Last night, I got distracted reading the news because it was terrible and instead started thinking about that weird period of time in the 90s when it seemed like Aerosmith was the biggest band in the world, but I had never met a single person of any age/musical taste who would have identified Aerosmith as their favorite band or even, like, Top Five favorite band. I’m sure they exist, obviously they exist in great numbers but just . . . never met one.
In honor of that silent majority, whoever/wherever they are, I put the first Aerosmith record on the turntable. I listened to “Dream On,” which is a song that I legitimately like, in part because it reminds me of a friend from New Hampshire, who loved power ballads maybe even more than she loved The Fall, but we spent hours in the very early 00s driving around listening to the two back to back, and sort of enjoying the bumpy transition between.
New Hampshire was/is also a karaoke fan, if not always particularly avid karaoke performer. I was/am a bit of a showboat, so I always found an excuse to sign up for a song or two. In those days, we mostly went to Bub O’Malley’s, on Rosemary, where we’d flit up and down the two flights of stairs from Hell (bar, not metaphor, on the basement level), like drunk Dantes, to hang out with our friends in the underworld for liquid courage before getting summoned backup to Disappointing Paradise to mangle Chicago’s “Hard for Me To Say I’m Sorry.”
Peter Cetera has quite the impressive vocal range. I do not.
It was weird for me to even try to something so bold. Back then, I was still in recovery from the nineties and its co-morbid crises of “selling out” and authenticity. I’d spent many years attempting to define myself by what kind of music I didn’t like. And though I’d begun to dip my toe in the pool of, if not what the kids called Poptimism, then at least the idea that I didn’t have to couch an affection for anything purely catchy as “guilty pleasure,” I was still pretty self-conscious about my karaoke choices. I didn’t want to appear undignified in front of a bunch of strangers, even though the whole point of karaoke is basically appearing undignified in a room full of strangers. So, I kept my repertoire to 3-4 songs, all of which I knew I could defend if they challenged on aesthetic/philosophical grounds (never happened, but my argument about how I rationalized singing classic Tammy Wynette songs as a “let’s burn down the patriarchy”-style feminist would have been a real barn burner).
Most of those karaoke nights have a bit of a wobble about the edges, probably because all of us were several states deep south of sober before we even staggered up to the bar, and also because that was fifteen, sixteen, years ago, in the complicated going-out shirt years of the second Bush administration. I hadn’t quite stepped over into thirty. My power ballad/ Fall loving friend hadn’t moved back to New England yet (and then moved back here again). We were all broke, directionless, single and shameless about buying cigarettes and single cans of $1.50 PBR with silver change fished out from between sofa cushions. No one had a child or a practical graduate degree or a career. I remember in those days having a friend and coworker ask me how my shift had been at the record store one night. Over the clamor of the jukebox, the murmur of the crowd, I swore I heard “We are all veterans of the sordid night.” And remember thinking “maudlin, but not without appeal.” And we all laughed at my mishearing, and they all laughed at pleasantries turned to pretentious pastiche, and we, we veterans or the sordid night, ordered another round and dialed up Royal Trux, or whatever, on the jukebox.
There’s a strong, OK Boomer-ish urge to remember these as the good times, because nostalgia renders youthful precarity romantic in the rearview. Nights of wild abandon fueled by the notion (however misguided) of having all the time in the world and nothing to lose make better fodder for poetry than, say, the travails of refinancing your suburban home or helping aging parents navigate retirement options. But honestly, though I miss those nights in some ways I don’t miss the silence of the yawning, sloppy, low-rise, Woo-ing void of a college town’s last call that served as a rebuke whenever I wondered what the fuck I should be doing with my life.* I don’t miss the classified ads. I don’t even miss the PBR.
I do miss Hell (bar not metaphor). And I miss the karaoke nights.
A couple summer’s back, in the not-exactly calm before the plague, I went one night to a Fleetwood Mac themed karaoke event and realized that Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” is a workout even without a lace shawl to whip around like a witchy matador. I had just enough fun doing it that I evidently took the stage a couple months later when I was out of town. I say evidently because I do not remember exactly. The wobble of the Bub’s nights having long since resolved into the uncomfortable, headachy Huh? that accompanies drinking too much (though far less than the old days) and staying up too late (though far earlier than the old days) as a middle aged person. I seem to have a video on my iPhone of me singing a Cranberries song I do not particularly like to my best friend at a bar in Brooklyn. I seem to have a text from her indicating that said video should never see the light of day. I seem to have a tinge of regret and a sense of my own mortality. I seem to have a mortgage and a regular paycheck. Not exactly the stuff of poetry, but I’ve already outlived several of my favorite poets, so I guess there’s that.
The downstairs powder room of my suburban house has pretty sick acoustics. I took my phone down last night, after “Dream On,” and called up the karaoke version on YouTube. I dimmed the lights, poured a glass of wine, turned away from the mirror and sang like I had nothing in the world better to do than appear undignified in a room full of strangers.
Picture is of last night’s record pile by the turntable.
As of this writing, 174, 815, 404 people have recovered from Covid-19. Please get vaccinated.
*I still don’t know, ps