I’m at the bar.
A gooey amalgamation of chatter, laughter, and semi-familiar songs tumbles and flows across the bamboo-festooned tiki bar decor of the The Luau’s (7123 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92115) floor and walls like an early fog settling in. Barely heard above the toasts and tintinnabulation of clinking glassware are the intermittent announcements and calls for encouragement for this evening’s Karaoke Night participants.
“Let’s give it up for Sandayyyyyyyy everyone.” Says the evening’s host through the smattering of applause, somehow sounding more like the Talent Night DJ at a gentlemen’s club.
“Next up we have Tracy, then Colin, and then (squinting) Swennnnn…”
My head went all swimmy as her announcement trailed off.
I don’t know what it is exactly, but I really don’t enjoy karaoke.
There, I said it.
It’s probably because I’m considered a professional singer.
In my head, the exact same internal dialogue that takes place throughout a gig blathers on and on:
“You’re a little flat, son. Pull that up!”
“I need more monitor.”
“I wish I was playing guitar.”
“Why did I choose a song so high for me?”
“Okay. At least I won’t have to do that anymore”
“What? Who signed me up again?”
And so on…
I mean, I get it. Eventually, I do try to get into the spirit of things and let it rip. It’s just that these particular performances seem to always end with me shame-staggering through the crowd, giving myself performance notes for “next time” while trying to avoid any and all eye contact this time.
Arriving back at my seat the beating continues, as I take the art of self-flagellation to dizzying new heights. Apparently, this is my creative process, and it happens whether or not I think I need a good talking-to.
I’m my actual own worst enemy, with a negative opinion about nearly every single move I make. Admittedly, this may well factor into the multiple marriages and career careens I have experienced along the way, but I do sincerely feel that I’ve always been harder on myself than anyone, which is by design. As an artist, I challenge myself constantly. I mean, I’d really have preferred it show in my guitar playing, but as a singer and songwriter there has always been this outward lean to get out there somewhere…further than where I’ve been to now. Every gig. Every song. Every opportunity to share my music inherently brings with it this nagging intensity, the will to somehow keep that artistic trajectory moving upward. But I don’t always win.
I will take a moment here to reflect upon the somewhat flawed idea of me divulging this info as if it may be at all helpful to you, which I sincerely hope it is. I mean, it seems normal to me, but it‘s also possible that I’m a complete freakin’ sociopath, leading you astray in these pages since 2004.
It’s been my observation that many of my favorite singers exhibit a particularly joyful exuberance that appears to be uncontainable, as if it’s bursting outward from them. Through their performances and recordings, artists like Al Green, Dolly Parton, Al Jarreau, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, and John Denver all pull us toward them. I believe just as we strive as artists and performers to reach our audience, so too are they reaching out, via the collective desire to feel the way we do. Acknowledging and cultivating the presence of this largely spiritual exchange requires a quieter mind than I often have when performing. It’s like I’m always working on how much better it’s going to be next time.
There is no next time.
Regardless of whether it’s our own songs or covers, by taking hold of the microphone we have undertaken the task of telling our truths, so that we may speak the truths of others. We are actively engaged in the act of connecting with that audience. Any audience.
I remember a conversation I once had with singer-songwriter Frank Lee Drennen, where we discussed the relative merits of an artist making recordings versus live performances. Being a record producer, my take was obviously slanted toward the notions of permanence and legacy and the idea that your music can become a part of someone’s everyday life.
Frank’s take was much different. He said, “Every live performance is different from all others in some way. What’s unique about any given performance is what that audience’s members will always remember and it’s theirs. It belongs to them”.
He’s got an excellent point there.
My specific problem is probably a little more rooted in the reality of rustiness.
Quite simply, the more prepared we are, the less our attention is drawn to our own foibles and the freer we are to simply let go and connect.
I’m just never prepared for karaoke.
As vocalist Bobby McFerrin advises an audience at the end of his brilliant Spontaneous Inventions album,
“Sing for your lives. Singing is fun. Be good to yourselves.”
All good advice.
Sven-Erik Seaholm is an artist and producer with multiple new releases on the way. firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m at the bar.