Trying my Pipes on a New, if Unappreciated, Rock Anthem Monday, Jul 5 2010 

Pink Houses

Ain't That America?

In which patriotism swells at karaoke until it is unseated by a pop princess.

I thought I’d try a new tune at my karaoke haunt on Saturday night (is it a “haunt” if I go there three times a year?)  Anyway, it was Fourth of July weekend, the vague odor of fireworks and hot dogs was in the air, and I thought I’d add a new tune to the repertoire … John(ny) (Cougar) Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses,” which, while not exactly complimentary to our great land, is a poetic picture of Americana and a “classic” (27 years old!) rock tune people can get behind.  “Home of the free-eee, YEAH!”

First, I practiced in the bathroom at home to make sure I could hit all the notes in my range (sign one that I may have a problem).  I anticipated my big debut all evening and worried that every man, woman, or beast who stepped up to the mic would take my song before I had my turn. After all, it was such a winning idea, I thought.

And then?  A one-two punch of awkwardness.  The KJ (karaoke jockey), a very patient, hospitable, lawyer-by-day, chain-smoking-KJ-by-night, fellow, asked if he could sing it with me.  Ummm.  You can’t say no to this guy who is deigning to let you take his “stage” (i.e., corner of a dank dive bar), but I prefer to be a solo act, especially when attempting a new song, which happens like twice a year.  But whatever. He sings well enough and takes a clue to back off if glory notes are involved.

So it’s important to know that this KJ likes to alternate the karaoke performances with dance tunes.  So you’ll have a guy singing Whitesnake followed by Flo-Rida singing about Apple Bottom jeans.  Makes for a fun atmosphere, but one wrought with uncomfortable segue, as dancers may not like the proverbial buzz kill of their dance tune being switched off for a down-tempo song about a black man with a black cat living in a black neighborhood. So my “Pink Houses” debut went something like this …

On the turntable: “Party in the U.S.A.” … crowd goes wild … hips shaking like yeah …

KJ: “Up next!  [Lucy]!”  I approach the mic. 

On the turntable: “See You Again,” the first bonafide Miley hit and easily the most infectious pop tune of the past two years … crowd erupts and goes more wild … this continues for 15 seconds until…

KJ: “Ooops … sorry about that.  Uhhh…”

Me: “Well, this isn’t awkward at all.”

On the turntable: The corn-fed-rock strains of “Pink Houses.”  Ahem.

On the dancefloor: What the what?

Ultimately, even without the lighter-elevating, fist-pumping crowd support I’d hoped for, I was proud of my performance.  I sang it well enough, hit (almost) every note, infused the right amount of passion, and even got a few people to remember it was Fourth of July weekend.  But the crowd?  Well, they still wanted Miley back.  Next year maybe my patriotic ditty should in fact be “Party in the U.S.A.” and kill two birds with one stone.

I still love you, JCM.  Actually, way more now than I did when I was 10 years old.  Another sign that I am growing begrudgingly curmudgeonly.

Hope everyone had a stellar Fourth.  Can’t wait for Labor Day.

Years-long karaoke mystery: solved! Saturday, Mar 20 2010 

Microphone, karaoke

Step Up to the Mic

Just read a Facebook-status stream that quoted the following:  Justin Timberlake’s “What Comes Around, Goes Around,” (Leave Britney ALONE!); Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” (Excellent use of the song-title parenthetical); and RATT’s “Round and Round,” (owing its recent resurgence to The Wrestler, or possibly Richard Christy‘s”Round Brown Mounds” song parody).  And it got me thinking about another song of that ilk, “Round and Round” by Tevin Campbell (a wee R&B singer I have now referenced twice in this young blog).  Don’t know it?  Yes you do (if you are 30 or older):

“Nothin’ comes from talkers but the sound …
We can talk all we want to,
but the world still goes around and round …
Round and rou-ound
We go round and round and round
And what we’re lookin’ for still isn’t found”

Okay, so … whatever. This whole divergence from my planned Saturday reminded me of one of the strangest karaoke “performances” I’ve ever seen.  Possibly even stranger than the skinny limited-teeth yokel (you know the one) singing some Biggie Smalls song and screaming the N-word repeatedly, while always backing it up with – “Ha ha!  It’s in the song!  I can say it!” – while in the atrium of a converted RAX.   

Picture an enormous country/rock and roll dive in Cincinnati, circa 1999/2000.  Popular for Friday night post-softball karaoke.  I daresay I have spent literal months in this joint – 6 to 8 hours, every Friday night, for 3 or 4 years.  The patrons and singers like them some Tim McGraw.  Some Johnny Cougar.  Some Jonny Bon Jovi.  Some Jani Lane.  The occasional “Bust a Move” or “Baby Got Back” from a couple of white chicks.  Fair share of country-fried rock.  “Rocky Top.” I think you get the picture.

So this 20-something girl, white sweater and jeans, goes to the stage.  Out starts “Round and Round” by … Tevin Campbell.  Even 10/11 years ago, this is one weird song choice.  Wrong venue, wrong era, just wrong. The song is dead and buried, folks. And then she begins, stoney-faced, to simply read the words off the screen. “Nothing comes to dreamers but a dream … ” and so on and so forth.  It’s not that she had a bad or off-key singing voice … she wasn’t even attempting to sing.   I had the single tape (a/k/a/ the “cassingle”) of this tune and could barely remember how the melody went at this point.  Such a travesty.   Why pick a song you don’t know?  Why pick a Tevin Campbell song at all?

Suddenly, a decade later, this morning … it hit me.  This woman wanted RATT.  Love will find a way, just give it time.  I’m convinced!  Right venue, right demographic, right RATT. Confronted with clearly the wrong song, she suffered through rather than appeal to the KJ (karaoke jockey).  This poor girl is/was less confrontational than I am.  I will take 90% of a bad meal home in a doggie bag rather than tell the waitress it was sub-par, but if I wanted to sing “The Power of Love”  (Huey Lewis) and heard the maudlin strains of “The Power of Love” (CELINE) starting, I would sure as hell not throw myself on the sword.  I mean, lady, what’s worse?  A moment of irritation at the hands of the KJ, or four minutes of quizzical pondering from the audience?  Or in my case, four minutes and ten or so years.

What goes around, goes around, goes around, comes all the way back around.