Last summer was a big karaoke moment for me. I’ve always enjoyed karaoke as a concept, of course. In high school, I got third place in a student activities based competition. In college, I learned the importance of picking the right song when I was left standing awkwardly through an extended solo section. One year for my birthday, I rented a private karaoke room in NYC (still one of the best birthdays I’ve had). Last summer, however, I was indoctrinated into the world of Acoustic Karaoke. This might not be a universal concept, so here it is, laid out simply: a guitarist, with a list of songs, plays as singers sing over his guitar. It’s a little bit like being a part of a band for a short moment, and as you gain a rapport with the performer, there certainly can be that feeling. My legacy so far has been choosing the songs no one seems to choose. I’ve pulled out Matthew Sweet’s “Sick of Myself,” The Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man,” and the surprisingly rarely chosen “Animal” by Neon Trees. It has become sort of a running joke with my friends, and potentially with the guitarist himself. What I am also known for, however, is my rendition of “Go Your Own Way.” And my dashing good looks.
“Go Your Own Way” was sort of a whim choice the first time I rolled out, because I don’t like Fleetwood Mac. It has taken years to realize that it is not the band itself which is the problem, though. FM is a group of competent musicians, smart harmonizers, and frequently solid songwriters. And Stevie Nicks. That right there is the key aspect that keeps me at a distance. It’s become almost the cheapest joke in the music joke biz to mock Stevie’s vocal delivery, but it is a valid complaint. It’s also the thing that allows an honest critique: if a song like “Landslide” can be so moving, so beautiful, in basically any context other than the original, there must be something positive at play regardless of my dislike for the band… what element is askew? It was in realizing that I did enjoy Lindsey Buckingham that it was clear that I didn’t inherently hate Fleetwood Mac, but simply their most famous member. It restructured my idea of the band, and made it OK to research more of their music, if remaining cautious of a certain bleating element.
That said, I had no deep connection to this song prior to pulling it out to sing. It was easy to remember, short, in my range, and anthemic. Anthemic is a huge plus in a karaoke song, because it allows you to belt, and to get the crowd, small as it may be, pumped to listen to you yowling away. It wasn’t a song I loved, though, just one I liked. It wasn’t one I fully related to, and indeed there are parts that I strongly resist. It wasn’t even the song that made me think twice about the band. Yet it fit me like a glove, especially from the first notes of the chorus. It allowed for a natural quaver, it slipped into my range, and I had fun. My friends would suggest I do it again the next time. Eventually I feel like it became mine, like the guy who basically owns the Depeche Mode catalog, our own sometime-contributor Terri who hushes the damn room with “Shadows of the Night,” or the guy who does a filthy rendition of “Teenage Dream” which basically co-opts any knowledge I ever had of the original. I dislike the idea of doing the same songs every time… I want to switch it up, experiment, fail and rise… but it feels good to be a sort of standard in the rotation.
We spent the summer attending about weekly at Cactus Grill, the shady quasi-restaurant where Acoustic Karaoke was featured, until the establishment decided it was costing too much (they closed within the year, it is worth noting). Some time in the midst of all this, however, I learned that our erstwhile guitarist was best known for his contributions to… wait for it… SR-71. My major memory of the pop-punk band was a summer concert the year people liked them. I forget who they opened for; it might have been 3 Doors Down, back when they were small enough to play a skating rink for free. The thing I recall most about the event as a whole was SR-71 tossing free CDs into the crowd (singles? full length copies? That, I do not recall), and immediately having the crowd hum them back at them. Crowds at the free concerts were frequently flinging solid objects through the air, because why not toss a full water bottle as if it’s not apt to possibly concuss a nearby concertgoer? This was, however, the single example I recall of the audience directing this sort of action directly at a band. It’s not that SR-71 deserved better, but they were no worse than a hundred similar bands flooding the radio, from Blink-182 to Sum 41 to A New Found Glory 27. My dislike for the show, or the single, was no excuse for why the crowd seemed so violently upset over them. Much as Electrasy occupies my memory less for their awful “Morning Afterglow” and more for the drunken, erratic performance they gave on the same stage a few weeks later (topping the whole bizarre thing with the singer falling offstage during the single), SR-71 is the Band People Threw Free Swag Back At. Sort of an inglorious title, all things considered.
In all likelihood, then, I saw Mark, their guitarist and our Karaoke host, on stage getting pelted with sharp-cornered sampler material all those years ago. Thankfully, similar has never happened at Karaoke (that I’ve witnessed), not even on the Drunken Fast Car Singer nights. Also kept under wraps, outside of some of the promotional material for new locations, is the link to the old band. In all the weeks of going, I’ve heard someone perform “Right Now,” the band’s only hit, exactly once, the night the Cactus closed, as a tribute of sorts. It came paired with playful jabs and banter and a little embarrassment. It did not come with violent CD pelting. In the interim, respect has clearly been earned. Still, I find it interesting to be regularly standing beside a man from a band that represents the least respect I have ever seen an audience show at a concert, singing a song by a band that often springs to my lips when discussing music I cannot stand. Much like a long-forgotten punk band at a late-90s concert, Fleetwood Mac is a band I would throw back a free CD from. And yet, through love of music, I find these two touchstones of music non-appreciation forming a meaningful and real attachment. Two bands I sincerely never cared about have created a covalent bond in my mind. Somehow, I am totally OK with this.
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