Karaoke maxim: There's more to life than karaoke, you know, but not much more. –Occupy Karaoke participant Ti, with help from Morrissey
“So, have you heard of these kids who are doing karaoke for 25 days in a row? Occupy Karaoke?” we ask a fellow bar patron.
We're in the Atwater Village watering hole Bigfoot Lodge last month, on the hunt for a cabal of karaoke partisans.
“No. That sounds lame,” replies the beefy patron.
“You think so? I'm kind of hoping they've got some singing chops,” we rebut, taking exception with his negativity.
“If there's karaoke here tonight, my wife and I are leaving — I can't stand that shit.” He retorts, after ordering two double whiskeys on the rocks. Oof. We hope they're not driving.
Karaoke is a polarizing enterprise, apparently, and we still have yet to find the crew responsible for taking that polarity to the next level — they haven't responded to our emails, phone calls or smoke signals and we're scanning the crowded digs looking at faces and checking them against O.K.'s tumblr photos. No luck.
They tweeted they'd be here, and so far no one knows what the heck we're talking about — we're even scanning for their signature advent calendar. Have we been duped?
We ask around a bit more.
The Karaoke DJ…or KJ…comes over to let us know that “They always show up late…reeking of cheap hooch…”
Sure enough, they do roll in soon thereafter…like a tidal wave of Night Train and Thunderbird.
It may take some time to get to know them…to earn their trust. So, we cozy up to Ti and Jenn, the Baader and Meinhoff, respectively, of this karaoke faction.
“Wanna open the next night?” Jenn asks us, as she allows us the privilege of cracking the next door in their advent calendar. She even gives us the chocolate behind it.
Woah. We're in. But maybe we're getting too close too fast.
Over the course of a few nights, we get to know the crew. There's Jenn, Ti, Tipper, Teeney, Jacob, among others. Most of them are in the film festival circuit or independent film professionals of some kind — all of them are the hardest of hard core karaoke fanatics.
“It all started when we were at the L.A. Film Festival…we wanted to see if we could do karaoke every night, just for fun, and we did. That was a wild time.” Jenn, a film festival gypsy tells us. “This is just an extension of that…but much longer. Twenty five straight days of karaoke…like an advent calendar,” she continues; her eyes dazed by PBR and thoughts of revolution.
“Did you sing yet?” we ask Ti. “I'm about…six down on the list…” he guesses confidently.
How does he know? “When you've played this course enough times, you know when the ball is going to break to the right,” he says. “I'm going to sing the anthem of our movement…I don't want to ruin it for you…so you're going to have to wait.”
After exactly five predecessors on the mic, Ti sings The Proclaimers' “I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles).” He nails it. Obviously, he's a professional.
Next up is Jacob, a karaoke-obsessed lunatic reared in Atlanta's fertile karaoke crescent, has made movies about his passion and has volumes of poetry on the subject. He, like the rest of the group, does little more than sing other people's songs in bars when he's not working in film to fuel that habit. It pays off: he sings Elton John's “Tiny Dancer” perfectly.
At one point, someone on stage starts singing “I Will Survive.” The mood in the crew drops like an Iqualuit thermometer in an Arctic wind. It is one of their acolytes. The crew very nearly disowns their comrade. This is what happens when karaoke stops being nice and starts getting real. Some of them palm their foreheads in shame.
The song selections vary from bar to bar, but there's a lot of room for a serious faux pas. “There's a whole page of Garth Brooks? Holy Jesus Fuck. Nope…it continues…a page and a half!” Laments a dude in front of Ti in line. When pressed, he identifies himself as a local temp worker…whose favorite bands are “whatever Pitchfork tells [him] to listen to.” He may be lumpen-hip-atariat, but he's got a point: that's quite a lot of Garth Brooks.
Ti, in agreement, rages against crowd favorites like Garth Brooks and (shudder) Neil Diamond: “The thing about it is that I love these songs. But, then you've got some bro dude who sings Neil [Diamond] and thinks it's awesome, but really he's just trying to get everyone to sing along with him. They create an unnecessary fratmosphere…it's unsophisticated irony…crowd pleasers can be dangerous.”
The next song up after that is Sublime's “Santaria”…which is about as welcome to the local temp as a fart in a spacesuit. “Fuck it, I'm out of here,” the local temp says. Ti makes a gun in mouth gesture and pantomimes a hypothetical head explosion.
Not all of the songs are disappointing; Tipper, a local ditch-digger and Occupy Karaoke enforcer, gets up to sing Hall and Oates' “She's Gone.” Her rendition brings the crowd to tears. One guy leaves bawling.
On another occasion, Teeney nails her staple, Eminem's “Stan”…with some uninvited help from a crowd member.
“Did you know that girl?” we ask. “Oh heeeeell no. She done near stole my jam,” she says, her accent a mix of backwoods hillbilly and urban mushmouth. We're told that Teeney can “make fake fur out of fleece.” Whatever that means.
The karaoke continued for a few nights and we're not exactly sure what happened late into those nights and who ended up singing what or where. This truly turned into a failure of gonzo journalism. To be inserted into the story effectively, you've got to remember all of what happened. We do not.
Were we at two bars or ten? Did we actually join the faction or were we merely along for the ride? Intoxicated by their charm (and perhaps some alcohol) we were reduced to a state of near-inert grey matter. We suppose that we'll never know exactly what happened that week. We do know that, at the end of it, we woke up at in a gas station on the 5 with the lyrics to Bob Seger's “Night Moves” scrawled in permanent marker across our foreheads.
From their tumblr, we know that Occupy Karaoke achieved its modest goal of twenty-five straight nights of karaoke…completing it on Christmas Eve. What we don't know is where they'll turn up next. The Sundance Film festival is fast approaching, and perhaps, like the ghost of old Tom Joad, they'll be there, backing up falsetto in “Bust a Move” or killing them softly with other people's songs.
We did find two notes from the “lost” portion of our time with the Occupy Karaoke insurgency; both of them are hastily scrawled maxims attributed to Ti:
“Don't ever sing Bohemian Rhapsody. It is the worst karaoke song that anyone can sing.”
“What can we possibly hope to achieve? Permanent Karaoke Revolution. Every night.”
Viva la karoke siempre. Vaya con karaoke. And so on.