“Be at the northwest corner of Madison and 38th at eight o’clock sharp,” the voice on the answering machine said. “Wear black.” I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to respond to so peremptory a summons, but the voice was familiar and the occasion was an appointment, so I donned my Black Outfit, jumped in a cab, and proceeded as instructed to the rendezvous point.
Time out for a little backstory: I’m a passionate fan of the Lascivious Biddies, the New York-based jazz-pop combo for whose recently released debut CD, Get Lucky, I wrote the liner notes. (They’re also pioneer podcasters–go here to hear.) They’d been wanting to take me to dinner to celebrate the release of Get Lucky, so they told me to keep Monday night open and wait for further instructions. The instructions arrived by phone this afternoon, and at eight o’clock sharp I was met on the aforementioned corner by a black-clad Biddie who whispered the secret word in my ear, took me by the arm, and led me a half-block west to…a karaoke bar.
Unlikely as it may sound, seeing as how I’m a New York artblogger and all, I’d never been to a karaoke bar. The closest I’d come was reading Maud’s blog and seeing Lost in Translation. So not only was I being thrust into a new milieu, but my guides were a quartet of professional musicians who all happened to be karaoke buffs. The results were, to put it mildly, a hoot and a half, though it took me a little while to catch on. As I watched the lyrics to “Bette Davis Eyes” flash on the screen, I asked, “But…where’s the music?” (I was the best sight-singer in my freshman music-theory class.) Once the hysterical laughter died down, the Biddies agreed unanimously that this was the geekiest remark ever made in a karaoke bar, and we started flipping through the songbook, looking for songs to sing. The book itself was a monument to kitsch–an encyclopedia-sized list of every cheesy top-40 song released in the past quarter-century–and as for the videos, all I can say is that I was spellbound by their surrealistic awfulness.
The Biddies, it turns out, are way serious about karaoke (they even have girl-group dance routines worked out for their favorite songs), and their savoir-faire inevitably attracted the attention of the other patrons, none of whom appeared to suspect that there were ringers in their midst. One cheerful fellow sloshed up to our table and said, “You guys are really good–didja know that?” My companions smiled demurely.
It was made known to me in due course that I wouldn’t be allowed to go home without at least participating in a group sing, so when Lee Ann Westover called for “Moon River,” I chimed in with a discreet harmony line. As if by prearrangement, the rest of the band abruptly fell silent, and as I switched hastily to the lead, it hit me that the song was playing in C major, Andy Williams’ key, suitable only for very high baritones. Middle age having turned me into a low bass, alarming things started to happen as I sang We’re after the same rainbow’s end. Fortunately, I’d had sake with my sushi, and I joined in the chorus of catcalls that greeted my bloodcurdling attempt at a high D. This loosened me up no end, and I even went so far as to join in the chorus to “Do You Know the Way to San José.”
Will I ever do it again? Possibly. Did I have a good time? Definitely.