Friday, December 26, 2008

The Karaoke Chronicles: The Eleventh Night of Russmas

The penultimate night of Russmas was more treacherous than I could’ve anticipated, perhaps like the very night before Christmas, if you believe the tale of Joseph and Mary’s difficult journey to that fateful manager. When my girlfriend and I arrived at Lucky John’s, we came up unlucky and discovered no room at the proverbial inn, as karaoke was scheduled for Wednesday night despite the Sunday night listing I had researched on-line. Fortunately, I had picked up an issue of Karaoke Scene magazine at Sherwood the night before, which lists karaoke locations by night and county, so we quickly found the Rio Vista Inn in our neighboring Anaheim, like the star that guided the wise men . . . or something. Undaunted, westward lead, we proceeded.

I remembered frequenting the Rio once before, so despite its unlit sign we found the venue relatively easily. Before we strolled into the joint, a gentleman asked to see our licenses and promptly tried to pick up my girl. Thankfully, she isn’t into sixty-year-old smokers with large facial birthmarks -- and, in retrospect, we wonder if the guy even really worked there. We found a booth and the fellow approached again, this time asking about my karaoke preferences.

“Do you do Hootie?” he asked. “Hootie’s new stuff is good, his solo stuff.” I wouldn’t have pegged him for a blowfish kind of guy, but a blowhard? Definitely.

The Rio was full of interesting characters, including this Santa, just passing through from the adjacent bar to use the restroom but happy to answer the request of this little boy by posing for a pic.

Before I turned in a tune, my girlfriend noticed a sign that requested a dollar donation for every submitted song. Apparently, the proceeds benefited the U.S.O., but I can only trust that the Rio is a respectable establishment, the K.J. a man of integrity, and that they weren’t claiming the collection themselves. I was grateful to encounter the pay-to-play phenomenon, because it offered a more comprehensive Russmas experience. Really, only one place that requires a karaoke cover, out of eleven? Not bad. Admittedly, I sang two songs but only paid a single buck; that way, I either cheated the U.S.O. a dollar, or was scammed for only a dollar. I’m cool either way. My song choices were:

“Man on the Moon” -- R.E.M.*
“Wanted Dead or Alive” -- Bon Jovi

So, the last-minute venue change. the questionable I.D. expert, and the unexpected cover would’ve been notable enough, but I was perturbed by a patron whose disregard for his fellow karaoke enthusiast embodies one of my karaoke pet peeves. While a particularly lanky guy and his gal made a duet out of “Piano Man,” a conversely dense metal head tried to commandeer his mic, rudely. His behavior was straight up old school bullying, and his victim was obviously annoyed. This is the point in the night where the K.J. must step up and enforce the dirty side of entertainment facilitation -- assuring the momentary comfort of the entertainer. Alas, the hoarse old-timer was nowhere to be found, until the song was over and he announced my presence to the makeshift stage. Considering my next song was “Wanted Dead or Alive,” my feelings of an impending showdown were appropriate.

Sure enough, the metal head loomed in my peripherals, but I assume my death stare kept him at bay. He offered the “wanted” echoes during the chorus and dabbled with some high pitched harmonies, but I think my no nonsense attitude drove him off. Had he advanced, I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done, but in a venue where one must pay to play, the standards behind the mic should be higher. Sure, I’ve only paid a buck, but considering I could go anywhere else and sing for free, I expect my proverbial fifteen minutes of fame to be mine alone, if I so choose.

The baby Jesus faced a few challenges close to his birthday, too -- namely, a certain King Herod that sought to swipe his fifteen minutes of fame, as well. Fortunately, the lessons of his life still ring true some two-thousand years later, that, if your mission is pure, your cause just, no one can stand in your way.

* Nine years ago, my friends and I celebrated Russmas by seeing the recently released Man on the Moon, the Andy Kaufman bio-pic starring Jim Carrey. I didn’t know much about Kaufman at the time, but the film, coupled by the dually released memoir by Bob Zmuda, changed my life. His philosophy about entertainment, and his lifestyle of prankish antics, drove me to appreciate acts like this, and undoubtedly contributed to my love of karaoke, which often elicits more awkwardness from its audience than the performer. After all, what else is karaoke than releasing one’s own inner Tony Clifton?

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