Sunday, June 28, 2009

'Oke Dokey

Last night was the best karaoke adventure so far. I had low hopes at the start of the evening, when we saw the Tigers get slaughtered by the Astros, 8 – 1. I even thought, “I just want to do a song or two and go home”. Ha! I sang five solos, two duets and did a bit of backup for Danny, as well. It was the most fun I’ve had in quite some time. This comes after a couple of really un-fun weeks, which makes it all the better.

Again, the greatest thing about this place down the road is the crowd. The hipsters weren’t there, just a handful of really friendly people who love to sing. There’s the KJ, who I’ll call Ned. Ned looks like a young Jim Leyland, has a smoky voice, and a penchant for the same songwriter-y classic rock that I love (we did a duet of “Black Water”). “Rick” also loves that stuff, and did a pretty good version of “Do It Again”. Anyone gets that Steely Dan party started is cool with me.

There are a couple of really talented ladies. One is (I think) the wife or girlfriend of the pub owner. I’ll call her Karen. She has one of those honey voices that gently glides over all the notes. Karen usually does a lot of country, but she busted out some old timey jams, like that song that goes “Hold me, hold me, never let me go until you've told me, told me…” I envy her for being able to sing those pretty songs, but I also love just listening to her. Then there’s Shavonne, who is the best singer on any night. She specializes in R&B ballads, the kind that I attempt only in my fantasies. Of course, she did a Michael Jackson song (it was more or less expected of her), and she made an unusual but very lovely choice with “She’s out of My Life”. Danny and I made a special request that she sing “You Got it All” by The Jets, which she’s going to work on later. I figure if I can’t do my favorite songs well, I’ll just get my vicarious thrills by way of Shavonne.

Dan is definitely the best guy singer. It isn’t just his voice; he really goes for it. He’ll do a falsetto. Everyone loves when he gets on stage because you know that whatever he sings, he’ll go balls out. The highlight for me was “Two Faces Have I,” for which I sang back-up. That’s one of our special songs that we sing together at home. It’s one that most people don’t think about unless they hear it on the oldies radio station, but I think it's genius (definitely one of the most vocally complicated pop songs). When the title came up on the monitor, no one recognized it, but they knew it when Dan started singing. And the crowd was completely floored. Honestly, I felt so proud being on stage with him!

We also did “Tramp” together. I got a good laugh from the crowd when I said “straight from the Ypsi woods”. But the funniest moment of the evening happened when Dan was singing “Kiss”. By that point, a crowd of young, already-drunk people had come to the bar. A few dudes standing behind me were snickering and one of them scoffed, “Ha ha, he actually sounds like Prince,” which I think was code for, “Ha ha, what a fag”. Then, a trio of tipsy girls to my left all gasped and one of them whispered, in awe “Oh my god, he actually sounds like Prince”. Then the guys shut up and started cheering for Dan, along with everyone else.

My own rock star moments are never quite as grand. I’ve quickly learned the limits of my range. It leaves me with a lot of guy songs, and that’s fine. I may not have the prettiest voice, but I’m good at timing and I have a knack for picking crowd-pleasers. My recent discovery is that Paul Simon’s songs are perfect for me because I know them well, and he isn’t a very skilled vocalist (that’s why he kept Garfunkel around for so long). So, I started the night with “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and ended with “You Can Call Me Al”. But I think my personal best was “My Best Friend’s Girl”. I can totally do the Ric Ocasek voice, which is like crooning downward. Lots of fun, especially when Ned did the air guitar solo.

Obviously, I’m completely addicted. I have that fuzzy, glowing, next day feeling you get after you go to a really great party, but this is the kind of party you can find just about any day of the week! I always thought that dancing all night to really great music was the ultimate way to rock out, but this is the new plateau of rocking. And I get to pick the music.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Not To Be There

I didn’t find out that Michael Jackson died until I went to the gym this morning and saw the news splashed across the CNN monitor above my elliptical climber. I was still in a state of disbelief at a point in time when everyone else had seemed to formulate their thoughts and opinions on the situation. That’s given me an interesting perspective, so I’m writing about it here.

As I expected, some people had no remorse for a man who they viewed as nothing more than a pedophile. Fortunately, I didn’t talk to any of those people today (just read their comments online). All I can say about Michael Jackson’s bizarre and disturbing sexuality – his bizarre and disturbing anything, for that matter – is that we all know exactly where it came from. Fame has ruined many a soul, but how many people become superstars at age 11 and stay that famous until the end of their lives? Not to mention the very public disaster that is his family. Despite all his creepiness, I can’t see that it’s so difficult to have compassion for the man.

Then there are comments like this one, posted by a dude named "Rich" on the Allmusic Blog, in response to another commenter who referred to Michael Jackson as “an awesome musician”

"awesome musician?…well ive never seen michael with a musical instrument in his hand… however he was a talanted singer/artist….yes he will be missed buy his fans but quite frankly, who gives a toss…his career was over by the end of the last century…RIP…credit where credit is due i suppose"

Rich perfectly fits my definition of a hipster – a person who cares more about taste than passion or kindness. Again, I’m glad that I didn’t talk to this sort of person today, though I am sickly fascinated by all this flippant commentary. I admit that I actually reactivated my Facebook account just long enough to read comments from people on my friends list. I immediately re-deactivated my account, and remembered that such unconsidered blather is exactly why I can't stomach Facbook.

On the other hand, I was verklempt when I saw photos of all the vigils and shrines. It’s nice to know that there are places in the world, even a few corners of America, where people aren’t suffocating from irony. I’m reminded of this really nice Tunisian guy I worked with 12 years ago. We went to see “Titanic” together, and when he picked me up from my house, he was a little embarrassed by the copy of HIStory sitting on his dashboard. He said “Americans don’t like Michael Jackson, ‘cause… you know, little boys”. But, when MJ put on a show in Tunisia, it was the cultural event of this young man’s lifetime. He told me that it was, by far, the biggest public gathering that had ever happened in his country.

I’m amazed that an artist can be so widely enjoyed. How many people have ever loved “Billie Jean”? It’s a beautiful thing, really, that a song can resonate with so many millions of individuals. I like to think that if we had a time capsule for Earth, we could all agree that “Billie Jean” should be included in it.

But what a tragedy that Michael had to sacrifice his peace of mind and his sanity to share his gifts with so many of us. I don’t think someone can be that famous and not be completely fucked in the head. I’ve always been able to separate the personae from the music, even when I listen to the Jackson 5. How lucky for me. That child’s voice is one of my favorite sounds! But now that he has died, I can’t help but hear it in the context of that tragic and truncated life. I mean, I knew the guy had no chance of redemption. But ultimately, I find this mourning, this outpouring of love for his art, very depressing because it’s too late for him to relish it. And maybe it would have brought him a little more joy.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Baby Talk

This weekend, I was struck by a horrible illness. Some bug has turned me into it's dirty mucus factory, and I can't do much besides read, write, watch videos and think. In other words, I've been forced to slow down and enjoy my favorite activities.

So here's what's on my mind - I think I'm ready to make a baby. I mean, I'm just about as ready as I'm ever going to be, despite the normal fears (of child birth, of losing my life as I know it, of the potential that I could be another bad parent that screws up a kid). I want to wait until Dan and I are established elsewhere, which should happen in the next year or so. Hopefully, I'll still be fertile. If I've inherited my mother's ovaries - she gave birth to seven children between ages 27 and 44 - I think I should be able to beget a human or two.

So, why does child-rearing seem right right now? Honestly, my body's been ready for at least a decade. Truly, it was ready when I hit puberty, but there was a point around age 20 when babies started getting me really excited. And then in my mid-twenties, I started experiencing these incredibly intense periods, during which my body seemed to scream at me, "Why oh why won't you get knocked up?!" Birth control has regulated that weird impulse, which is a good thing, because until recently, I just didn't feel like I was mature enough to be a mom.

Great Lakes Myth Society, a really wonderful local band, has this song called "Foolish Motives of Lost Debates" in which the singer asks, "When will I cease fucking up endlessly?" That was the definitive question for most of my adult life. I just couldn't help myself from making a lot of bad choices. In just the last couple years, I've been trying really hard to not shoot myself in the foot - financially, physically, in my marriage, etc. I think I've finally become a self-preserving person, which could mean that I'm ready for a little person to depend upon me.

And then there's this feeling I get when I see a fresh new human, with those eyes that take in everything, clinging to its parent's body. I know how lovely it is when my cat clings to me or my dog nuzzles up to my side, and I wonder how that next phase of love must feel.

Friday, June 19, 2009

On Hipsters

I've finally started singing karaoke. It's addictive. My favorite venue is a bar down the street from my house, not because they have the best selection (how many songs could Shania Twain possibly have?) or the best atmosphere (smoke, watered down beer, Nascar on the telly). I like the crowd. They tend to be the most regular, poor singing people you'll ever meet. But I admire the bad karaoke singers along with the greats, because anyone who has the balls to belt out their secret, favorite jam before an audience must be fueled by intense passion. The energy is riveting.

But when I went to the pub on Wednesday, I didn't sing because alas! the hipsters ruined it for me. I'm talking about Ypsi hipsters, who wouldn't be accepted by Ann Arbor or Detroit hipsters because they don't have enough money and at some point were probably avid Trekkies or role-playing fanatics. Now that would make them seem cooler in my book, but in the end, they are as exclusive and socially retarded as all hipsters. This particular crew is lead by a dude and a chick that stand stiff as statues, delivering studied, flawless and dull renditions of technically difficult pop hits. When they take the stage, I feel held hostage. And when they aren't singing, they hold court in the corner of the bar and regulate the applause level. It's a pretty cold environment for those who aren't worthy of their accolades. The not-so-good singers are discouraged from pursuing their rock star dreams, and I just feel like going home.

I think I've finally figured out the defining hipster quality, the one that makes them such terrible people. Hipsters value taste above passion and kindness. They won't like you if you don't have good taste.

What does this "good" taste amount to anyway? Well, I'll be honest and admit that I have an indie hipster's aesthetic. I like the "right" movies and television shows, music and books. I guess I'm a maven, and I can talk a lot of entertaining nonsense about pop culture. This is how I am able to be accepted by hipsters if I try hard enough and endure a lot of alienation.

Years ago, I dated a very nice man who happened to be a successful rock photographer. When we were together, I got into a lot of the coolest parties and shows, but I never could enjoy myself because I got tired of people being friendly to me only when I was with him. If he walked away, it was as if I disappeared. I was always feeling hurt and offended, but then I realized that the hipsters were as scared of me as I was of them. The thing with hipsters is that most of them were outcasts, at some point, because of the music they liked or the clothes they wore, and the way that clashed with the shitty suburbs from whence they came. So they're insecure and maybe all they know is the style that defined them at that time. I guess that's how taste becomes all-important.

After the photographer and I broke up, we stayed on friendly terms, but I was relieved to be free of the cool parties and concerts. When I would encounter a hipster, I would play a funny game in which I would drop his name and see how quickly that person would warm up to me. Knowing him put me in a higher echelon, made me more attractive. It's awful, isn't it?

On a very different note, the first night that I worked up the nerve to sing at the bar down the road, I was inspired by a young man in a leather vest (no shirt), who approached me while Dan was singing "Another One Bites the Dust". He asked, "Are you with anyone?" and I said, "Yeah, I'm with him" and pointed to Dan. He got really embarrassed 'cause I guess he was trying to hit on me. He kept saying, "I'm a humble man... I'll buy you and him a drink". And he did, right after he got up and screamed his way through a rollicking, off key version of Don Henley's "Dirty Laundry". I hate that song, but it was one of my favorite performances. Those are the guys who will save this culture from the hipsters.