I’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 …