Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Empty Orchestra no. 1

By Cheyenne Neckmonster

Personally I'm not really a big fan of karaoke. Or at least I'm not a fan of the style of karaoke most common in North America. I'm not really a big fan of bars in general, so going to one and watching people I don't know sing songs I don't know or like seems like a pretty horrible way to spend an evening. Plus I don't particularly want to stand up and sing in front of strangers either.

But something I do like is reading Cheyenne's zine about karaoke. Feeling that karaoke was not a big enough part of her social life, she spent a summer dragging her friends and co-workers to karaoke nights all across her city. And then she wrote incredibly in depth and awesome reviews of them all. How awesome? So awesome I bothered to type up the entirety of the first one so that you can read it yourself, because I don't think I can describe the charm of this zine in my own words. If you like this there's a bunch more in the zine itself and you should definitely check it out.
Todd's karaoke Bar and Grille is on Lane Allen Rd, nestled behind a Home Depot, in the same strip mall complex as a Big Lots, a game shop called The Rusty Scabbard, a Chinese Restaurant that always looks closed, and Cash America Pawn & Check Advance. The cultural epicenter of a bottom-rung commercial Bermuda Triangle. Though location is somewhat peculiar (as is the decor - a leftover assortment of holiday decorations that never get taken down), it somehow adds to its charm. The crumbling parking lot, the closed storefronts of pawn shops and nail salons, the battered cars assembled out front, arranged haphazardly, as if the occupants were so eager (or drunk) that they felt no need to heed traffic etiquette: these conspire to enhance, not detract from, the full Todd's experience.

Todd's doesn't open until it gets dark, which is probably for the best. The sticky, carpeted floor, duct-taped seats and tattered tablecloths wouldn't be as endearing if exposed to sunlight. In fact, I think they might deteriorate. It fancies itself a "Bar and Grille." They get the "bar" part spot-on, standard choices like Bud or Bud Light, Coors or Coors Light, Miller or Miller Light, cheap vodka, cheap whiskey, canned juice, and soda. But the "Grille" part? I think they might have had some bags of chips somewhere. I'm glad I didn't go expecting actual food.

The first time I went to Todd's it was the summer, and the last dying rays of the day kissed the tinted windows as the door was opened to the smoking, hollering regulars outside. I stepped in, head down, and found a table at which to peruse the song selection. The hefty binder sat, spine broken, rings off-kilter like cracked ribs, on a table in the corner. Little slips of paper and failing ballpoint pens were strewn on various tables from the parade of nights before. I leafed through the wavy pages, trying to decipher the tiny print in the poor light, and waited for my friends to arrive. Three Library & Information Sciences students, a co-worker, and one guest made it to the bar. That sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. Anyway, we poured over the collection in the fading daylight that snuck in from the parking lot. Vague wafts of old cigarettes and car exhaust swirled around and mingled with the musty carpet and stale beer smells. I ordered a Miller High Life and scribbled some tiny letters and numbers onto a slip of paper, which I gave to a man sitting in front of a computer attached to the bar. Turns out he was Todd.

A guy walked by our table with a box of delivery breadsticks, making small talk with us in order to brag about being a professional singer who came to Todd's to keep his vocal cords strong. He knocked out the crowd, not with his song selections, which were pretty weak and modern, but his range, which was impressive. He introduced himself as Josh.

Alanna, a fellow LIS student, was classically trained in stinging but had never done karaoke. Eager to get more people on the stage, I insisted that she choose a song and give it a shot. She choose a song from the Phantom of the Opera. When it came on, Josh ran into the bar from outside, exclaiming to us -- "This song has a male and female part!! Should I get up there??" To which I could say, "YES!! DO IT!!" He faltered. "But, does she know me? Won't that be weird?" I shook my head. "No, it's not weird, we know you! You're Josh!" That was convincing enough for him, and he swept the mic off its stand just in time to start "All I ask of You."

The force of both of their strong, well-trained voices overpowering the cheap synth version of an opera song brought the bar to a grinding halt. Everyone sitting at the bar gawked at the stage, unable to process what was unfolding at the back of the room. People leered in from outside. Nobody at our table knew what to think. It was kind of beautiful, the two of them, the meek library-in-training and the self-assured, fashionable dude, singing like they had a real audience instead of a mostly empty bar, standing easily onstage in front of the broken chair and the tinsel curtain and poor lighting, wiping the grimy edges of the world away for a second.

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