Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Karaoke Chronicles: The Fourth Night of Russmas

Before I dive into the Fourth Night of Russmas, I have to marvel at "the power of the blog." Friends (from around the world!) that can't make Russmas have been checking in via comment and e-mail, which is just as effective emotionally as spending a night out together. It's the thought that counts, always.

Sunday, December 14, 2008. On the heels of a relatively quiet Saturday night, I wasn't sure what to expect from downtown Fullerton's Florentine's Grill, right around the corner from Mulberry Street. Right on the corner of Fullerton's busiest intersection, I'd only been in Florentine's once before -- one-part swanky restaurant, one-part mandatory Thursday night frat boy fodder, this joint is just plain too good for me. Leave it to karaoke to bring Florentine's down to earth, a place anyone can go and croon a favorite tune. Besides, anyone on stage is high class, you know what I mean?

To clarify, the karaoke actually goes down in Florentine's Tuscany Room, and the bar's back entrance is a virtual maze between the restaurant, the Tuscany, a billiards room, the restrooms, and if you're really not careful, the neighboring bar Palapa Grill. When we strolled in around 9 p.m. on Sunday night, the room was . . . well, pictures speak louder than words.

A regular, perhaps the regular, was on the mic, and the K.J. greeted me raucously, calling me Ralph Malph and insisting I submit a song. It's really a shame there aren't many famous redheads out there. Still, it's better than Ronald McDonald. Or Carrot Top.

So, I eventually submitted Billy Joel's "Big Shot," a ditty I gladly award Best Sarcastic Inflection in a Song. Something felt off with their sound system -- the music was projecting through the monitors on-stage, but seemingly not out into the bar. When Oscar, apparently the proverbial producer of the whole operation, arrived, he flipped a switch and rectified the situation, much to the rowdy K.J.'s embarrassment. He, the regular, the bartender, and I rotated through a few more songs delightedly. My total song list was:

"Big Shot" -- Billy Joel
"Are You In" -- Incubus
"Time" -- Pink Floyd*

The technical difficulties continued when the cordless mic ran out of juice, and the K.J. asked if anyone had a set of AA batteries on them. My girlfriend suggested we use the batteries in our camera, and sure enough I was quickly hailed the hero of the night, complete with a free round of drinks. I couldn't have said my own name through the mic enough if I were the K.J.! Another Russmas miracle, to be sure.

A few other patrons finally arrived and sat behind us, and I was amused to overhear them dare one another to the stage first. "Are you singing? Oh, I'm not singing. Maybe if you sing first . . ." I was virtually raised on singing out loud; I remember my dad driving, or rocking back and forth in his recliner at home, shamelessly belting along to his favorite songs on the radio. Everybody does it, but something about a stage, a microphone, and an audience of strangers ups the ante, as if one's very destiny rests in the quality of his performance! A word to the wise, future fellow karaoke singers: I could care less how you sing. It's why you sing that counts -- and the right reason is because you love the song you chose. An excited performer is an entertaining one, quality be damned.

Hence, the success of karaoke in the Tuscany Room. Sure, most nights of the week, Florentine's Grill is the stuffed shirt of local restaurants, but sometimes it knows how to let its hair down, clear its throat (or sound system), and belt out an old rock anthem. Incubus was right to ask, "Are you in?"

* In high school, my friends Nathan, Dusty, and I learned of the Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon"/Wizard of Oz synchronization phenomenon (oft dubbed "The Dark Side of the Rainbow"), and we spent an entire night trying to accomplish the alignment between film and album perfectly -- sans drugs, believe it or not. Keep in mind, my years in high school were before the rise of the DVD or any significant on-line media (I think Napster was all the rage -- I was a little disconnected from it all), so Nathan painstakingly attached his VCR to the computer and transferred the film to his hard drive. Hours of uploading and song synchronizing later, we achieved what few had before -- a perfect match between Oz and the album, in its complete two and a half times' worth of replay to achieve the whole duration of the movie. I could spend a-whole-nother blog listed the matches, but the psychedelic experience convinced me of one concise truth: balance does exist in the universe. A relative association exists between seemingly unrelated events, believe you me.

Not to mention, "Time" boasts some of the best lyrics of all time: "And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking/Racing around to come up behind you again/The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older/Shorter of breath and one day closer to death." Truer words were never sung . . . and synced to the liberation of the Tin Man.

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