Of the joys and perils of karaoke

A friend of mine and I like to go to karaoke about once a month or so, if schedules and desires align. We usually go to the Smogcutter, a spectacular dive in Silverlake where Charles Bukowski is rumored to have whiled away many a drunken hour. Last night, however, we went for a slightly more upscale, scenester local–the Bigfood Lodge in Los Feliz.

I have a total of two tunes in my repertoire, and only two. This is due partially to the fact of my genetics. I cannot sing on key, ever. No one in my bloodline can and my guess is our heirs long into the future will be damned with this same curse. There is a salve for our inherited deficiency, however. Songs sung either in the ‘scream’ register, or those sung in falsetto can, on occasion, be the right fit for the likes of us. They must be very carefully selected, however. I have more than once grabbed the mic only to clear the room with a poorly calculated choice. Dylan is out. Don’t even try. Cash can be done, but only with immense finesse–that I happen to lack. No Bowie. And never, ever Journey.

I prefer a very specific era for my chosen gems of these two genres–the 80s. This allows for maximum camp and performative potential and minimum requirements for faithful rendering.

I hesitate, dear readers, to tell you what these two songs are, lest you ever have the pleasure of sharing an evening with me and a karaoke machine. I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise. But for the sake of participatory journalism and the culture of personal revelation via blog, I’ll do it anyway. Drum-roll please: Emotional Rescue by the Rolling Stones (Mick in falsetto is ridiculously good) and Life During Wartime by the Talking Heads (screamie genre here, at least when I perform it).

Last night the bar was low on Stones, so I went the Heads route. I would argue that, and I realize this is a biased judgement, I killed it. That crowd of hipsters may have hated my sweater and my boot-leg jeans, but they loved me as David Byrne. Dare I say that I warmed the cockles of their cold, aloof, hipster hearts? I do. I dare.

And that, oh comrades my comrades, is all that one can ask from a good Monday night on the mean streets of Los Angeles. Fame matters here, banal and bizarre though it often can be. My city is one whose primary industry is the production of vapid and vacuous reality television and blockbuster violence (and yes, some really wonderful stuff too, though in much smaller proportions). It is a place where people tweet their star sightings, where red carpets are always at the ready. At least on the karaoke stage, though, anyone can have their fifteen minutes. And then, unlike those pour souls followed by film crews, creep back out into the quiet night, anonymous but joyous just the same.

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