage. Some of the YouTube recordings are not very good.

I do like this one the best. The Boston Gay Men's Choir in the background sound like bees. Alex Maxwell holds back and then cuts loose with a performance that can break your heart. Listen for the phrase "the road we've been traveling" and see if it contains the entire black experience in America in one single line.

What does the song look like? 

There are several ASL versions and I hate them all.

What are you doing?

"There is a light in the darkness." 

Shown: "darkness, around, boink light." 

Yeah. That's the idea. But it's not the lyrics. It doesn't come close to the song. No cigar! 

And so they go throughout the whole song. The lyrics create a picture and that picture is shown in signs. But they do this by reversing the lyrics such that the signs no longer match the lyrics. You can get no sense of a gospel. The soul is replaced with mere sadness. 

One, two, three, four, five, they each do the same thing. 

And then a goofball comes along wearing a cape. His sign is not advanced. This is shown oddly by his translation being more of a transliteration. The very thing that I am talking about. His is closest to the actual lyrics. "There is a light in the darkness." He shows that as it is said.

This is the best that is available on YouTube.

CODA would express "where I've been" as "in the past." 

This is a backward karate chop at the ear. It's referring to everything behind you. It's used to express everything that happed in the past. Obviously, the opposite of that is "future." The sign we use for the English word, "will" (happen) in the future. So then, a karate chop forward for future and a karate chop backward for past.

You'll notice in the extraordinary video for "Somebody I Used to Know" the CODA signer uses this sign for that idea. But she doesn't lift her arm to her head to show all that action is happening behind her. Rather, she does this sign at her chest and so she forfeits the analogy of "future/past." You just have to know that is her style. That is how she learned this phrase in her family. 

"I know where I've been." 

"Know" is shown properly, the fingertips tapping the forehead because the head is where knowing occurs. We see this all the time performed lazily with the fingertips tapping the cheek as if lifting the arm a few inches to put knowing where it belongs is just too much trouble. 

And that's a shame because it conflates with so many other cheek-related signs such as "cousin" (female) and "peach" and "embarrass." 

But "where I've been" is shown "happen" and that forfeits the sense of the past. "Happen" occurs right now. He uses the sign for future but avoids the twin sign for past. He puts action in the future in this song but he does not put action in the past while the song makes a point of emphasizing future and past. And that tells me he doesn't grasp the future/past tenses available to him in this language and he doesn't grasp the thrust of this song. He is not feeling the black struggle. He needs a black vocal coach AND a sign coach. Nevertheless he is still the best interpreter of this song. 

The others are interested in conveying the pathos while abandoning the precise lyrics of the song. This interpreter stays true to the lyrics and conveys the pathos while not fully grasping the racial struggle and how that is expressed in these compelling and ultimately uniquely American lyrics. 

And all this in the play Hairspray. You'll find gems in the most unlikely places.

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