May 23rd, 2002


The urge to destroy is a creative urge

I went to the Mint last night for a friend’s birthday. It’s karaoke bar on Market in an area that really doesn’t belong to any neighborhood. Since it’s not the Mission not the Castro and not the Lower Haight, but touches all of those places, it’s has an unpredictable crowd. That’s one of the attractions. Also, it always reminds me of misscallis. Well, that and making out with an incredibly hot co-worker in the bathroom one night.

That night was the first time that I ever sang in public and it came at the end of a very drunken day. Well, really it wasn’t very late in the day, we just started early. About 14 co-workers and I had gone on a tour of a dairy and a local brewery. Actually the brewery tour wasn’t very formal. It consisted of the presentation, "Here are the taps. Who wants to get high?"

"Uh, ok."

But anyway, we arrived back in the city at about 4 PM and no one wanted to go home. We ended up at the Mint, turned on the karaoke machine ourselves (the karaoke jockey doesn’t go on until 6) drank more and sang ourselves silly. Unbelievably, at least to me at the time, they had "Punk Rock Girl" by the Dead Milkmen on the machine. "What a perfect song to make my debut on," I thought.

Well, no.

First of all, my singing voice is horrible. Even by punk standards. Once, my housemates asked me to stop singing "Happy Birthday" because I was throwing them off. In a "band" I was in many years ago, I tried to sing on one song we were rehearsing. I was so bad I didn’t even finis h the chorus.

And, as it turns out, "Punk Rock Girl" is actually a really hard song to sing. The lyrics don’t really go in time with the music and there’s a long talky bit in the middle. Plus I hadn’t heard the song in years. After about 30 seconds I began to see the looks on my co-workers faces turn from enthusiasm into forced smiles and painful, frozen expressions of sympathy. If I had any doubt, after I finished floundering I sat back down at the table and my friend said, "Don’t worry, I think th at song is more difficult than it looks" Ouch.

Despite that, I think karaoke has many possibilities. Once at a street fair, there was a $1 karaoke booth. A very drunk, kinda tough looking dude walked up and paid his money. The song came on, "I Feel Good" by James Brown, and he started talking to the audience, "Yeah, I feel good . . . just got out of jail . . .getting pretty drunk . . . missed my family a lot . . .wouldn’t mind some company tonight . . .jail is hard, man, really hard . . ." He continued through the 3-4 minutes, his only nod to the music being an occasionally "OWW!" a beat or so after Mr. Brown. Now that’s poetry.

There’s a "band" called Culturcide which I would say more people should hear except for the fact that most people I play t heir record for hate it intensely. It’s basically one guy with an awful voice singing pointed political lyrics over the biggest hits of 1982. Sample lyric, sung over "We Are The World", "We aren’t the world / we aren’t the children / we’re just bosses and bureaucrats, and rock and roll has-beens". I could aspire to that. In a karaoke setting it would be beautiful. I was especially tempted after hearing some guy do a heartfelt "Heart of Rock n Roll". The Culturcide version just destroys the half-assed, Huey Lewis original, "The heart of rock n roll is the profit. / It’s a product and everyone’s bought it / we all love to get nostalgic/ but the heart of rock n roll, the heart of rock n roll, is the profit".

At our annual work party on May 1st last year, we rented a machine and had it in such a small room that it turned into a weird punk-ish event. Tables were upturned, people were dancing or thrashing depending on the song, singers were pushing the mike at the crowd making them sing along and destroying the audience performer barrier. It was like a mid-‘80s Seven Seconds show. Well except for the drinking.

Such possibility awaits if we can bring these positive elements of karaoke together. As Durruti said, "We are not the least afraid of ruins . . . The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. But we karaoke a new world here, in our hearts."

  • Current Music
    Culturcide - "Tacky Souvenirs of Pre-Revolutoinary America
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