I swore that I’d never sing karaoke. Never. I looked upon karaoke as a sin against the holly temple of music. A bastardization without conscience. Karaoke singers were desperate people who were all motivated by failed dreams. No, this would not happen to me. But then I found a part-time job.
I was bartending in a restaurant/bar that had karaoke every night after nine pm. Around eight forty-five in would wonder aging dancers, opera singers, blue-collar laborers, pale politicians and a plethora of other oddballs. The occasional college crowd would also wonder into the bar after nine, not as much to sing but more to drink and laugh at other people singing. I would pour all of them drinks and watch people congregate around tables where they would browse through large books that had lists of all the songs they could sing. The well dressed maestro of the karaoke nights was an aging opera singer who dressed in dark suits and had recently suffered a heart attack. He would sip his red wine and say through the microphone “welcome to karaoke nights at La Casa. Order drinks from your caring bartender Randall so you can get some liquid courage and come on up and sing your song.” Once I asked him if he could stand the sound of his voice coming through the large, muffled speakers and he said with a smile, “I love the sound of my voice.”
I always felt a certain resistance, disdain- a smile that did not want to be born across my face as I served these wayward souls their drinks. Slowly I would watch them trickle up to the stage where they would sing their favorite song in a lonely corner filled with shame and humiliation. But as the first hour passed and more booze was consumed, shame and humiliation turned into confidence, courage, laughter, momentarily fulfilled dreams and loud cheers. My ears ached, my love for music was severely challenged and I swore I’d never sing karaoke.
Secretly I have always wanted to be a singer. A rock star. I have dreamed about standing in front of thousands of people all of whom were being transported to a higher state of consciousness through my voice. As a child I would dress up like Michael Jackson and sing alone in my back yard where I would pretend that all the plants and trees were adoring fans. As an adult I rarely sing anymore- that is until I started singing at the karaoke bar.
I quit working at La Casa because I could not handle the many hours that I had to spend standing on my feet listening to various out of tune strangers sing Queen, Frank Sinatra, Britney Spears and Elvis songs until two in the morning. My lower back was punishing me for all the pain radiating through my ears and down my spine- so I had to go my separate way. On my last night bartending at La Casa, two aging dancers (who were without a doubt beauties in their day) dedicated a Wham song to me, “the quiet, handsome, sullen, long faced guy behind the bar.” They swayed their tight hips and fake boobs to “Careless Whisper” as they pointed their fingers at me and waved goodbye. Again, I swore I would never become a karaoke singer.
A few weeks ago my wife and I went into a Brazilian bar not far from our home, to have a drink. I had no idea that after nine they too had karaoke and as the host put a book on our table from which we could choose whatever song we wanted to sing- I looked at my wife and said “let’s go.” But she is more curious than I. Less threatened by karaoke and more accepting of all different kinds of people. She pointed out to me in the song book many of my favorite songs and dared me to sing one. I said “no way.” I said no way several times but my wife is a genius at getting what she wants. I did not consider that my constantly full glass of red wine were several glasses that my wife was secretly replacing with the empty ones.
My wife knows that I have a secret dream to be a rock star. She knows that I live a life of quiet desperation. I have not directly told this, she just knows. Women. She kept telling me that it would be good for me to sing in public. A kind of release, she said. No way. But the rust around my stubbornness was feeling loosened up by all the wine I was drinking. When I noticed “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” by Joy Division in the song book- I suddenly felt the desire to sing come over me. A possession of sorts. “What would it be like to sing one of my favorite songs in front of a crowd?” I wondered. Granted there where only six other people in the room but they all were singing tacky pop songs and I wanted to sing something good. Something with culture and soul in it. I would stand out by singing an obscure new wave song from the eighties and the crowd would take notice. They would appreciate my deviation from the norm and they would applaud. Loud. They would love me. I was a rock star that night- thanks to the liquid courage and my wife.
I do not want to go too much into my performance that evening because there was a lot of hesitation and fear. I was wrestling my demons. I pinned most of them down. Once I finally made it to the stage I was slightly shaking and I noticed that at first my voice cracked a lot. But once I got into the song- things changed. My voice lowered, my back straightened, my arms moved, my eyes opened and I was the living incarnation of Ian Curtis singing his own karaoke song. I sang several more karaoke songs that night and the host had a hard time getting the microphone out of my hand. It was a bit of a struggle. The crowd could not stop clapping.
I return to the karaoke bar two or three times a week. I make lists of songs that I want to sing. “Hungry Like The Wolf” by Duran Duran, “People Are People” by Depeche Mode, “Hold Me Now” by The Thompson Twins, “New Song” by Howard Jones, “Every Body Wants To Rule The World,” by Tears For Fears. These are just a few of the songs that I love to sing. I can sing these songs again and again- until the end of time. On the karaoke stage I am man not only acting out my rock star dreams but I am also reliving the best era of my life- the 1980’s. I dress just like I did back then. I wear all black, I aqua net my hair straight up in the air, I put on my clip on earings, black chinese flat shoes, black eye liner and I appear at karaoke nights like someone who has been transported forward in time. Sometimes I even wear my long black trench coat with a New Order patch on the back. Lately it has been too hot out for black trench coats despite the demands of style, so I just wear my black tank top, which displays my tattoo of Robert Smith’s (lead singer of The Cure) profile on my left arm. I stand on that stage without the shame and humiliation that I remember haunting those first few karaoke singers at La Casa. Fuck that. I do not have time for such life denying emotions. Instead I own the stage, just like I used to own my back yard when I would lip sync Michael Jackson songs. Even though there is rarely ever anyone in the karaoke bar- I stand on that stage as if it was a stage in a crowded auditorium. The host hands me the microphone, the lights go down and I watch the lyrics begin to walk across the television screen. I sing my eighties songs in front of large crowds of imaginary adoring fans. They are all listening to what I have to say. Wanting a piece of me. I am a young man again, with sweat drizzling across my face. I hold my hand out giving fans the opportunity to touch apart of me. I dance and sing my soul out until it is someone else’s turn to sing a song or it is just so late at night that the karaoke host is ready to pack up his stuff and go home. I never thought this would happen to me. Never. But it is one of the best things that ever did.