Thursday, July 3, 2008

Guilty Pleasures or Karaoke Night in the Gayborhood

The familiar sight of a multi-colored flag is flapping ever so slightly in the breeze generated mostly by Richmond traffic as I approach Decades, the divey neighborhood gay bar next door to My Main Gay’s apartment complex. He frequents the place for many reasons, but tonight, it is Wednesday, and that means: Karaoke.

Now as a rule, I avoid karaoke. As a professional musician, it is against my principles to sing bad music for free, but tonight Main’s little brother is in town and he wants to show him a nice relaxed time in The Gayborhood, and as usual, a good time for Main involves Yours Truly.

I am instantly struck by the cramped shoebox of a room that is the entire bar. Mirrored walls do little to open up the space and since it is still pretty early—nine-ish—there is not much of a crowd. The few patrons turn to size me up and I realize I have arrived before Main and to make matters worse I am quite possibly over dressed in my white linen skirt, layered tank tops and flip flops. Uh huh. I said overdressed.

Reserving judgment, I turn on my heels to wait for Main outside and eventually he, Little Bro, and another FriendBoy join me. We choose a spot at the bar just as a tall skinny man with a smallish head begins a painful rendition of something vaguely resembling country. The bartenders are bickering like siblings and I find out that there is a reason for this: they are. Charmingly Chipper Sis and Brooding Bearded Bro wearing a shirt that says “Vaginatarian” are painfully cute and I keep eavesdropping to hear if one of them will whine “I’m telling!” Their mother is the proud owner of this fine establishment and the whole operation is a family affair.

The friendly faces and warm introductions that come easily from the regulars quickly abate my snobbery and every brave soul that takes the mic seems to be genuinely enjoying him or herself, living in the moment, confidently doing in public what most of us self-conscious schlubbs only do in the sanctity of our own shower. I am inspired. But I still don’t really do karaoke…much. Suddenly, I hear my name called by the DJ and Main is smirking and looking falsely innocent. He has put my name along with his favorite Sarah Vaughn jazz tune, Whatever Lola Wants, on the lineup and I am now being paged to take my turn. My Scarlet O’Hara-esque eyebrow is struggling to free itself from my forehead as I attempt to maim him with eye-daggers while making my way to the microphone. He has a special request: I am to replace “Lola” with his name. It is something of an after hours tradition with us.

I shrug and surrender myself to the somewhat unwanted attention that comes with my karaoke performances. I bring all the sultry heat I have and mix that with a tiny bit of camp, and before I know it, there are cameras flashing and someone is recording me with their cell phone. All eyes are on me and the crowd is responding to each gesture and shoulder roll and the whole silly affair is rewarded with a bar full of applause and cheers when it is over. I bob a curtsy as humbly as I can and slink back to my barstool and beer, blushing fiercely and suddenly very thirsty.

I feel like it really isn’t fair to participate in karaoke nights since I sing for a living, and it is also a bit like asking your cousin’s new boyfriend with a PhD to look at this mole you have on your ass. I am not a skilled country or pop singer. That’s not my bag, baby, so unless the DJ has an extensive collection of Jazz standards in the keys I prefer, and/or a slew of obscure Broadway tunes, it is out of my box. Don’t get me wrong; it is fun beyond words to do a little Crystal Gayle or Madonna. I never get to do that stuff! But I always feel pressured to be perfect when I am singing outside the confines of a pro gig. Weird hang ups I suppose.

A return to Karaoke night the following week (how do I get myself in these situations?) proves to be even more absurdly fun and full of giggles. This week I was eerily sober all night and there were several gaggles of pretty-boy types out to have a good giggle. HA! Gaggles looking for giggles! I kill me! IT turns out that the lead geese all have decent voices and are pretty well versed in the cheesier Karaoke standards. On top of that, the bartender discovered that I am a pro musician and Main wanted me to share my Broadway chops with the crowd to mix it up a bit. Oy. So I find myself singing a little ditty from Oliver, the musical—more classical legit than belter Broadway, so its pretty high and requires a full voice. I have done this one other time in a similar bar, with a more redneckish clientele. You would think everyone would boo and hiss and throw bottles and coasters, but for some reason they eat it up.

I spent the rest of the night fielding questions about my occupation, humbly accepting compliments, and singing duets with a Lance Bass look-a-like (it was uncanny) including The Phantom of the Opera (his choice.) Yes, the one with the freakishly high note at the end. Well, it ain’t all that high for me, so it was kind of a gas to get to blow some minds with that one. It was like being a classical karaoke rock star; just what my expensive private school degree prepared me for. My lenders must be so proud. That must be why they are calling me everyday: to congratulate me on my personal success! But I digress…
The night was ceremoniously closed in true karaoke form with LB and me singing Summer Nights (again his choice.) It would have been better if he could have sung the harmony at the end, but hey, local gay bar karaoke night celebrities can’t be choosers. I think that’s what really keeps me grounded in reality.

All in all, a lovely couple of evenings, a great, relaxed neighborhood bar brimming with friendly folks, long necks are $3—which could be worse, and it is truly an authentic Montrose experience—at least, the low-key kind. If you are looking for something a bit more novel, well, that’s a different bar and another blog altogether.