Karaoke is a strange art, no doubt. I say no doubt because, well, I doubt anyone would care to argue me on the point. Who’s talking about the art of karaoke? No one. And that’s the sweetest part.
Welcome to a performance space with nothing to lose. Sing the damn song you’ve been singing in the car and the shower. Everyone is drunk, and they’ll forget your performance the next day. Nothing will remain. It’s you, Dionysus and the void.
That’s not entirely true. Maybe to me, that’s the true pride and glory of karaoke. For others, it’s yet another proving ground. Seriously, get the hell out of here.
All right, I’ll try and jot down what I feel might possibly be a rubric of the art of karaoke: 90 percent performance, five percent singing, five percent the people love it.
First of all, when people are going to karaoke, they want a laugh. If you make them cry, it’s over. You just made 100 drunk people in a bar cry. Was “Jesus Take the Wheel” really worth it? The people must love it, and the people love a good, light song and a stellar stage presence. If you’re looking to show you’re the next great thing, I mean why? Now, we love our aspiring Marvin Gaye. You know the old guy I’m talking about. That dude rules, and he deserves more attention. But for the most part, the people demand a good song and some presence. By presence, I mean some ironically distanced silly-time. Skill is a bunch of hokey-pokey blah. Seriously. No one cares.
I might be giving some bad advice though. It’s this kind of thinking that may have led to the day I lost all my cred. And that’s the story I’d like to tell.
Karaoke had been a long-standing tradition among my group of friends. From the get-go of college, it was karaoke. I couldn’t go to the bar at first with the older dudes, but I grinded my teeth at house parties and Friends Karaoke on the weekends. For a while, I didn’t have a go-to song. You need a go-to song. Then it hit me: “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band. My parents loved that song. Rule of thumb: If your parents love it, the people love it. The ’70s and ’80s are ripe with the-people-love-it quality music. The ’90s too, but it seems like (my) parents really don’t know what happened after Bob Seger’s peak in celebrity. Anyway, I had found my identity. I would be “Centerfold” guy.
What’s messed up, though, is that the song is pretty raunchy. I didn’t realize until after I had sung through it a few times. Here’s the general plot: A guy comes across an old crush in the centerfold of a “girly magazine.” And he’s torn up about it. And that is basically it.
The rest of the song involves him speculating about them getting together, and then he buys the magazine. I mean, he’s not that bad of a guy. He hopes one day to see her when her clothes are on. Still. For someone who has aligned themselves with the principles of feminism, it’s a stretch.
All right, so I start taking this song to the big leagues, which for Ann Arbor is Circus on S. First Street. No cover charge. Free pool. 75-cent PBR. Karaoke. I keep saying this, but I’ll keep saying it until I die: That is the kind of bar I would want to open — if I decided that I actually don’t want to become a university professor … who knows these days what will happen.
OK, so my downfall. Basically, I sang this song at Circus multiple weeks in a row. (Turns out everyone does that. Like I said, you need your go-to song). And everything was going real swell. I (actually) got compliments like crazy (twice). Then, one week, I wasn’t feeling “Centerfold.” I wanted something new. At the urging of friends, I did a different song. Doesn’t matter which one. The point is I didn’t know it as well as I thought. And I crashed real hard. In the middle, the DJ, for reasons unknown, turns down the volume of the music. I can’t keep up with the words. Out of nervousness, I try to chug the rest of my beer before the refrain. But that was dumb; there’s no time for that. To add insult to injury, I swallow it wrong and start choking. My friend recorded all of it.
Like I said, I might be the wrong guy to talk to. But in my vision of karaoke, everyone is welcome. See you next Thursday!