“It’s pretty amazing to see what people have bottled up inside of them."
So Foley astutely observed at our Tuesday night outing to Rock Star Gomeroke. A Madison institution, Rock Star Gomeroke is that most authentic of karaoke experiences: you sing, rock band plays back-up.
Now, let me be clear: I am no great karaoke singer. In fact, I don’t sing karaoke. Every time I have gotten up to croon some favorite song, it’s been a bust. There was the time I tried to sing “Me & Bobby McGee” with my friend Ben; I doubled over laughing through the whole song while he miraculously captured the smoke-scratched falsettos of Janis Joplin. There was the time I was convinced (or maybe I did the convincing…) to do a girls-only rendition of Eminem. We were booed off the stage. Seriously: In a room of drunk folks, none of whom could sing to save their life, we were booed off the stage. Then there was the time in Japan where, at a “snack bar” (a polite way, I guess, of describing an escort bar), I sang a duet with the bar’s madam—in Japanese. (I made weird noises; she sang actual words. And I inserted words that kind of sounded like what I thought I was hearing: “Watashi-wa….”) And then there was the time I drunkenly mustered the courage to sing on my own. Why I picked an Aretha Franklin song, I have no idea. But let me just say: I am no Aretha Franklin.
So I am no great karaoke singer. In fact, I don’t sing karaoke. I can sing back-up, I can sing the lyrics to every single song from the audience, and I can dance like mad, but I don’t sing karaoke. But Fresh: Fresh sings karaoke. No, Freshbelts karaoke. James Brown, Bon Jovi, Michael Jackson, AC/DC…all are skillfully covered in Fresh’s deep-voiced, scratchy-yelled repertoire. And he loves it—maybe because, unlike me who gets booed off the stage, people literally stand up and cheer when he does a Michael Jackson pelvic thrust or a James Brown scream. This dude rocks at karaoke.
For the three-going-on-four-years we’ve been in Madtown, we’ve been talking about Rock Star Gomeroke. Just down the street from our house at the High Noon Saloon, Rock Star Gomeroke is something we always seem to think of after the fact—after G. sends a text out, after our downstairs neighbor tells stories of that night’s scene. But for a karaoke rock star like Fresh, this is the ultimate in singing experience. This is the holy grail of karaoke.
We finally went. And oh my. Our friend Foley was right: It is pretty amazing to see what people have bottled up inside of them.
At Rock Star Gomeroke, there were no girls doubled over in laughter, no ridiculous renditions of Brittany Spears, no Mr. Molitors obnoxiously screeching out “Rocky mountain hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh!” Oh no. At Rock Star Gomeroke, there were only….rock stars.
There was the long-haired, long-skirted, deep-throated, librarian-let-loose who growled out Heart tunes while whipping her hair in circles. There was Terry from Appleton, bedecked in leather bustier, silver tuxedo shirt, and metallic animal-print scarf who sang AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds” better than, well, AC/DC. There was Mr. Showbiz, who smilingly channeled Ozzy Ozbourne while holding a beer in one hand and jamming with the drummer on the other. There was some guy from Seattle who convinced one of the Gomers (the band) to give up his guitar so that this dude could not only sing but play Stevie Ray Vaughan. There was Rebecca, who wins the weekly karaoke contest—partly because of her long blue velvet robe, partly because of her amazing voice, but mostly because she has the guts to sing things like, oh, Tenacious D. There was the preppy, pretty, frat boy who got up and sang Led Zeppelin, complete with microphone dancing and veins popping out of his throat. And then there was the old dude, the 70 year-old-dude who got up quietly to sing “Secret Agent Man” and, before you knew it, he had jumped off the stage to dance with the gaggle of women who were all writhing around and reaching out to touch him. I mean, seriously. These people were rock stars.
(Okay, maybe not all of them. There were a few people that were a little tone deaf, that didn’t know their song, or that froze in the lights. But what would karaoke be without them? Plus, it was also amazing to watch the rock stars jump to their rescue. One older man, older than the Secret Agent Man, got up to sing “Rock Lobster” by the B52s—and he completely froze up. Before you knew, leather-bustiered Terry from Appleton was on stage, dancing and singing back-up, helping him feel a little more comfortable, a little more confident, a little more like a rock star.)
But here’s what’s even more amazing: These rock stars, who were highly entertaining and also highly intimidating on stage, were these down-to-earth, dare-I-say slightly nerdy folks who were like this club of Rock Star Gomeroke-goers. If you saw them on the street, you’d have no idea the rock star that was bottled up inside. I mean, Mr. Pretty Frat Boy? A secret Robert Plant? The librarian-let-loose as Nancy Wilson? Terry from Appleton? Really?! AC/DC? And a shirt-ripper-offer? It was like for the three minutes (or ten, if you were covering Led Zeppelin) they were on stage, these people who seemed so one way—whether nerdy or bottled up or frattish or old—became some other person, some star. For those few minutes, they went from pretending they were a rock star while belting into their shampoo bottle—fancy moves, dramatic faces, and all—to actually being one. A real rock star. A rock star who made people cheer and get up and dance and crack up laughing. They might not be rock stars by day, but these people…they definitely rock.
Fresh didn’t end up singing on Tuesday. He thought about it, but like I said, these people were rock stars and, well, maybe he is still aspiring. It was a little intimidating—and he definitely didn’t want to end up being “Rock Lobster” man. But I think he just might be turning rock star in the near future: Those AC/DC lyrics are getting pinned up in our shower, and that shampoo bottle sure is getting a lot of action these days. I can’t wait to see the rock star he is inside bring down the High Noon Saloon. Maybe Terry from Appleton will even sing an AC/DC duet. Now that would be some rockin’ karaoke.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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