Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Couldn't If I Tried

It's a lot like getting off one of those carnival rides, the shift from over-stimulation to just being always somehow jarring.

The three-hour "ride" was karaoke at Penny Lane, the ideal antidote after a staid meal in the service of my hired mouth. My last visit for karaoke there had ben in October 2009, meaning I was overdue to see what happens when you mix alcohol and hubris.

I found the place unexpectedly hopping, a sentiment echoed by the bartender who brought me my 1800, saying it had already been an unusually busy night because there were some things going on downtown tonight, whatever that meant.

Stray conventioneers? Post-event architects? Random Monday madness?

Not my concern because it was karaoke night upstairs and that's where I was headed. Things were just getting started with the DJ playing a three-decade range from Taylor Swift to Human League to New Radicals.

Inadvertently positioning myself near the counter where the karaoke songbooks awaited, I watched as would-be singers flipped through the book trying to decide what they could sing.

Two guys were at it diligently when the one in the plaid shirt said, "Okay, but if it's in the other book, I'm singing it!" Turning to me, he explains, "Judas Priest, "Breakin' the Law," best karaoke song ever!"

Well, considering I'd never heard of it, I'd have to take his word for it. Alas, it was not in the book, but that mattered not to him because he already knew songs that were in the book. He'd rehearsed at home. "It's not my first rodeo," he said with swagger.

But is it his, I asked, pointing at his befuddled companion, still unable to find a single song he knew the words to.

"Yes. He's my brother and I'm breaking his karaoke cherry tonight," he tells me. Surely that wasn't going to be pretty.

The only familiar face tonight was a bartender enjoying a night off, one who'd served me a few weeks ago and we fell easily into a service discussion when he said service weighs as heavily as food for him in determining where to eat.

Like me, he had no intention of singing unless, he qualified, he had enough whiskey after the beer to make it seem like a good idea. That, and he already knew a couple of songs with very limited talent demands. It remained to be seen if the planets would align.

Our host, Patrick, got the ball rolling, singing Barry White's "Can't Get Enough of Your Love," all the while adjusting the P.A., moving the small stage around and turning the speakers so they'd stop feeding back.

Barry would not have approved. You gotta focus when you're singing Barry's songs, man, like you're making love to a woman. No distractions.

Wouldn't you know it, the disappointed Judas Priest fan was first up, singing "You Got Another Thing Coming," and I counted myself among the few who knew his secret: that this wasn't his first song choice.

Meanwhile, remarks were made nearby that he should have rehearsed more, that he couldn't sing, but I'll tell you one thing. He did a full arm guitar solo during that song and he was much better at that than singing. Best part? His first-time brother filmed the whole thing, clearly delighting in the spectacle.

Who better to follow him than the newbie doing "Don't You Forget About Me," the tragedy being that he was constantly a note or two behind and when he got to the la-las part, put the emphasis on the wrong "la" every time. Eventually part of the audience began singing along so loudly his voice was drowned out.

It was somewhat of a painful baptism by fire to watch. But we like to watch or we wouldn't go to karaoke, now would we?

As a guy began singing "Dead or Alive," a woman walking by stopped in her tracks, addressing me. "Ooh, this is Bon Jovi. This is my jam."

Did that mean he shouldn't be singing it? Negative. Will you judge him as he sings your song, I asked. "No, I'll feeeel it," she said, clasping her hands to her chest and closing her eyes.

For the record, the faux Jovi did a decent job with it, although there was no air guitar solo.

One of the best renditions was of KC  and the Sunshine Band's "Boogie Man," the guy improvising and scatting during musical parts. He had loads of presence and vocal talent to spare. When he left the stage, he wound up near my post.

He was caught off guard when he found out I had no intention of singing, but I explained that I'm that person in the room who's not thinking about how I just mucked up onstage  and I'm not the one busily planning what to sing next, I'm just the one paying attention.

"So you're the one we're doing all this for really," he decided.  Right.I know my place and it's listening and clapping, 

"Sweet Child o' Mine" came out of the mouth of the Bon Jovi fangirl, who rewarded us with Axl Rose-like dancing during the musical breaks. It was magical.

Without a doubt, one of the most hilarious highlights was the two brothers dueting on "Don't Go Breakin' My Heart," with karaoke virgin taking the Kiki Dee part. Words are not enough.

The guy who'd done "Boogie Man," still stationed near me had an ear to ear grin, spurring me to tell him that the one guy had rehearsed and the other was singing for the first time and that they were brothers. "That's so hot!" he gushed.

Personally, I think somewhere, Sir Elton was feeling a twinge at this abomination. "Probably calling his lawyers right now," he jokes.

A large party celebrating a birthday produced several stars: the guy who used the birthday boy's two favorite things - the Barenaked Ladies and alcohol - to do "Alcohol" ("Those are some clever lyrics," new friend whispered. The BNL were certainly that).

The birthday boy - artfully ripped jeans, styled hair, a study in self-awareness - surprised us all by doing "American Girl" and sounding amazingly Petty-like doing it,  right down to his mannerisms. Another well polished performance, I think.

Mr. Not-My-First-Rodeo was back for the third time with "Godzilla," another unlikely choice for such a milquetoast type, Boogie Man was impressed with how into he got on the high notes, but his funniest line was, "How in the world did he even find this song?"

Since I'd never heard it before, I couldn't begin to hazard a guess. Too much Blue Oyster Cult in the cradle?

And just like Fall follows Summer, his neophyte brother was called next to attempt Smashmouth's "Rockstar," an impossible feat since he started late, lost entire phrases and remained a minimum of three syllables behind the entire song.

If it hadn't been for the crowd picking up the song and belting it out for the duration, his complete and utter failure at singing might have bruised his psyche. I won't even comment on the human tragedy of so many people knowing every word to Smashmouth while real talent is relegated to Ned's atomic dust bin.

Points for getting that.

By the time some guy did "Sweet Caroline," the crowd was primed, so his entreaties ("Come on, people, give it to me!") not only got them  singing along and doing call and response, but actively swing dancing around the pool table while players continued their game.

This made it what we called in elementary school a "multi-purpose room."

I loved it when New Friend got up and sang "Superstition," once again effortlessly evoking the original with soul and style. It was when he mentioned an upcoming event at Firehouse that I had my a-ha moment. A theater type, why, of course.

No wonder we'd gravitated toward each other's smart-assed commentary and total appreciation of the absurdity of it all. When he started to tell me about a performance he's working on, I told him the date, saying it was already on my calendar.

That's when you know you're soul mates.

He rejoined me to watch a skinny guy in a green-checked shirt take on the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" (Is this a good idea, we wondered?) and acquit himself magnificently. Nails it to the point that people are dancing everywhere, unable to contain themselves. I'm a tad surprised no one mounts the pool table, honestly.

It was during "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" that I quietly slipped out, leaving behind unknown songs, unseen performers and countless catty comments. for the next time

Not only did I have a blast, I was only mildly queasy after dismounting. To quote Neil Diamond, so good, so good.

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