Friday, December 12, 2008

The Karaoke Chronicles: The First Night of Russmas

The first night of Russmas fell like an anxious, awkward geek asking a beautiful woman out on a date -- blinded with ambition, full of expectation, and, whatever the result, destined for the annuls of exaggeration. Russmas began in the Kopa Room, a bar in Anaheim's Linbrook Bowl, where I first caught karaoke fever several years ago with my friend Eric. I don't remember how we discovered the place -- I think someone invited us, and we quickly began to pay the favor forward by dragging whomever we could to this dive-within-a-dive. (I mentioned it's a bar in a 24-hour bowling alley, right?) In recent years, I've weened away from the Kopa, a little frustrated by the snail's pace rotation and interested in broadening my karaoke venue tastes, but Russmas just had to begin there. Russ was born almost twenty-nine years ago in Bridgeport, Connecticut, but KaraokeFanboy was born in the Kopa Room.

And on the first night of Russ, karaoke gave to me . . . an opportunity to sing five whopping songs, thanks to a very slow Thursday night. My "set list" was as follows:

"Summer of '69" -- Bryan Adams*
"Read My Mind" -- The Killers
"Boys in the Hood" -- Dynamite Hack
"All These Things That I've Done" -- The Killers
"Wanted Dead or Alive" -- Bon Jovi

Since my last visit to the Kopa, the karaoke system has been updated from CD's (that stands for "compact disks," kids) to digital, a system with its own pre-established song list. I noticed that the song selection was little thinner than I remember, some of the tracks older and more obscure. Also, and most detrimentally, on stage my vocals boomed back at me, so I couldn't sing to the track as much as I like. It's a technical complaint with a philosophical premise -- I'm on stage to become one with the song, and to share my vocal interpretation of it with others. I can hear myself sing anytime.

Whether or not that analysis is as serious as it's written is totally up to you.

Oh, but that's just the beginning . . . In the midst of these technical difficulties, a few Russmas miracles bloomed, like the Christ-child Himself emerging from the rigor of the manger. First of all, the K.J.'s name was also Russ, an old acquaintance from my more frequent days in the Kopa Room, and when he heard we were celebrating Russmas, he milked the joke all night. He shared his "secret stash" of song CD's with me, which included the Killers tunes (though I loathed their version of "Read My Mind") and some Dave Matthews Band stuff I noticed missing from the revised song list. Then, when I settled up at the bar and an older lady (just beyond the cougar category in age and looks) asked if I had finished singing, I replied, "Oh, no, I have eleven nights left!" After a brief explanation, she mused, "Russmas . . . I will never forget that." You know the old saying, if you could save just one life, it's all worth it? Night one, mission accomplished.

The dark horse treat of the night was when a gentleman, who may or may not have caught the Russmas spirit, bought my girlfriend, our friend, and me a round. He had sung Bon Jovi's "I'll Be There for You," and I sung along, laughing with him when he couldn't hit the higher notes and '80s rock-'n-rolly guttural screams. Sure, I was sitting with two beautiful women, one of whom appeared available, but I'd like to think that the karaoke connection inspired him to make the Russmas donation. It is a season of giving, after all.

Looks like a Halloween decoration managed to stay ahead of the season. Awesome!

So, did the beautiful woman say yes to Russmas's proverbial advances? Honestly, that doesn't even matter. The fact that he had the guts to ask is enough. In this case, the means are more important than the ends, and either way both are stronger for it. Tonight: El Torito!

* Every night, I plan on singing at least one song from the self-imposed soundtrack of my life. I've dug Bryan Adams forever, and my oldest friends will describe my fandom as fanaticism. His oldest stuff is obviously his best, though his more recent studio albums express a minimalist take on rock 'n roll that a maturing me can really appreciate. The thing about "Summer of '69," besides its potential for sexual innuendo? Adams sums up the staples of adolescence -- friends growing apart, romance, burgeoning creativity -- with some of the best chords of the '80s. "Standing on your momma's porch/You told me that you'd wait forever/Oh, and when you held my hand/I knew that it was now or never/Those were the best days of my life . . . But I guess nothing can last forever/Forever, no." What better way to kick off a self-indulgent birthday celebration for a man-child like me?

That's a rhetorical question.


egieling said...

Man if only I was a little closer to help celebrate the 12 nights of Russmass... a traditional that happens to have started after i moved away! So are the days of my life!

On the origin story of the Kopa (according to my drunken foggy memory). I actually went bowling there one night poked my head in what seemed to be the hot spot of the place... and like a light shinning on the Holy Grail... I think I heard angels sing and say when you turn 21 come back and enjoy this garden of eden!

But 12 days of Russmass Karaoke deserves a top 12 memories of Karaoke events. Since I can't celelbrate I might as well share.

12. Karaoke singing at a Pizza place with a little girls soccer team hogging the machine and signing BackStreet Boys!

11. First experience at Dimples where we got black listed because "Man in the Mirrow" was not hip enough for this swanky Hollywood crowd!

10. Mary! Every Karaoke Guys dream girl... although I am sure she got around she never came and talked to us.

9. The egg! If you don't know... well you don't want to!

8. The Drew Carry look a like fight! Well Almost... I did think that he was going to at least punch someone!

7. Dimples... the second go around... Getting a picture with a group of strangers and the owner buying us a round of drinks... I would say that you could dubb that night. Russmpire Strikes Back!

6. Takes us back to Dimples... where we get to see Def Leapord sing "Pour Some Suger on me" live.

5. Ahh the Kopa room... So many memories can't believe it took till #5 to get on the list. Do I go with the mexican eminem or the guy who played the sax while you sang careless whisper!

4. Is the Koppa room again... Where else can you convince two German Girls to sing 99 Luft Balloons while you have a Couger gyrate on you during the song!

3. Side Burns! I shaved my too!

2. Gay Spice... How can one forget gay spice! Man o man how that brings back the memories! You would have thought that would have been the #1 memory and it is but I just like to add this last one in there for laughs!

1. Our free drink of fresh 2% milk. Wow I have never been to a place where "Piano Man" has captivated a bar and encouraged people to come in from outside!

So there you have it.. my top 12 memories of Russ and I singing Karaoke!

johnny_justice said...

It's actually getting cold in SoCal, and that can only mean one thing: Russmas is here!

So I go online to see if there is any information, and Lo, I saw a light and beheld an angel saying, Come Ye to honor Russ.

So I'm hoping to be at the Sherwood Inn to watch a little hula-hooping action, get my squirt--er,shot-- of 2%, and hopefully hear comments like, "Now that was a song we really needed to hear!" after Piano Man.

Not sure I can drag Mary into the Sherwood though...

Von Allan said...

It's funny how people can have different takes on Bryan Adams. Since he and I are both Canucks, I wound up getting him jammed down my throat through the wonders of "Can Con" on the radio and TV (i.e.: Canadian Content rules, y'know, to stop you filthy Yanks from dominating us culturally). I should add that a similar thing happened with Alanis - we went to the same high school and I wound up listening to her version of our national anthem every goddamn day. A fan I am not.

Summer of '69, though, is an example of how songs can both speak to some people and alienate other people at the same time. How? Well, you've covered the former while I'm the latter. I always got the feeling (possibly because of the music video) that this was a very middle class song. And I was a very, very lower class kid. I wasn't thinking of it in those terms then, of course. But I do vividly not connecting with it. Poor, fat, lonely, certainly no girl to hold my hand at that point. The song didn't speak to me at all. And while my situation has changed (less poor, not fat, not lonely and I've got a girl!), the song still doesn't speak to me. It has the fondness of familiarity, if that makes sense, and it serves as a bit of a poignant reminder of what my situation was at one point. But that's about as far as it goes.

Different strokes for different folks. :)