The Cove

Karaoke on Sunday nights at the Cove in Williamsburg. Don’t do it. Everyone is 21, everyone is straight, everyone is singing songs recorded by artists who STRIVE to sound like Miley Cyrus. The type of people, as my friend Bryn Kelly pointed out, who refer to Third Eye Blind as “classic rock.”

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Virgins

Taking someone’s virginity is really intense. Not that I’ve ever done it (lie), but so I hear. I think someone took mine once, and it was a really emotional experience. Suddenly a door opens to a whole new world, one that prior to the hump was totally foreign and terrifying.

People who love to sing karaoke love it so much. This is why it feels really good to convince a naive, sheltered person to give karaoke a whirl, someone who has never been privy to the joys of singing at a screen in a room full of strangers drooling on themselves, and then to watch said person bask in the high that follows. Pregnant with life, a sense of accomplishment and a newfound swagger, they take their seat when they’re done with a certain glow as they voice a sudden, overwhelming desire for a cigarette (though after my first time I craved nothing but a sack of dark chocolate Peanut Chews). I beat metaphors into the ground in like a drummer beats his drumsticks against a drum head.

I’ll say this once and then I’ll say it again to the point where’s it’s mind-blowingly redundant: when guiding a karaoke virgin into this addictive and life-changing venue for self-expression, be sure to do it in a gay bar.

Most of you are gay– most of you worth knowing at least– so you know what I’m talking about. Straight girls trying to impress straight guys via their pathetic song selections is one of the most excruciating non-violent things a person can bear witness to. Also, you can’t make out with your girlfriend at a straight karaoke bar because karaoke lends  bar crowds a certain we’re-all-in-this-together sentiment that straight men misinterpret as license to be more awful than they usually are.

A few years back, I went on a date with a girl who had never sung karaoke before. For whatever reason, as soon as we sauntered into the place, I morphed into a sleazy 80s movie college guy, trying to seduce a wide-eyed high school freshman.

“Just try it,” I whispered creepily. “You’ll love it.”

“I’m scared.”

“Don’t be scared,” I said, slinging my arm over her shoulder after pretending to yawn like a bonafide slimebag. After slithering over to the songbook, I flung it open and handed her a golf pencil and a slip of paper. “Here. Do it,” I commanded.

She looked through the book as panic danced on her face. A song was picked and handed in. Five minutes later, the KJ called her name. She timidly approached the stage. As she pulled the microphone closer to her mouth, her hands shook. Suddenly, I was nervous too. And then the opening chords of “La Bamba” came on, and she sang the song like a fucking champion. I had no idea she spoke Spanish, nor did I know that she was a closet Chilean, so she wasn’t just making weird, indecipherable sounds that mimic the actual lyrics.

Everybody in the room started flinging bar napkins in the air and spinning newly-bagged dance partners around as they shook their sweaty bodies all over with reckless abandon. And she- this skinny, hunched white girl, drowning in a huge t-shirt as stringy beige hair clung to either side of her gaunt, beautiful face- riddled with palpable stage fright and no experience, somehow did justice to a potentially disastrous song whilst imbuing the crowd with more energy than any of the karaoke veterans I’d ever seen. She was a natural.

She came back to our booth and I told her she was incredible. She said “I know” and we started making out. Cue to a just-miss hipster with a carrot-colored beard sidling up to us. “Ladies, what are your names?”

Without thinking, I answered him.

“Okay, watch this,” he said, and started scribbling frantically on a bar napkin. “Look!” he said proudly, showing it off like a baby who’d just discovered his penis. On it, in block letters, he’d written, “Katie + [insert girl’s name] = Stranger Awesome.” He’d also drawn a bunch of polka-dotted bubble arrows pointing to his name– which, allegedly, was Stranger Awesome.

“What the fuck is that?” I asked.

He answered, “Well, it’s like this– you guys are cool, and I’m cool, so you plus you equals me.”

“How do you figure?” I asked, not even knowing why I was engaging him.

“Well, like, clearly you need a guy in this equation, and Stranger Awesome is that guy.”

“Got it,” I said, and then commanded him to:

a) stop talking about himself in the third person, and

b) stop talking to us at all.

In response, he put his hands on our thighs, and the girl I was with shoved him off. He had just tainted a really nice, intimate moment with his idiocy, smoked-meat body odor, mall-bought Ramones t-shirt, and leather wrist cuff covered in anarchist symbols. A nearby frat boy said, “Whoa, take it easy ladies.”

So we left. In other words, be sure to populate places like Metropolitan on their Tuesday karaoke nights, and charm the figurative karaoke pants off your reluctant ingenue of a date. She’ll thank you later, and she’ll never forget her first time.

Venue: Metropolitan http://www.yelp.com/biz/metropolitan-brooklyn

Song: La Bamba http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4F6VSGdMcE&feature=related

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Practice Makes Perfectly Decent

Today my to do list read as follows:

1. pay Con Ed

2. make dentist appointment

3. make doctor appointment

4. send the IRS $1017.00 (boring story not worth going into)

5. buy eco-friendly cleaning products, clean the fuck out of my apartment

6. get a job

7. brush my dog’s hair, give him his heartworm meds

8. finish my article about adult acne

As it turns out, I crossed out nary an item on that ambitious, depressing little list. Instead, I put my hair in a french braid, took it out, made a lot of rice, heaved my way through a workout DVD in plain view of passersby in my curtain-free house (Crunch Fat Burning Dance Party), chewed twelve pieces of gum, and then enthusiastically practiced karaoke songs for about four and a half hours.

My neighbors probably like me.

Last night I went to sing karaoke at The Alligator Lounge, that unnervingly perfect bar that gives you an entire pizza with every drink you order. A friend of mine sang Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover”– a pleasant, dorky, and unusual selection, performed with finesse. I’d never thought to sing Paul Simon before.

I did two of my standards, watched a couple of karaoke pros perform soulful renditions of terrible 90s pop songs, and suddenly felt bored. I don’t challenge myself enough, I thought. I need new songs.

This is how I found myself in front of my computer this afternoon, scribbling down song after song, each correlating to a memory, none of which correlated to each other. In the midst of practicing Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me,” I thought of the first time someone grabbed my bare tit– the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Name” had been playing on a nearby stereo. Then my sister’s weird obsession with orca whales circa 1993 came to mind, which reminded me of Michael Jackson’s “Will You Be There,” the theme song of either Free Willy or Free Willy 2, which made me think of doing gymnastics in the hallway of my  apartment building as ten year old me flipped and somersaulted around to Mariah Carey’s “Someday” on repeat as I contemplated perming my hair to make it look more like hers.

We all know that there are many songs that you associate with a certain time and place in your life. When you hear these songs, you can be capsized by a surge of joy, a swarm of stomach-dwelling butterflies, or burdened with a heavy weight on your hollow chest that comes with life’s inescapable sorrows. Corny and saccharine but ultimately true: these songs are the soundtrack to your life.

These are the songs to sing. When you sing a song that has personal significance to you– not just something you’ve heard on the radio over the years– then karaoke can be a profoundly cathartic experience. Like therapy, but cheaper. Reclaiming power through a song that characterized that moment that broke you down or broke your heart– mic in hand, head up, eyes ahead, you’re reminded that memories, however painful, disorienting, stifling or uncomfortable, are just things that happened, and the music can still play, and you keep on going.

I sang and sang (utilizing the underrated youtube karaoke feature I mentioned in a previous post): Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” Pearl Jam’s “Alive,” “The Blame Game,” off Kanye’s new album, Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” (reminding me of the scene in her biopic where Ike Turner beats and rapes her against a fish tank), “We Are the World” (the original), Bush’s “Glycerine,” “I Just Called To Say I Love You” (sub-par Stevie Wonder, and allegedly Donald Trump’s favorite song), Natasha Bedinfield’s “These Words,” (a song that played on repeat in 2004 while I was living in Vegas with my alcoholic ex-girlfriend, who on our third day there I found naked and face down on our gray shag carpet, empty bottle of four dollar whiskey resting against her dirty fingertips, snow white ass staring up at the ceiling expectantly), the entire Footloose soundtrack, and more. I pushed myself. Hard.

At the end of the day, I find myself still in debt and unemployed, moseying around with a mouth full of cavities and an untreated thyroid problem. However, I have a new roster of songs that I absolutely cannot wait to sing.

Venue:

http://maps.google.com/maps/place?oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=alligator+lounge+brooklyn&fb=1&gl=us&hq=alligator+lounge&hnear=Brooklyn,+NY&cid=9006870252464717882

Select songs:

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Epic Fails

It’s okay. Sometimes you will try a song, and it doesn’t go as well as you might have liked (understatement). It sort of makes you want to curl into a ball and cry, or never sing karaoke again, or just stick to the same tired two songs you always sing. There’s no need. It happens to all of us.

The hardest song I ever attempted to sing at karaoke was Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through The Night.”

Oh my God. THE HIGH NOTES.

Thankfully, I tried it in a filthy little private room that smelled like craisins at a karaoke bar in Koreatown (I forget the name– but there’s karaoke at almost every establishment in the 30s on 5th and 6th avenues in Manhattan).

Listen and see why:

Lesson learned: sometimes it takes more than ample heart to get through a song.

Other fails have included Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares to You,” La Bouche’s “Be My Lover,” and T-Pain’s “Buy You A Drank.” These are all selections that I’ve sang as hard as possible, and then was forced to shuffle back to my seat with my tail between my legs. It happens. I’m just gonna keep trying.

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On Bravery

A few weeks ago, I went to sing karaoke at Naps, a neighborhood bar housing a small, ponytailed male bartender with a sweet, anus-like face, wall-to-wall Christmas lights, kitschy knick knacks, dusty bottles of booze that no one would ever drink (banana liquor, anyone?), one dozen drunks with beet-colored noses, and a thick pungent stench, suggestive of onions and roast beef. Located on Mission St. in San Francisco, it’s been around for years, and is owned and run by a regal, silver-haired Puerto Rican man named Nap (maybe he’s narcoleptic), who sings pitch-perfect renditions of obvious but endearing songs like “Unchained Melody.” The clientele that populates this cavernous watering hole (disgusting term) are staunch karaoke lovers. Nap himself serves as the KJ.

It was there, in a sea of balls-to-the-wall karaokers that I was reminded that sometimes you just have to say fuck it and try a song really hard. If it’s a fail then you feel embarrassed for around ten minutes, and if it works then you’re a karaoke champion, leaving the crowd gawking at you in awe.

In the past I had a tendency to only try the ambitious, unpracticed songs in private rooms, because there you’re afforded you the luxury of skipping to the next song if you’re butchering the one you’re currently singing. At Naps that fateful night, a plump, seven-foot tall man who clearly strived for (and just missed) a hipster aesthetic shuffled up to the mic with his eyes on the ground and his hands in his pockets. I figured he’d sing something safe like Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places,” or Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive.”

Nope.

On came the chords of “Sherry Baby,” a classic Frankie Valli number that is so hard to sing (falsetto for most of the song, with notes so high and prolonged they’re almost deafening), I couldn’t believe my ears. I braced myself for the worst. And then he opened his mouth. OH MY GOD COULD HE PULL IT OFF.

He wasn’t a gifted singer, but he gave it all he could. He screeched and wheezed his way through the vintage track, and at its closure was met with thunderous applause.

Next time, I thought, I’m challenging myself. And I did. Arbitrarily I signed up for Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.” It wasn’t half-bad, and people even danced to it. I internally high-fived myself and vowed to be more adventurous from thereon out.

Venue:

http://www.yelp.com/biz/naps-3-san-francisco

Tracks:

Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons “Sherry”

Taio Cruz “Dynamite”

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Three Little Things

1. Never underestimate the awkwardness off a lengthy instrumental break. Figure out a way to feign some semblance of comfort as you sway in place or something. Under no circumstances can you stand still, stomp your foot, clap your hands, or worse yet, beat your hand against your own thigh during an instrumental break.

2. Never underestimate the powers of youtube. It can serve as a vital tool for practice.

3. Take this, for instance. Otherwise known as the dorkiest song in the world, Natalie Merchant’s “Carnival” can be learned with ease, by rehearsing the song with the following link:

FYI: “Carnival” happens to be a very singable song if your range is limited. I assume everyone’s range is limited because mine is. Also, if you can actually sing, be sure to stay the hell away from karaoke bars.

You’d only make the other patrons feel bad about themselves.

Goodnight.

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Staples

Karaoke staples. You need to have them– a few old faithfuls you can always rely on when you’re feeling a bit unsure and are faced with an intimidating or foreign crowd. It’s important to become intimately acquainted with a small collection of songs that will never let you down.

A few years back, I went to sing karaoke at The White Horse, a rundown gay bar in Oakland that’s always chock full of wizened, Wiccan lesbians and robust young softball dykes with ponytails hanging out the back of their butch hats. I’d been living in California for only a few months with my then-girlfriend, an alcoholic who generally refused to budge from her bar stool at the dive closest to our dingy apartment. I felt empty inside. I hadn’t sang karaoke in ages. Miraculously I convinced her to come with me, so there we were.

After nervously scanning the room, supremely self-conscious because I was the nkotb and didn’t know anyone, I opted to sign up for my staples: Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son,” a slow, soulful, world-weary song sure to either put a crowd to sleep or make them rue the day you were born (I like it too much to care or refrain from singing it regularly), The Cars “Just What I Needed,” a choice that several individuals have suggested that I stop singing because it makes me sound “like a retarded baby” (those people are now dead to me), and my all-time favorite, Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello.”

Growing up, my parents listened to the most eclectic and terminally uncool mix of music known to man. I know it’s trendy for people to say that they have “weird” taste in music, connoting that their taste is endearingly far-reaching and quirky (newsflash: so is everyone’s), but my parents’ widespread musical preferences in the 80s and 90s truly took the cake. Luther Vandross, Enya, Shawn Colvin, the aforementioned Meatloaf and Michael Bolton, and anything and everything Lionel Ritchie (later on Sarah McLachlan and Jewel came into play, but that was mostly just my dad’s thing, and no one understood it because he’s not a lesbian).

As a child, my family listened to so much Lionel Ritchie it was marginally perverted. His lyrics perpetually danced around in my head (the image of him leaping up in the air on the inside of his “Dancing On the Ceiling” record is one of the cutest/creepiest things I’ve ever seen, thus that album has been tacked up on the wall of several of my apartments over the years), but whenever I shared my fondness for him with my friends, they’d look at me like I’d just pissed on their couch. Regardless, my love for all things Lionel persevered, and I still listen to his music frequently.

Perhaps the reason I initially gravitated towards “Hello” is because it’s one of the few of his songs where he doesn’t make embarrassing, unintelligible sounds or start randomly singing lyrics in a heavy, undecipherable accent (listen to “All Night Long” if you haven’t in a while– it’s truly bizarre). “Hello” is wistful and gorgeous, and at this point I can sing it with my eyes closed (which I often do, just to show off). Who doesn’t long to see the sunlight in someone’s hair? He sure does.

Miraculously, the songs went over well, and I even made a few new friends that night. Like how some people fuck strangers or binge eat to fill the void, karaoke served that purpose for me that night. Back then, I think that was all I needed.

Venue:

The White Horse (karaoke on Mondays and Tuesdays) http://www.whitehorsebar.com/

Tracks:

Cat Stevens “Father and Son”

The Cars “Just What I Needed”

Lionel Richie “Hello”

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