Just What I Needed

I suck terribly at karaoke. It’s a fact.

But despite that, I have absolutely no shame and therefore I truly enjoy doing it. This would explain why I try to make it a point to get together with current and former coworkers once a month (schedules permitting) and head out to a local bar to sing ourselves silly.

The problem is that because we are regulars and the music catalog is rarely updated, we’ve pretty much done every song we’ve wanted to sing. Now it’s gotten to a point where a few of us bring in our own CDs with karaoke versions of songs we want to sing.

All of this leads to my recent acquisition of a mixer that my neighbor gave to me. He had purchased it for a radio project that never quite worked out so, knowing I like making a fool of myself, he let me have it.

Now you’ll probably wonder how this little box is going to work as a karaoke machine. Well, I’m going to explain it to you.

YouTube as tons of karaoke videos including pretty current ones. If you have Chromecast, you can stream said music videos to your TV which in my case is a 42” Sony HDTV. Once you set up the stream, it takes a little wiring to get things right: audio out from TV into mixer; mixer into equalizer; equalizer into surround sound.

Done and done. Now the only thing I needed was a microphone, the cheapest ones with XLR connections going for around $25 which isn’t that bad. I was willing to spend that much and be perfectly happy with everything.

tempSo that was my goal for today: find a microphone. We decided to head out to a pawn shop in my hometown since we’ve found some pretty amazing deals there on just about everything you can think of: jewelry, musical instruments, even camera lenses back when I used film.

We looked around and didn’t find much of anything. I even asked the guy at the counter if they had any and he referred me to someone else who was busy helping another customer. Ann wasn’t feeling too good so I didn’t want to hang around much longer and we left. I felt kind of dejected knowing I was leaving without what I had come for.

I persuaded Ann into eating at a local burger joint that I used to frequent as a kid. She agreed and ate the bag of fries on the drive back, feeling better as we got closer to home. Never underestimate the power of a greasy spoon, especially one that has been around for so long.

One thing we noticed on the way out there was a ton of garage sales. I mean, tons of them. There had to be one at almost every other street but we didn’t think to stop at any of them being that I was on a mission. But on the way home, we drove by one and decided to stop by. There were a few bikes for sale that Ann thought would be perfect for Anthony (but they wanted too much for them).

We stopped and looked around at their wares, most of which was quality stuff and selling cheap. After Ann got a price for the bike, we walked over to the driveway to see what else they had.

And there they were, among the piles of sparkly sequinned dance outfits and shoes: two Panasonic microphones sitting in an old shoebox. I asked how much they were and braced myself. The adult daughter, who we later found out was the last child living at the home and was selling most of her stuff to move, looked at them and smirked.

“Ummm…$4 for both,” she said.

I quickly reached for my wallet as if I felt someone trying to lift it from my back pocket.

“Here’s $5. I’m good with that. Keep it.” She tried to give me the extra dollar back but I refused. We looked around a little more and ended up taking this haul home.

temp

Two candle holders, a Brookstone lighted lap desk, fountain vase, a set 3 of decorative bowls and of course, two microphones. All of this for $20. Ann and I both scored and could have gotten more if we wanted to do a little demolition and rewiring to accommodate the $250 lighting set they were selling for $20. We decided to pass – too much work regardless of the bargain. An electrician I am not.

We got home and tried everything. Although the battery holder inside the desk is broken, it’s nothing a little piece of duct tape couldn’t hold together and it works perfectly. (This would be great if my laptop still worked.) The fountain has a small crack but it does not affect the performance of the flowing water nor does it leak.

And the microphones?

Although they are not XLR connections, they both work and don’t sound too bad.

My homemade karaoke system is now complete and I was meant to find them today at such a bargain price.

Now it’s time to annoy the neighbors.

Singing with Heart

Last Friday night I attended our monthly Karaoke Night at our usual spot. Sadly, not all of the usual former coworkers could make it as they had prior engagements. It’s easy to see why with the holidays now upon us.

To summarize, here’s the list of songs I “sang”:

  • Tainted Love by Soft Cell. Always a favorite.
  • Precious by Depeche Mode. A song about the effects of divorce on children.
  • Break Stuff by Limp Bizkit. I uh…I’d rather not talk about why I didn’t have to look at the screen for the lyrics. I knew them. Look, let’s not discuss this, okay?

I have videos but there’s a reason why I linked to the original songs. Don’t expect them to ever be seen.

BlossomDespite there not being a lot of former coworkers, the place was packed as there was someone there with a group of friends celebrating a birthday. Among the large group was what I presumed to be a sprinkle of hipsters—they can be spotted miles away without binoculars—who looked out of place with the rest. Meh, no biggie. I’m no pillar of fashion myself.

I noticed that one of them signed up to sing.

Eventually, this female hipster got her turn on stage. When she stepped up I thought to myself, “Oh, this ought to be good.”

She was dressed like Blossom (almost EXACTLY like the photo above) and wearing white horn-rimmed glasses. She took the mic and stood stoically on the stage as the following song started to play.

There she stood staring straight at the lyric screen on the left of the stage, looking as if she was dared to sing a song but her introversion was getting the best of her and she was having second thoughts. Absolutely no body movement from her.

The piano intro led up to the vocals and she started to sing.

I hear the ticking of the clock
I’m lying here, the room’s pitch dark

Not bad, I thought. She must have had some kind of training.

I wonder where you are tonight
No answer on the telephone

Well, she’s better than the regular we call The Pilipino Elvis, that’s for sure. I’ve always liked this tune and she was doing it justice.

And the night goes by so very slow
I hope that it won’t end, though
Alone

Okay, enough of the quite stuff. Let’s see how well she can pull off Ann Wilson’s amazing voice. Not a chance in Hell, I thought.

Still standing in the same place, holding the mic in the same position and staring at the lyric monitor, she starts to sing the next line.

And this was pretty much how the entire room looked when it happened.

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Releasing My Inner Rock Star

Linbrook Bowl in Anaheim, CAOn Friday night, I did something for the first time: karaoke.

Me and a coworker I will call Lola (her Facebook pseudonym) had planned this night at least a month ago and invited a handful of fellow office drones to come along for the ride. We figured it would be a great time and a way to let loose and BS about the garbage we deal with in the office.

In the end, what was supposed to be a group of us turned out to be only myself, Lola, her boyfriend, a former coworker and his girlfriend. Ah, of mice and men…

But despite their absence, the plans went through and we all had a good time. It’s also worth noting that Ann and Anthony came because Ann’s mom, who was supposed to watch him that night, had fallen ill in the days prior to the event. Stupid mice and men. And because karaoke takes place in the bar of the bowling alley, he was not allowed in. Instead, they spent their time doing some bowling while I made a fool of myself on stage.

The bowling alley, Linbrook Bowl in Anaheim, is one of the rare places that has nightly karaoke which starts at 8:30 pm in the Kopa Room. I had read some online reviews about the place just to get an idea of what I was getting myself into and they were mixed. Some complained that the KJ (karaoke jockey) played favorites to the regulars and there were a few other not-so-nice reviews about the place overall.

I found that not to be the case once the ball got rolling. In short, we had a blast in the few hours we were there (it could have been longer if we didn’t have Anthony with us). About the only thing I could complain about was the song selection. In the week leading up to Karaoke Night, I had compiled a list of songs that I wanted to give a shot and much to my chagrin, many of them were not available. Not only that, here was there entire Depeche Mode song collection:

Weak!

As you can see in the dead center of that list, there were only four Depeche Mode songs and probably none of them I would ever want to karaoke. Come on, those are really bad choices!

Glass HousesI had been looking through the book with Lola and her boyfriend before the KJ arrived to get the party started and noticed that a good portion of the songs on my list were not in the book. Fortunately, some of my preferred songs were so once the KJ put out the sign-up sheet, I was about third in line with my first choice.

I had originally planned to kick it off with Eve 6’s “Inside Out” just because I’ve always liked the song and let’s face it, it sounds like a karaoke song. Or not. Maybe it was because I had heard a cover band in a Las Vegas casino doing it years ago and I liked the energy of it live, or maybe it was just within my vocal range. Either way, it wasn’t in the book so I had to opt for another opener: Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right.”

After the first two singers did their thing, I was called up to the stage to give my first song a go and boy, did I screw it up! Maybe it was the anxiousness of being on the stage and singing in public for the first time that made do it but one the song started, I sort of started singing along right away instead of waiting a few measures and following the words as they were highlighted. Rookie mistake. I honestly didn’t need to look at the screen for the lyrics because I’ve known that song since I was a kid which could have led to my know-it-all demeanor when it started. But once I recovered from my flub, it was smooth sailing with my group cheering me on.

Then a few other singers went up and flexed their vocal prowess (or lack thereof). That’s when it occurred to me that I may not be the best singer but holy crap in a pita, I’m one hell of a lot better than some.

Except for the girlfriend of former coworker Derek. She has won karaoke contests in the past and belted out Alicia Keys’ “No One” perfectly, leaving us speechless. It was incredible.

The-Very-Best-of-The-Doors

The second song on my list was “Roadhouse Blues” by The Doors. This was chosen more for its vocal range being in the same area as mine than being a good live song. I figured that it would be a good karaoke choice as well.

The only thing about it was that it was a severely edited version of the song, leaving out a full set of lyrics:

Ashen lady, Ashen lady
Give up your vows, give up your vows
Save our city, save our city
Right now

This totally threw me off because it was replaced by the first part of the song, making it extremely repetitive. A bit disappointing. But don’t take my word for it. Watch the video!

So yes, as you may have heard, it sounds like the same thing over and over. Not cool. But hey, I did include “Do it, Robbie, do it!” and looked over at the KJ playing an inflatable guitar when I did.

Then, after publicly embarrassing myself with that tune, I put my name on the list for a third song: “Back in the U.S.S.R.” by The Beatles. And yes, there is a video of that, too!

This seemed to work out better all the way around. By the way, that’s Lola singing along and giving me some encouragement as well. That’s how she rolls.

And yes, there were singers worse than me.

Overall, it was a great night to hang out and have some fun. Here’s the takeaway:

  • I sing with my eyes closed if I know the lyrics. It’s not that I didn’t want to make eye contact with the crowd; it’s just something that felt natural.
  • If you ever do karaoke, let it out! The mic can handle your voice at a high volume level better than struggling to hear you at a low level. Trust me, I was singing pretty loudly in those clips and there was no distortion. Singing comes from the gut, not throat.
  • Holding the mic with two hands while on the stand also seemed appropriate for the songs I did.
  • Tip the KJ. I left without doing so and felt pretty bad since he was a cool guy who chatted with us a few times while others were singing.
  • This was only the second time in my life that I had set foot in a bar. I kid you not.
  • I have no shame. What you see was fueled purely on adrenaline and my own self-satisfaction. Since I don’t drink, the only thing I had was a raspberry Smirnoff Ice and those things are just a step above a soda. I assure you that you don’t need to be inebriated to do karaoke; just confident.
  • Dropbox is great! It seems off-topic but it really isn’t. In order to get these videos to me, Lola uploaded them to her Dropbox account and shared the folder with me, giving me the opportunity to share them with you here. Before Dropbox (or the cloud-storage service of your choice), they would have had to be emailed – if your server could even handle such huge files. Now it’s a breeze.
  • By the way, that shirt really makes me look big. I assure you I haven’t gained back a ton of weight; it’s an XL shirt that Ann bought me for the night. And the stripes don’t really help either I suppose.

So it turns out that my first Karaoke Night was more fun than I could have ever imagined. Will there be another? I can practically guarantee it, and this time I’m looking to do some ‘80s tunes since Friday seemed to be Classic Rock Night.

And I’m sure there will be video evidence as well.

Rock on, peeps!