The Karaoke Guy

I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately, but I’ve been listening to an inordinate amount of 80s music … and loving it all over again. The 1980s was my coming-of-age decade, the era of nostalgia for those of my generation. Malign the 80s all you want for exalting money and materialism as noble pursuits – a la Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street” – but the period nevertheless produced boatloads of notable pop culture phenomena and plenty of kick-ass songs. Maybe I’m swimming in nostalgia these days because my birthday is rapidly approaching and my subconscious is mercifully steering me away from the reality of turning 47. Whatever the reason, I’ve found myself enthusiastically singing along when Huey Lewis’s “The Power of Love” comes on the radio as I’m driving on the Long Island Expressway.

Songs of our youth inevitably carry memories. And a memory came rushing through me recently, prompted by – of course – an 80s song on the radio. That oldies station is getting quite a workout on my car radio these days! The memory is not a major one in my life. It has no significant meaning or any kind. In fact, it’s meaningless. But it is vivid. And fun. And offers a tiny, fleeting glimpse of my youthful years when I was boy-crazy, flirty, and spent a lot of time in the drinking establishments of my native Queens. A little side note, Queens is the hardest boozing borough of the city of New York. This is a 100% true statement and it’s not open to debate 😉

So here’s the scene. It was 1989. I was 21 years old. Me and my then-boyfriend (who many years later became my husband, and then my ex-husband) were out with a gaggle of friends at a bar in Kew Gardens, Queens for karaoke night. I was probably wearing some skimpy tank top and had my hair pouffed out as big as I could get it. My stomach was filling up with pints of Guinness, and my boyfriend’s loudmouth buddy was ordering shots of Jägermeister for the group that no one ever requested but were forced to drink at gunpoint, figuratively speaking. This was not some fancy-schmancy Manhattan martini place full of suits, mind you. This was an old-school, working class joint that had been there forever – a joint that had played host to generations of electricians, mechanics, and off-duty firemen, boys who worked in their fathers’ heating and air conditioning businesses and construction companies. That kind of joint. A place where they laugh at you if you ask for a glass of chardonnay.

The Bartender, by Toulouse-Lautrec:

ToulouseLautrec-the-bartender-1900.jpg!Large

So the next karaoke singer stepped up to the microphone. He was super cute, maybe 24 or 25. He had brown hair and green eyes (my favorite combination) and wore jeans and one of those long-sleeved thermal shirts, dark blue. Before the music recording began, he pushed up his sleeves to reveal a tattooed arm. He was muscular, but not a meathead. And he had an unlit cigarette wedged behind his ear. It’s amazing the minuscule details one can remember. And I remember that cigarette.

And then it began. Cute green-eyed Queens guy launched into his rendition of Billy Idol’s 1982 hit “White Wedding” . . . and HE. WAS. AWESOME. Friends, you must understand, this guy rocked the house. From the moment the lyrics “Hey little sister what have you done?” flowed through his voice, every girl in the place, myself included, just stood there with our mouths open. Whoa. This guy.  After an hour of awful karaoke singers, most of whom were drunk and kept messing up the lyrics, this guy got up there and was killin’ it. He was exciting. He was a potential American Idol finalist in an age before American Idol even existed. And it kept getting better. When he got to the part of “Start agaaaiiiiinn!!”, cute guy nailed it, his voice on pitch and deep and smooth with just the right amount of rough rock and roll edges. He sang that song, dare I say, better than Billy Idol.

When the song was over, cute guy received a thunderous round of cheers and applause from the inebriated bar crowd. He flashed a smile and returned oh-so-casually to his group of friends. He snatched that cigarette from his ear and lit up. Mission accomplished.

Interior of a Tavern, by Peder Severin Kroyer:

Kroyer-interior-of-a-tavern-1886.jpg!HalfHD

In case any of you are wondering if I sang karaoke that night, the answer is yes. Another girl and I got up there together, because we were too chicken to go solo, and performed Blondie’s “Call Me”. It was an abomination. Cute guy was watching .. and no, he never called me. Only in my dreams 😉

A Music Monday inspired by a Guinness-fueled karaoke night in Queens from 26 years ago. Why not? Music acts as a marker of memories, both profound and prosaic. Actually, the music memories that aren’t sappy and sentimental or wrapped up in mawkish emotion are rich and intense in their own way. I wonder what happened to Mr. White Wedding? Here’s Billy Idol … trying to sound as good as the guy from Kew Gardens 😆

6 thoughts on “The Karaoke Guy

  1. Bill says:

    It’s funny — the ’80’s were so totally after my era. My son was born in 1981 — I was so busy trying to get my adult life in gear that I have no idea what happened in that decade. I mean, I assumed they had music . . . 🙂 There’s kind of this huge gap for me until you hit Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

    So reading this posting is more an educational experience for me rather than a trip down memory lane. (Except I vaguely remember Blondie).

    BTW, any old photos of you with the pouffed out hair? That I’d like to see 🙂

    • artmodel says:

      Bill,

      I was looking through boxes of old photos the other day and there were indeed many of me with the pouffed hair! Do I dare post one here on Museworthy? Hmm … maybe 😉

      And if you want a more comprehensive “educational experience” about the 80s I could go waayyy beyond this blog post!

      Thanks for commenting.

      Claudia

  2. Jennifer says:

    Listening to Billy Idol as I write this comment 🙂 Thanks for such an evocative trip down ‘musical memory lane’. You describe the scene so well I can picture it as if in a film. And what a shame that Karaoke Guy never came over (though of course you were with someone!), but maybe it’s better to keep him as a beautiful memory …
    Also really enjoyed the painting accompaniment, especially the vibrant Toulouse-Lautrec. And Kew Gardens was the name of the bar? Quite different to its namesake over here, of venerable and lovely royal botanical gardens!

    • artmodel says:

      Jennifer,

      You’re absolutely right that it’s better Karaoke guy stays preserved in my memory as is. Yes I was with my man at the time, as were most of the other girls. I wonder if Karaoke guy had any idea that all of us developed an instant crush on him! Sexy fella 😉

      By the way, Kew Gardens is the name of the neighborhood, not the bar. There were a few bars in that area we used to hang out in, all pretty similar. And I also like the Toulouse-Lautrec. That big burly bartender!

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

  3. Jim O'Neil says:

    “Queens is the hardest boozing borough of the city of New York. This is a 100% true statement and it’s not open to debate ;-)”

    Maybe in the ’80s, youngster (lets see… in ’89 I was 51 drinking Guinness in the ‘Big I’ here in Fairbanks.), -but in the early ’60s I suspect Manhattan’s Lower East Side had Queens beat. Shucky darn, not even mentioning my favorite bar back in the day, Vazaks (OK I did mention it.), there still was a Polish bar on 7th, just off Avenue B that sold a nickle beer! 😉

    • artmodel says:

      Jim,

      Okay, you may have a point about the lower east side in the 60s. I was underage and couldn’t legally drink back then … and by “underage” I mean six months old! But since this is not a scientific study – haha – I’m going to stand by the Queens alcohol consumption lore. Well it’s beyond lore. It’s a real thing. But hey if you held your own in Polish bar you have my unwavering respect 😉

      Good to hear from you, Jim! Thanks for your comments.

      Claudia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s