Monday, December 15, 2008

The Karaoke Chronicles: The Third Night of Russmas

Saturday, December 13, 2008. The third day of Russmas began with yet another holiday event at work, but my co-workers were obviously too pooped for another egotistic extravaganza, so my girlfriend and I ventured into the night alone, which was just as well considering the location was where we met. Mulberry Street is a restaurant in downtown Fullerton, one of the city's relatively recent additions in the quest to revitalize its historical, traditionally antique shop-ridden district with a nightlife for local college students and the upper middle class. When my girlfriend and I met there in May (through an old co-worker of mine I had converted to the karaoke cause and who was just as excited to find it in such an upscale venue), the singing was in full swing, but this time we arrived way too early, and patrons were still enjoy their fine dining experience. The night before, we were rushing to beat last call, and Saturday, we were ahead of the game. Who says third time's the charm?

I've always lamented about the few places that offer karaoke before 9 p.m. If I want to sing a quick song during my lunch break, why not? What are we so ashamed of, that the karaoke has to wait until the cover of darkness? Well, Mulberry takes that shame a step further, saving its open mic for a late 11 o'clock. Even then, some diners were still enjoying their meals -- darn near elderly patrons at that, so when the K.J. cranked her pre-performers tunes, they grumbled almost as loudly. Now, Earth, Wind, and Fire's "Reason" has sentimental value to me, as one of my boss's favorite songs and the one we played at his birthday roast a few years ago, but cranked to eleven during supper? Mulberry Street's decidedly Caucasian crowd, the senior citizen dinner table, and the R&B rhythms flowing through the joint created the perfect storm for the awkward Russmas spirit.

Mulberry's dark wood hues inspired me to sing some slower songs, like a lounge act or something, so my choices were:

"She's Got a Way" -- Billy Joel
"Where Are You Going" -- Dave Matthews Band

"She's Got a Way" was for my girlfriend, since the night turned into a reminiscent date, and, come on, it takes a special woman to endure twelve nights of karaoke, particularly at some of the dives we'll frequent. Her dedication adds a new, intimate meaning to the lyrics, "She's got a way of showin'/How I make her feel/And I find the strength to keep on goin'."

"Where Are You Going" was for me, as I'm a big Dave Matthews Band fan. For all my years of karaoke, though, this was my first foray into the DMB, mainly because Matthews has such a distinct voice, I was afraid of the comparison I'd inflict upon myself. It's one thing to sing along loudly with friends, as my old high school chums did as we cruised those mean Peoria, Arizona streets, but it's another to perform for a crowd, through an unforgiving microphone. As soon as I heard myself, I regretted the choice . . . then, the recently, dearly departed LeRoi Moore's saxophone chimed in an instrumental interlude, and I was almost honored to deliver the tune.

While the Dave Matthews Band has plenty of more beloved, potential crowd-engaging songs to choose from, "Where Are You Going" is a good introspective tune, reminiscent of the life-changing work that I do. Further, with a mention of Superman, it seems comprehensive to my obsessions enough to stand as the only DMB tune I croon in these twelve days . . . unless there's a "Dave Speak" version out there with some reference to Twinkies or Little Debbie snack cakes that I haven't heard yet.

I hadn't realized I'd scheduled two restaurants in a row, but El Torito and Mulberry Street seem to represent either side of the restaurant-turned-karaoke joint phenomenon. Whereas El Torito caters to a karaoke-centric crowd in a well-lit adjacent bar yet closes early, Mulberry Street offers karaoke in a darker corner of downtown to socialites that happen to stumble in on the later (presumably much more shaky) leg of their bar-hopping. At El Torito, the guy that sang "Careless Whisper" also tried (and succeeded at) a fast-paced rap song, apparently just for the vocal experience, while at Mulberry Street, some goof sought to entertain his friends by inserting the b-word into an otherwise harmless Hendrix tune. Hey, karaoke is Japanese for "empty orchestra," which implies that anyone can fill that void, even if they're a little empty themselves.

Thankfully, Mulberry Street has been a little more fulfilling for me, not just on the third night of Russmas, but on that warm May night earlier this year, too, when I met the woman brave and patient enough to survive these twelve nights of self-indulgence with me. I doubt she thought then that this is where she'd be going, but that way about her makes anything possible.

*LeRoi Moore suffered and died from injuries from an ATV accident earlier this year, and I wrote an eulogy for him here.

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