Thursday, March 4, 2010

On Being Real (Or, The Cheryl Lynn Revival)

In 1978, Cheryl Lynn released her pop hit, Got to Be Real, which I danced to in my bedroom, stereo blasting, heart and mind pumping with the notion that, at twelve years old, I had it together because I was being real!

Though the song has very few lyrics, this pre-teen was a deep thinking, introspective, and contemplative girl. I analyzed the hell out those words (to be real, got to be real, it’s got to be real, to be real) and determined that I was the genuine article being true to myself. Of course, I now realize that I had no idea of how much time it would take me to actually be real. I also realize that the song talks about real love and has nothing to do with self-actualization. But for my purposes, this is irrelevant.

I was given the chance to reaffirm my faith in Cheryl Lynn’s lyrics a few years ago, when I started hearing her song again on the radio. Or maybe it was in that Sex and the City episode, The Real Me. Or was it in a commercial targeting Generation X? I don’t remember. What I do remember is that the girl in me wanted to jump to her feet, throw her hands in the air, and dance her heart out. Which is exactly what the advertising executives wanted to happen.

Those ad execs didn’t count on the fact that I would take Cheryl Lynn’s message to heart. Or maybe they did, those crafty devils. I began taking a personal inventory, which I believe everyone should do at least once a decade, and I wanted to foster my meditative side. It had been too long since I last felt I was being real, and I wanted that feeling back.

Sure, this sounds like a typical story of self-searching in middle age. But what people always forget when they rebuff that cliché is that there’s nothing wrong with following the crowd sometimes and making that effort to improve ourselves. Mid-life is called that for a reason. The average life span is around 80 for women, so the middle seems the perfect time to stand on the top of that peak of life and dig deeply into your heart before being bold enough to look down that hill and say, Okey dokey, here I go.

And speaking of metaphors, I do think life is like a ski slope. You spend the first half on the ride up, dangling your feet on the ski lift, looking at things from a distance, feeling excited about moving on, and anticipating the adventure of what is yet to come. Then it is time to exit the lift and ready yourself for the journey down. The ride down the slope is much faster as time travels more than twice as quickly as it did while you were twiddling away on the ski lift. On the way down, images fly by in a blur. The wind feels so fresh and invigorating. You are flying while still grounded, and the thrill is beyond measure. A few moments into the ride, you suddenly become terrified that you will reach the bottom too soon, which will rob you of that feeling of being so alive and end the fantastic voyage.

Here is where the allegory ends because, unlike in life, you can always get back on the ski lift and do it all again.

But getting back on my tangent, the renewed popularity of Cheryl Lynn’s song is really a beautiful thing for my generation. We first heard it in adolescence while struggling with the fruitless dreams of understanding ourselves. And now we hear it again as a revival of what it means to know yourself and finally, after so much waiting, have the wherewithal to be real.

Back in 1978, I played Cheryl Lynn’s song on my album, and now I listen to her on my iPod. But no matter the media, the song remains the same, as I throw my hands in the air, ignore all inhibition, and dance in my living room, knowing that I have no other choice.

I’ve got to be real.


  1. I'm with ya, Wendy! Loved the analogy on the ski slope, even though I've only skied twice in my life and it was YEEEARS ago. Couldn't recall the song, so I searched it on itunes and bought it immediately. Now excuse me, while I dance alone in my living room.

  2. Yay for you, Aleigh. (So do I get a kickback from itunes?)

  3. Maybe we can get back on the ski slope (reincarnation). We just don't remember the other times we flew down the mountain. ;)
    Love Got to be Real. Dance on!

  4. I love it! I can imagine you dancing...and it makes me smile. :)