my 1st time
What the hell am I doing here? I thought to myself, as I pulled into Chop Stix 3, a seedy little dive bar in Portland's North East Industrial side. I'm a real artist. I shouldn't even be here. This is degrading. I scolded myself, as I found a parking spot near the rear of the lot, put my Oldsmobile Alero into park and exited the vehicle with trepidation. I was here and they knew I was coming. No turning back now.
Big Dan and Josh the Terrible had been doing karaoke for months at various bars around Portland and had been nagging me for nearly as long to come out and join them. I would always decline. What prompted me to come out on this particular night, I can't be entirely sure, but I'm quite certain the beers they offered to buy me aided in my decision to finally give in to their nagging.
“Not a chance in hell am I going to sing.” I told them. Karaoke was for losers: people who couldn't sing, people who didn't have another means to go on stage and perform. People who had no problem making a mockery of music. I was a musician- a touring and performing one- who was on stage aplenty. I didn't need this to fill any narcissistic or artistic needs.
Yet, there I was- of my own free will- at a karaoke bar with promises of free beer and musical mutilation.
If one were to perform a search for “dive bar” on Google, the number one search result would be Chop Stix 3. I nearly developed lung cancer from the thick smoke, which enveloped the poorly lit room. The video poker machines lining the walls mockingly teased the money away from the decrepit humans who futilely sought from them a pay off. An off duty police officer, moonlighting as bar security, checked my ID and allowed me to enter the bar. I spotted my friends through the acrid smoke at a long table in the center of the bar, which sat directly in front of the hard wood stage, surrounded by tattered carpeting.
I joined my friends and began to drink. I watched as Josh the Terrible pretty much owned Metallica's The Unforgiven and Big Dan screamed his big heart out to some nu-metal garbage and my guard was slowly worn down– aided, no doubt, by the Happy Hour (only $1! ) PBR Tall Boys.
Four Tall Boys later and I caved. I would sing after all.
“You won't regret it,” Josh the Terrible told me. “You're going to kick ass. Just have fun.”
“Yeah, sure,” was my skeptical response.
What was I to choose for my first karaoke song? I didn't want to make a fool of myself, obviously, so I decided to choose something I knew very well. My inexperience, however, bamboozled me into choosing to sing something with an incredibly wide range that never even came near to my own limited one– Elton John's Rocketman . I turned in my song sheet to the Karaoke host (or, KJ) and nervously awaited my turn, all the while guzzling up all of the liquid courage I could muster.
After an eternity, my name was called (This, of course, being before I'd discovered the important and amusing karaoke trend of a stage name. I may have turned in a sheet with the name “Justin.” on it, but I have sense settled on the name “White Chocolate”, due in large part to my ability to masterfully perform gangsta rap). I don't remember how it wound up sounding (though I do recall, a few minutes into the performance, wondering why Sir Elton had to sing "And I think it's gonna be a long long time" so many damn times). I was not as nervous as I thought I would be, but my pitch was all over the map. I really am not a good singer and, at this point, had not yet discovered what my limited range actually is. Six minutes later, when the song reach it's merciful and repetitious conclusion, I hung my head and sloughed off to my table as quickly as possible. My friends patted me on the back and high fived me. The strangers in the bar, of which there were many, gave me an undeserved courtesy applause.
But, I'd done it. I'd popped my cherry. I'd done what I said I'd never do, and life, for better or for worse, would never again be the same.
Since that dark night, I have found my niche and honed my craft, expanding my repertoire and earning the applause. I've discovered that karaoke, while still probably a nascent fad for hipsters, attention whores and drama students to enjoy, can also be a legitimate form of performance art. I have even made a modest living at it by occasionally being a karaoke host (using, of course, the moniker “White Chocolate”). If you're ever in Portland at feel the urge to sing a song that you didn't write, maybe we'll run into each other.