In which Deb Kristina hits you with her best shot

coverI’ve been thinking all week about what consitutes a “guilty pleasure” versus simply, “pleasure.”

I suppose it must mean something we shouldn’t enjoy, usually something lowbrow or unhealthy. But who gets to decide that? Under “unhealthy” I’ll say, “beer and chicken wings.” That’s a guilty pleasure I share with my husband. Also, I have an unhealthy compulsion to watch Christopher Guest mockumentaries. Nothing wrong with that, in moderation, but I watch them repeatedly. They’re the comfort food of my film library. Stressful day? Break out the “Best in Show” or “Waiting for Guffman.” Add a glass of wine, and nothing could be finer.

My best and most entertaining guilty pleasure would cause fans of highbrow music culture to stuff their ears with wadded up cocktail napkins: karaoke. Specifically, karaoke in dive bars.

I once sang a rousing, tipsy version of “Brown Eyed Girl” with about fourteen other college students at an East Lansing dive called Crunchy’s that served beer in buckets. (That’s not hyperbole, by the way. They really did.) But that didn’t really count. My true karaoke experience began in Bay City, Michigan, with our friends, Jeff and Suzanne Kart*. Bay City has more than its share of dive bars, all nestled into neighborhoods and populated by mostly local folks, and karaoke conniseurs.

There’s something so deliciously shameless about getting up on that stage and subjecting the crowd to your amateur renditions of 80s hits and country classics. But the karaoke audience is a supportive one, because they’re all paging through the big, sticky, smoky, beerstained books choosing their own songs. No matter how bad you are, they won’t boo you, because they don’t want to be booed. In fact, now and then a person, well, let’s say a person with special needs would show up. And everyone would talk amongst themselves, and then clap politely because, heck, who are we to judge? We’re dorky narcissists who want to be on stage but aren’t talented or hardworking enough to do it for real.

Not only won’t they boo you, they like it better when you’re kind of bad, as long as you’re cheerful about it, and not too earnest. That’s what Suzanne told me, and I soon saw she was right. Karaoke is all about the attitude: know the crowd, pick a song they’d like, and laugh if you screw up. It’s OK. We’re going to screw up, next.

By the way, my legendary karaoke moment came when I was six months pregnant with my first child (and I was the designated driver, naturally). At Suzanne’s prompting, I got up there for a vampy, breathy, over-the-top rendition of “Like a Virgin.” I brought the house down, and not with my classic vocal stylings. It was just freakin’ funny.

The worst is when someone (usually a chick, but sometimes a young man in a cowboy hat) picks a really sappy, slow ballad and she’s actually pretty good so she’s really serious and belting it out and pounding her chest like Celine Dion while the rest of us pass out in our cheap domestic beers. Talk about buzzkill.

Nah, give me a cheerful screwup any day. Remember watching Cameron Diaz in “My Best Friend’s Wedding“? Julia Roberts sets up her romantic rival by putting Cameron’s name in for karaoke even though her voice is horrible. And yes, Cameron is terrible, but she’s so cute and charming the whole bar is cheering her on by the end. Where else do you get that kind of support for being mediocre?

So, do you feel differently about me, knowing my favorite guilty pleasure is to sing over a recorded track at a dimly lit dive bar? Do I still seem like a dignified authoress? (Hah, as if I ever did.)

And, can you guess my favorite karaoke songs? (Hint: think 80s rock.) No fair if you’ve sung with me …

Deb Kristina

* The Karts are two of my favorite people in the blogosophere. Suzanne’s alter ego is GenXpert, and Jeff keeps an eye on the Saginaw Bay in his Green Scene blog. Go check ’em out.

15 Replies to “In which Deb Kristina hits you with her best shot”

  1. Ahh, yes, the people who can actually sing! They’re even worse in LA because they figure there must be at least one or two executives or agents out there. I’ve even heard one woman thank her vocal coach, a la the Academy Awards.

    Let’s see… eighties rock… “Jessie’s Girl”? “I Wear My Sunglasses at Night”? “Hot for Teacher”? “Paradise City”?

    I’m a big fan of “Kiss” (by Prince), “Freedom” by Wham (not “Freedom 90”), “Daydream Believer”… and many more, I guess. We used to shut down the karaoke bar every week.

  2. Ericka, it’s probably funnier in my memory than it really was. I’m glad this was in the days BYT (before YouTube) and thus it’s not recorded for all time.

    Becky, ha, nope. No crooning, here.

    Katie, I’d love to see you rock “Kiss” someday. Love that song. I also love “Daydream Believer” but it’s not part of my repetoire…

  3. I am too shy to get up on a stage on purpose but I have probably entertained more people than a karoake bar can hold as I cruise along from here to there daily in my truck, singing along to old 70’s and 80’s tunes.

    Guilty pleasure would be the rare occasions I watch commercial television although this instances are so infrequent now I sometimes just stare at the screen like a primitive person newly exposed.

  4. Oh and I just figured out your favorite karaoke song!!!! Is it “Hit me with your best shot” by … who’s it by? I can see her, can’t remember her name. God, it’s one of those post-40 moments. Anyway, you know the one. Is that it???

  5. Karaoke is fun–I love to sing. But I prefer to get up with a couple of girlfriends and do something together. That way you can’t tell which of us is the worst… Safety in numbers!

    I wish someone had taped you doing your number, Kris. Sounds hilarious.

  6. I have a hard enough time getting up to do a book reading. I’d have to be on prescription medication AND blink drunk to do karaoke. And, no, ladies, that is not a challenge!

  7. Larramie, *I* think it is, and more on that during the “hobbies” week.

    Annie, I sing in my car, too! More than once I’ve caught myself belting something out at a stoplight where even with the windows rolled up everyone can hear me. Whoops!

    Eve, the title of this post is indeed a Pat Benatar reference, but that’s because my favorite songs didn’t make good blog titles. I have done this song, though…

    Meredith, that’s how I eased into the shameless solo karaoke, starting out in groups…

    Tiffany, I’m quite sure I’ll be in a dead panic for my first public reading. Somehow I think that crowd will expect a bit more than my breathy Madonna imitation!

    OK, here are my favorite karaoke numbers: “I Love Rock and Roll” (Joan Jett), “Wanted Dead or Alive” (Bon Jovi, a slow song, but the country crowds love it), and probably my personal favorite is the corny but fun, “Kiss Me Deadly”(Lita Ford, baby!)

  8. Ahhhh Crunchy’s! Many a bucket of beer I consumed there during my wild college days. memories… misty water colored memories……..

    Suddenly I feel like breaking into song.

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