It took her nearly 95 years to hear it. When she finally did, you could see the look in her eyes as she sat in the car, staring hypnotically at nothing in particular as her vision seemed to fall just short of the dashboard.
I had come to train Rouye Rush on a Saturday morning at The Wellington—her senior apartment complex that had a small, but adequate fitness center. As I pulled into the main parking lot, I saw Rouye standing under a tall shade tree. I had been listening to music in the car when the thought occurred to share a couple of songs with her.
I rolled down my window and pointed to the passenger’s seat. “Why don’t you get out of the heat and have a seat. I want you to hear something.”
For six years I’ve been training Rouye, who’s hardly your typical almost-centenarian. There is a durableness about her physiology. Though her skin is thinning, it is the musculature beneath that refuses to weaken. A year ago she was sidelined from working out due to an outbreak of the shingles virus, leaving her legs aching and itching for weeks on end. But when she did return to the gym, it was as if she had never skipped a beat. Pushing 130 pounds on the leg press wasn’t much of a challenge. Perhaps the secret lies within her motivation. Ask her to throw a 20-pound medicine ball five times against a wall, and she’ll give you ten. Ask her to dribble a basketball in a figure eight pattern around her legs and, for the first time in nine decades, she’ll get it right by the third try without any sign of hesitation. While she knows her limits, and easily recognizes when something is beyond her abilities, Rouye has an open mind that welcomes trying something new. Even if it’s, well…a bit shocking.
Enter: Heavy metal music.
Sitting in the passenger’s seat next to me, I turned to her and said, “Rouye, before we hit the weights, I want to play some music for you.”
“Okay,” she said, “Let’s hear it.”
I had my iPod hooked up to my car’s auxiliary outlet.
“How many songs do you have on that thing?” she asked.
“Good lord,” she said shaking her head. “When does anyone find the time to listen to two-thousand songs?”
“I know it’s a lot,” I said chuckling at her surprise. “But I love my music.”
“Well, that’s pretty obvious. Okay, so what do you want me to listen to?”
“Metal. Heavy metal.”
“Metal? Of course it’s heavy.”
“Metal, Rouye, is a type of music. Like rock, but harder. It has an edge to it. It’s not uncommon for the singing to be full of rage.”
How could I have not lost Rouye? I might have been better off describing Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting in pig Latin.
Classic get-to-the-point Rouye stepped up. “You’re not making a lick of sense. Just play the song.”
“Okay, okay…but there’s a reason I want you to hear metal.”
“To show you just how talented these guys are—just how gifted their voices are. Trust me, you’re not going to like this first song. But bear with me, and let me surprise you with something.”
And that’s when I cued up my iPod to the song Down With The Sickness by the group Disturbed. All it took was the song’s opening tribal drum beat making way to David Draiman’s corrosive and guttural voice, to elicit a lifted eyebrow of uncertainty from Rouye. Approaching 95 years old, and I had invited her into my car to get a shattering head full of heavy metal. Could her morning start any worse? What nightmares might she potentially have had as she settled into sleep that evening? Gargoyles hovering above her, playing 12-string bass guitars? Or her freefalling into the molten caverns of inner-earth, while weighted down in a suit of medieval armor?
I made sure to cut those possibilities off at the pass, by playing just enough of Sickness to give her a taste of heavy metal music. There was no way I was going to inflict the entire song upon her. “What do you think?” I asked.
“What do I think? What’s he saying? Why’s he barking like a dog?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “A dog… ha! But, I know…I hear ya.”
“And this is what you wanted to share with me?”
“Actually, yes. But there’s more to it. You know…don’t ever judge a book by its cover.” I scrolled through my playlist of Disturbed songs until I found their version of Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound Of Silence. “This is what I want you to hear. It’s David Draiman—the same guy you just heard sing. But this is his other side that not only illustrates his passion, but just how gifted he is.”
All it took were the first nine seconds of a piano leading to Draiman’s tender and beautiful voice. So rich and captivating, you have no choice but to stop what you’re doing and listen. And if you’re Rouye Rush, you have no choice but to experience a reverent silence of admiration that slips you into a hypnotic trance just short of the dashboard.
Hello, darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
It’s hard to find a song that evokes as much emotion as this version. I’ll never forget the sight of Rouye Rush. Four months away from 95 years of age, and caught in the soaring notes of a heavy metal singer. At first impression, she’s not quite sure if the distorted style of his voice is, in fact, singing. But make way for her open mind, and moments later she can’t believe that The Sound Of Silence is performed by the same person.
“He needs to do more songs like that one,” she said. “It’s beautiful. Really beautiful. That song was meant to be sung that way.”
And that’s where I turned off the music, and we left the car to go work out in the gym. As we walked, I couldn’t help but look at her and think about how different she was compared to the ten thousand people mentioned in the song…
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
David Draiman’s voice had delivered the song’s message like no one had done before. And Rouye had not only heard it, she had truly listened.
Copyright Ros Hill 2017