Koreatown, Los Angeles is west of downtown and south of Hollywood and is considered part of the Mid-Wilshire district. The demographics and borders have changed over the years but the neighborhood is generally accepted to be an area around 3 square miles and has one of the densest populations in Los Angeles. This is the place I ended up on day two of my first west coast vacation.
The Brass Monkey is a karaoke bar there and where we were going to celebrate my girlfriend’s cousin’s 30th birthday. We got there at 7 PM–early–and saw the walls lined with famous celebrity pics. I wondered if they’d frame a picture of me later. I was wearing my nicest new sweater from J. Crew.
There were only about a dozen people in the place when we arrived. I hadn’t been to a karaoke place since a few stints at the Beachcomber in exotic Quincy, MA circa 2009 so I immediately started to get fidgety like I was back on stage as Jet #3 in West Side Story. I always WANT to sing in these places but rarely have had the guts to do so. I have lots of confidence in most realms of life, but something about singing and dancing puts many white guys in a very vulnerable position.
I should also remind you that this is SOBER karaoke night for me. Nothing about karaoke goes with being sober so this may be hard to truly grasp. It can be an awkward situation for sure, so unless you’ve sung sober at a karaoke bar, I want you to step the fuck back before you start judging my anxiety. And YET, I do have small track record with karaoke. I have sung a few songs before and they didn’t go that horribly. So I took a breath, grabbed the sign-up sheet. and thought, NO REGRETS. I’M ON VACATION.
So many regrets.
I decided to go with Warren G’s “Regulate” for my song. It’s a duet–Warren G and Nate Dogg–and a hip-hop anthem from the summer of ’94. If you don’t know the song, just stop. Stop everything. I know about 3 raps fairly well and this is one of them. Miles, who was there with me, agreed to do one of the parts even though he didn’t know the song well. I figured he might be bad, but I’d shine! We went back and forth outside like a couple of school-girls about who would do what part. He even pulled up the lyrics so we could have a look before we went up. When I passed in the sheet to the karaoke guy, there were about 12 people in the bar. When he called “Scott M” there were 200.
I STILL WASN’T THAT NERVOUS. Hardly knowing all the words by heart, having a partner who hardly knew the song, and a gigantic crowd–you’d think I’d be real nervous. Nope. This is what you call karaoke hubris. But what I didn’t realize at all, and this would be my biggest downfall, was that this was WARREN G and NATE DOGG. This was WEST COAST rap. This is to LA as GLORY DAYS is to New Jersey. MY HEART WILL GO ON to Canada? I don’t know, you get it.
Regulators, we regulate any stealing of his property
And we damn good too but you can’t be any geek off the street
Gotta be handy with the steel if you know what I mean
Earn your keep, regulators, mount up
The prelude-lyrics couldn’t be more ironic. I was a geek off the street and I wasn’t going to earn my ‘keep.’ Fucking disaster. Already behind on the lyrics.
And then it was Miles’ turn to begin. WELP. Within three words he froze like deer in headlights and started to FREE-STYLE RAP. BEWILDERED, I concentrated on what would be my part. Because you know, the hubris stepped in and whispered, “AS LONG AS YOU’RE GOOD SCOTT!”
But Miles just decided to sing the whole song. Just screw our plan, he’s going to sing every word he can read. So this throws me for another loop. But it gets worse, obviously. NOT SURE WHY but normally…in a song with multiple parts…the lyrics clearly light up to show who is singing what part. You sing the part, and then the lyrics disappear. It’s like reading-for- idiots. But for SOME REASON multiple lines were lighting up at the same time, and couple this with the fast-pace of the song, none of us were singing the right part. So what I decided to do was wait…wait til I got back to a part I knew real well. But it’s like that never came. So the crowd, WHO WAS GATHERED AROUND US LIKE A MOB, was left singing as the guy with the mic was silent, staring at the screen like a kid wondering why his dad wasn’t there for soccer practice pick-up. And then it happened. Top 5 most horrible moment of my life.
Random dude approaches me from the left side. I’m thrown off of course as I desperately try to get back on track with these elusive lyrics! He points to the mic and all I can think of is that my mic went out and he’s helping me put it back on. HE’S HERE TO HELP! Nope. Not at all.
He grabs the mic from me and starts singing the song. THE MAN TOOK MY MIC. THE MAN TOOK MY MIC. I DON’T BELIEVE WHAT I JUST SAW. Has to be one of the most emasculating things that can happen. CERTAINLY with karaoke. There’s “Hey, I’m just going to take home your girlfriend right now” which would rank #1, and then there’s “Hey, I’m going to take your microphone from you” which comes in second.
So despite knowing that I was ruining the song for all of Los Angeles, I still had SOME dignity left. I grabbed the mic and said “Can I have the mic back?” STILL POLITE DURING A TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE, Jets. I am a gentlemen but something about the 2-1-3 made me think I’d kill a man for a microphone that night. He said “SING” to me. It was in a pleading-sort-of way. ‘Please just stop sucking’ was the underlying message.
It was like when they play the music for those people at the Oscars to get off stage but they keep going with their speech. I was GOING to finish my song dammit. I mean the crowd was still going nuts singing themselves but their leaders–the men with the microphones–were completely inept. Who does a song that everybody knows except the people holding the microphones? Several 5-10 second pauses where nobody was saying anything into the microphone.
I put back the microphone on the stand when the song finished. I was finished. I made my way back to the table. A black man gave me a fist-bump. It made me feel a little bit good inside but I think it was his way of saying “Hey, I saw your J. Crew sweater and I think it’s nice that you tried that song.” My girlfriend could barely look me in the eye and nobody even bothered with the obligatory “Nice job.” People everywhere avoiding eye-contact like they do on the orange line in Boston. A ‘karaoke plague’ may be hyperbole but it’s not far off. I was the white leper. That’s actually a good rap-name. Copyrighted, right now.
I wasn’t embarrassed as much as I was mad. I AM BETTER THAN THAT, I thought. But isn’t that what the crazy-bad contestants do on Idol during the first few weeks? Say they can do better if they just get another chance? Simon Cowell would have told me horrible things. I would probably cry but not the tears-streaming cry. Kind of like that shaky, I’m-gonna-hold-this-in-until I get home-cry.
Oh no. The flamboyant guy wearing a snake as a necklace on Idol. Doesn’t he think he’s pretty good too? Am I one of them? Was I the snake-guy singing? I quickly signed up to do ANOTHER song. One that I knew and one that would get the crowd going:
Tenacious D’s “F- Her Gently.”
It was a RISKY choice considering I was with my girlfriend’s family members but they were drinking and I don’t think it could have been as bad as the Warren G fiasco. If you don’t know the song, look up the lyrics. It’s romantic.
2 hours later, my name was called. Somewhere in the distance a man whispered “Oh no! Not him again!” but that could have been my psyche playing Korean tricks on me. I stormed up to the front. My girlfriends’ friend said she’d come up with me for support and to sing it with me.
“I GOT THIS” I said, as I took the stage that sent my soul packing 2 hours prior.
The crowd realized what song I was doing and the 200 people gathered again. This time fueled with more hard liquor. I was fueled up on regret. Full tank.
Well, Jets. I think I did a DAMN FINE JOB! I finished the song with pride and regained hope. My girlfriend had been 3 feet from me while I sang the horrific lyrics. I finished and went up to her.
“HOW’D I DO?!”
She blankly stared at me. Eyes glazed over. Oh, that familiar face. I had those eyes from 2006-2010.
Nothing. I got some praise from a few people. Confidence trickled back. I didn’t feel quite like Eminem in 8-mile when he wins it all because of mom’s spaghetti. My sweater was making me sweaty and it was bedtime. I’d sleep OK.
I was happy to win the respect back from my girlfriend. She must have felt pretty horrible knowing that she showed up with that kid on stage who got his microphone swiped. So the next night at dinner we started talking about the incident. I then brought up the Tenacious D song.
Wait. You sang a second song?
WHAT? You were right there.
I know you signed up for it. But you actually sang it?
WHAT? You’re kidding, right? I did GOOD. I DID GOOD, BABE!
I have no recollection of it. I remember everything but that.
And just as soon as it was back—the renewed sense of masculinity–it was gone. Gone to selective amnesia. Gone to the cheap tequila. Left somewhere in the crowded bar of Koreantown. Like a fart in the wind.