A kind of backwards talent contest where the aim is to sing to sing other peoples songs as badly as possible.
Many of my friends might be surprised to know that I looked down at karaoke with disgust and disdain. In other words, I dissed it.
I was a longtime musical performer, you see. Starting with my church youth group—Rejoice!—back in the late 80s, continuing with my high school show choir and even co-founding the Sequoyah Men’s Ensemble (which is taught as a for-credit class at my old school to this very day), and performing with an audition-only group in college I became a snob. Go ahead and laugh. I was like one of the dorks on Glee, yet I sneered at those getting drunk on beer and schnapps and singing Stevie Wonder in bars and bowling alleys.
But the Chambers Family is a musical one. My Dad was once a backup singer and rhythm guitarist for a cover band, and when I was little he would strum his guitar and sing old Beatles songs to me. My sisters and I sang all the time even as children, especially around the holidays …
My childhood summed up in song form.
Looking back, it’s inevitable that a few Long Islands and a pent-up desire to perform after switching my Major from Music to History would turn me around on the whole karaoke concept. It started approximately forever and a day ago at Dragon*Con with my friend Jeremy and his crew. Back then he rented out a now non-existent sports bar attached to the Marriott Marquis and hired a DJ for the night. But our experience with that guy is like many I’ve encountered with karaoke DJs over the years—he’s a frustrated creature. He wants to be a dance-floor and party DJ and spin tunes. Deejayus frustraticus is a species who only offers karaoke because of the payday, and as a consequence will play 2-3 “normal” songs in-between each performer, so it’s an eon to make it through the roster. We all encouraged Jeremy to forget hiring local assjackals to run karaoke and do things himself, the way he wanted.
The result was, and is, awesome. Jeremy created Sho Nuff Entertainment (badass Kung Fu movie reference) and hosts karaoke in his hometown and on the road. At Dragon*Con he hosts a ridiculously fun event that draws a crazy crowd. He also, quite generously, offers me one of the two VIP booths available at our venue in the Hilton. (The other goes to my friend and art rockstar Larry Elmore!) I only get to see Jeremy a few times a year—dammit—though that ‘s something I’d surely like to fix. I’m lucky to get the best seat in the house at the best party at the con. I mean, where the hell else will a horde of masked Mexican wrestlers appear out of nowhere to dance in the middle of a cute girl’s song?
…and then they vanished into the fiery chasm from whence they came.
Despite my love of karaoke, it was something I didn’t do very often and I was kinda “in the closet” about it. That all changed, however, when my friendship with a certain nerd-famous redhead led us to sing a duet at Dragon*Con three years ago. Felicia Day took a shot of courage and picked a song without even a hint! So prepare to watch my overweight ass stumble and choke as I try to get through a song originally performed by cartoon mice. Doing so in front of a crowd of nerds insured we’d be on YouTube within 48 hours (it was less).
Somewhere out there, I will get my revenge on a certain redhead.
This “duet with fame” trend continued when my ConCaraolinas booth-neighbor, Emilie Ullerup (known for her role on Sanctuary) decided to come down to karaoke after a hockey game and a few beers. Like Felicia, she required a quick shot of courage immediately before we performed a white trash love duet originally made famous by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow. To the surprise of precisely no one, it too was online before I’d even packed up to drive back to Atlanta.
Irony: I now have her picture in my office.
Well shit. If I’m going to be seen by thousands of anonymous nerds, I might as well embrace it and post my own videos. But there is another part of this karaoke journey that’s important and it’s once again about friendship.
In 2010 an already-rough patch of my life got even worse when my marriage ended. Life sucked. And at the point where I was sleeping in my mother’s basement (yes, a ridiculous nerd cliché that was a short part of my adult life) I realized that I was going to become an unbathed shut-in who lived on the Internet or I was going to rebuild a social life for myself. My friend Mandy worked behind the bar less than two miles from my hobbit-hole, so I decided to go there for drinks and company while I attempted to sort through the trainwreck rubble of my life. That’s where I met Thomas.
Every once in a great while you’ll meet someone you already know. You’re instantly friends, quickly family. That’s Thomas Cage for me, one of the best men I know. He’s worked in radio for a big chunk of his life and has that perfect “radio voice” but he also knows how to throw one a hell of a party. Mandy’s support and my new friendship with Thomas were two elements that really kept me from sinking too deep that first year after Renae and I split. For the last summer before Fabiano’s closed its doors, I worked as the Saturday night bouncer while karaoke was going on—a sweet gig if there ever was one. I got paid to be where I wanted to be anyway. I was still even asked to sing even while I was working!
My friendship with Thomas is one of things that really cemented karaoke a regular part of my life. He and I have a regular goofy duet where we perform a Barenaked Ladies song.
One day I’ll buy him a green dress—but not a real one.
He also regularly encourages me to shock the audience by singing a VERY NSFW song all about acts of love performed in the great outdoors.
You have been warned! This song might kill your grandmother.
As of this writing, you can catch him near my neck of the woods at Sidelines Grille on Thursday nights and at Fork & Tavern on Saturday evenings—both in Canton, Georgia. And if I’m in town you might likely see me there as well, with a dirty martini in one hand and a mic in the other.
I hope I can keep my accounts active after I croak.
… or the time when I made sure the folks at Dragon*Con knew what the Internet is really for.
Hint: It’s not eTrade.
But while I love going out for karaoke, the power of technology has made it easy to sing with your family and friends in one’s own living room. In this case it’s Rock Band, with my children playing their Fisher Price pretend-instruments as I sing a really nerdy love song …
This mountain is covered with wolves.
… or one that’s a bit softer and more serious.
I’m the monkey on your back.
Despite the above-mentioned snobbery, I’m the first to tell you that my voice is not all that. I don’t sing because I think I’m great—and in fact, in my musical family I’m the weakest link. (Ask my sister Stacy to sing “Phantom of the Opera” for you some time.) But karaoke is great fun whether you are performing or just watching, whether the singing blows your socks off or makes you long for Captain Quint to scrape his fingers down a nearby chalkboard. I highly recommend you find a local place and check it out, or if you’re close to me come and hang out sometime.
Celebrate the fact that you’re not a homeless heroin addict!
If you are, tell me how you managed to get online!