Tonight at dinner, after her twelfth day of kindergarten (but who's counting?), Lucia proudly told me that she knows the definition of "desperate." "Desperate", she said, "is when you really really really want something." Desperate isn't necessarily a negative thing. Sometimes it is exciting, thrilling, intoxicating. That's how I feel about singing Karaoke. Once I decide to do it, I'm desperate to sing my heart out.
About a month ago I found myself in a Karaoke Bar in the International District with my partner Nancy, my 27-year-old brother David and five of his law school buddies. I'm basically old enough to be their mother and have thankfully almost outgrown the self-conscious phase of young adulthood. I went through a phase in my early twenties where I did a lot of Karaoke. At that time I was crazy about any song that involved Dolly Parton. I loved to sing "Islands in the Stream", her fabulously uplifting duet with Kenny "The Gambler" Rogers.
The Karaoke Bar on this night was immediately my favorite place in the whole world. Everyone was so different (age, size, race, style) yet they were all the same. Karaoke does that. In Karaoke land, I've often gravitated to Stevie Nicks (fashion aside). Put a mike in my hand and I sound exactly like her. Almost. Kind of. Well, not really. Anyway, I wanted to sing "Stop Draggin My Heart Around" which as you should all know, is a duet between Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks. My sister Katherine and I almost won a Grammy singing that song at a divey bar in Chicago. I asked all of my brother's friends and my Nancy who boldly accompanied me on this mission to do the duet with me. They all declined. Repeatedly. So I asked the Karaoke host if he'd sing it with me. I mean, come on, the night was early so there wasn't a huge backlog of performers. I could be a great warm up act, a novice like me with the host.... He said no.
I watched a few acts. These crazy people were singing their hearts out and they were good. They were great. I loved each one of them profoundly. I was growing increasingly desperate, agitated. As I scanned the bar for someone who might sing with me, a humongous, crew-cutted man wearing a t-shirt that could fit a baby elephant got up and sang so beautifully I thought it was a joke. He was a regular. "Smoosh" was his name. Completely star struck and embarrassingly uninhibited in my desperation, I watched Smoosh exit the stage on which he barely fit. He lumbered to the back of the dark bar where he was surrounded by his friends (fans?) and sat down like a king holding court. Before losing my nerve, I marched back to him in my Value Village sundress and said, "Smoosh, will you be Tom Petty in 'Stop Draggin' My Heart Around'?" He said yes!!! What a gentleman. What a benevolent, kind man to say yes to this holly hobby looking Karaoke beginner. I was ecstatic.
I returned to my shy table of attorneys and waited. Desperate. Finally, they called us, "Laura and Smoosh." Two mikes, one screen. His words in blue, mine in pink, our harmonies in yellow. Boom boom boom!!! We were on. My voice cracked in the beginning. I knew the only way to do this was to really be a rock star. Me and Smoosh. Stevie and Tom. One and the same. I actually have no idea how we really sounded or what was happening in the audience, but in my amped up, wanna be a rock star mind, we took down the house. I wanted to hug Smoosh. Kiss Smoosh. He was my partner in this Karaoke ecstasy. I didn't actually make physical contact with Smoosh, but I did make an internal note to self to go back the next Tuesday and sing with him again.
When I left the bar that night, I was joyous in a way that I rarely am. These people! Smoosh, the man in the pristine white suit and Frank Sinatra hat they all called "Uncle Bob", the librarian looking guy in the beret who belted out Nina Simone like a champ. They were fantastic. I felt connected to them. I felt hopeful, alive, part of something bigger (even if it was being a Karaoke singer in a bar in the I.D.). The next day I sent an email to five of my good friends. The subject line, "Karaoke Heals the Soul" and I invited them to come sing the next Tuesday. The response wasn't great. I didn't go sing that next Tuesday nor have I made time to go since then. But, as I write this, the moments on stage I had--giving it all up, channelling Steve Nicks, singing my heart out with Smoosh, being the same in all of the difference-- are clear as if I just finished my encore. Karaoke does heal the soul. And I'm desperate for more.