I am not a singer. I don't even play one on television. But there I was, sitting in one of several studios at a karaoke restaurant in L.A.'s Koreatown neighborhood, about to perform the time-honored Journey power ballad "Don't Stop Believin' " at my friend Tamara's 30th birthday party. What was I thinking, I was, well, thinking to myself.
Tamara is great. She's a writer's assistant for a Top Ten crime drama, and she's also an excellent singer. She's been performing in choirs and a cappella groups since before she was in college. And she loves karaoke. But this was the first time I joined her on one of her musical get-togethers. And I went to the party bound and determined not to sing - even though I had, just in case, practiced in the safety of my shower. But the atmosphere was so addictively cheesy. There we were, Tamara and her boyfriend and her other pals and me, in this sterile room with long couches and the world's largest coffee table. Interspersed on the table were several thick books that were filled with song titles and the corresponding numbers, which were to be punched into the large karaoke machine in a corner of the room. The machine consisted of nine TV screens. The middle one was where the lyrics for the selected songs would be displayed for the performer. The other eight screens were displaying silent images from MTV 2.
Many of the songs were Korean, a few were randomly Vietnamese. But a large section were available in English, even though a few of my favorites were missing. No "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins? And whither "More Than This" by Roxy Music, immortalized in karaoke form by Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation"?
Anyway, the birthday girl took the mic to perform the evening's first song, Jewel's "Foolish Games." The lyrics popped onto the screen, accompanied by images of - Korea pastoral life? (An ongoing theme, I assure you.) And Tamara ... blew the roof off of the joint. (Is it really fun when someone actually can hold a tune at karaoke?) I should have been intimidated. But the atmosphere was intoxicating. And so I decided to throw caution to the wind - besides, if I was going to embarrass myself, might as well do it in front a group of near-total strangers.
My first mistake of the evening was trying to emulate Steve Perry with my first lyric of "Don't Stop Believin' " - I nearly blew my voice off in one moment. But I adjusted myself and finished the song with the requisite amount of early ’80s passion. My score from the machine was good. (Oh, yeah, the machine scored us - very randomly, if you ask me.) And then, later on, I made my second mistake - my second song, "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas. A song that basically says that we're all going to die. Happy birthday, Tamara!
Well, at least it wasn't Sarah Brightman's version. That would have sent the entire party over the cliff.
So for my last number, I went upbeat: Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train." I kind of rocked the house with that one, even though the video of Korean pastoral ducks threw me for a bit of a loop. So, in the end, I did have a lot of fun. In fact, despite my better judgment, I'm considering having my next birthday party at a karaoke bar. Though I may have to convince more than one of my friends to come. I'll take a guess that Tamara will be into it, though.