From My Perspective – Kara-OK-ing!

The other weekend I did something I have not done in a long time. I spent a Friday evening with my daughter at the neighbourhood pub, hanging out and singing karaoke. Perhaps I was in a bit of an introspective mood that night, but something about the whole thing took me back a lot of years.

As regular Voice readers know, I’ve been under considerable stress lately, feeling overwhelmed, overworked and underappreciated, with certain individuals in my life adding to my stress levels unnecessarily. The persons who bear the direct brunt of my stress, of course, are my daughters. They see me upset, irritated, exhausted to the point of tears, impatient with them and often angry or crying for no apparent reason. They worry, and are continually suggesting to me that I need to take a break. But my current situation simply does not allow me to do that. AUSU is in the middle of several very important projects that require my active participation, I have another full time job I’ve just started, I’m struggling to finish three courses this month, and my orientation for my master’s program begins this week. Add to that my family responsibilities and financial problems – well, my sense of responsibility simply will not allow me to take a break right now, no matter how desperately needed.

So my daughters try other ways to make things better. They invite me to go out and have lunch or dinner with them, knowing that will force me to stop and take a break. They listen when I need to vent, and call and encourage me when I’m feeling down. They provide hugs and positive thoughts. These are things that are much more important than offering to wash dishes or do laundry or perform some other task. My daughters recognize that I need ways to alleviate my stress, ways that are far more than just offering to share my workload. They recognize that my coping skills are being tested and my self-esteem and confidence are under attack, so they try to find creative support.

It was for this reason that Amaya insisted I spend Friday night with her. Voice readers familiar with my Popstars articles already know what an unusual personality Amaya is, and can likely well imagine what spending an evening with her can be like. We had gone to a promotional event sponsored by a local radio station. I was a finalist in a contest and had to attend the event to see if I was the lucky person who would win tickets to go to California to see Kiss and Aerosmith. I didn’t win (although I sure could have used a trip to California), but Amaya and I had such a good time hanging out, that she just would not let me go home at 10 P.M. when the event ended. I tried my standard arguments, “too tired”, “too much work waiting at home”, “have to get up early to study”…but she just would not take “no” for an answer.

At the radio station event, we had amused ourselves by making observations about people around us. The room was filled with middle-aged people who were obviously only there because they had to be – to win the prize. They were all playing the waiting game, watching the clock until they could leave. Radio station personnel kept coming around trying to make people feel happy and positive, and of course Amaya always had some interesting or off-beat thing to say. The bar itself was one that, in its heyday, was the most popular “hot spot” in Edmonton – Barry T’s. It’s become something else now, with no remnants of the night club it used to be. But it brought back memories of the time when I was younger and performing in the lounge/nightclub circuit. I never played Barry T’s, but often went there to see fellow musicians late at night after my gig finished.

I was already feeling a bit nostalgic as we sat there, remembering my days as a musician and the night club it used to be. A lone guitar player is now the resident entertainment, and Amaya and I sang along as he performed a variety of songs. One of them was Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave your Lover”, a song all my girls love for some reason (analyze that one, Freud!). Amaya announced that she was planning on doing a heavy metal version of the song with her new band.

At 10 P.M., knowing the trip to California was not mine, we left for home. But Amaya wouldn’t let me go home, and we ended up at the bar down the street. Friday is Karaoke night, and she insisted that I needed to go and sing a few. She told me that the bar personality has changed in the past few months, since the regular Karaoke host had left. The notion of a “bar personality” stayed with me throughout the rest of the evening. As we entered, to Amaya’s surprise, the former karaoke host, Amanda, was there celebrating her birthday. Unbeknownst to us, she had called our house earlier that evening to invite Amaya to join the party.

She immediately invited us to join her table, and Amaya introduced me to everyone. We were given song list books and we both began to search for tunes. Because I haven’t sung in a long time, I was initially very hesitant. I would fill out the little karaoke forms, but not put my name on them, just tucking them under the song list binder. Amaya finally grabbed them all and took them to the host – giving me no choice.

Throughout the evening, we took turns singing. I chose up-tempo songs that I had performed a few years back when I had a duo with another daughter – stuff like Brian Setzer’s “Stray Cat Strut”, Cherry Poppin Daddy’s “Zoot Suit Riot” and Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz”. Later in the evening I gave in to popular request and sang “White Rabbit” and “Under the Boardwalk”, songs I have not sung in far too long. Every time I performed, Amaya would yell “that’s my mom!” to the audience. She and I even did a duet – although I am a more traditional performer and Amaya will do all kinds of crazy things during a song – so I wasn’t sure what to expect from her. Amaya chose a wide selection of songs – from Tool to Evanescense to U2. She did an incredible version of “These Boots are made for Walking” that everyone loved…although they were taken aback when she finished it off with a heavy metal hard rock scream (her specialty). As always, I found myself in awe of her amazing vocal talent. At the end of the evening one of the regulars commented that he had told Amaya she should work to live up to her mother – I thanked him but responded that I felt I needed to work to live up to Amaya!

Throughout the whole process, I found myself observing the “bar personality”. During the years when I was a house musician, I became very familiar with this personality. For students of social psychology, its a fascinating study. Perhaps because I was already in a nostalgic state of mind, I found myself recognizing all the people I used to see on a nightly basis. There was the friendly bar regular of blended ethnicity who bought us a drink and seemed to know everyone. Also the “groupy” guy who gave us all a creepy feeling – a man who follows karaoke host Amanda around wherever she works. The blind guy at the next table with his friends – a wonderful singer, who obviously gets his opportunity to shine at karaoke. The bar owner, who entertained us by dancing around while sweeping under the VLT’s. The sincere and friendly young man with a mild disability, who joined us at our table and talked my ear off. The couple out for a regular Friday evening together. The karaoke host who grits his teeth and smiles as he listens to two non-singers’ tortured rendition of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” for the umpteenth time. Amanda’s boyfriend – a young man who had absolutely no singing ability whatsoever, but who kept insisting on singing karaoke songs for Amanda to prove his love…so very sweet.

These were all people I knew. People I had spent years of my life with during the time I played a house gig every Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Yet those people are long gone. What I was seeing was a new version of the community bar, with characters fitting the right description. And I fit right in. The ex-musician who used to be a well-known and respected presence in the city music scene – now just hanging out occasionally at the neighbourhood karaoke bar. As much fun as it was, I could not help but see the irony. I don’t know that I would ever want to again be part of the bar culture, when I went to work at 9 PM and left at 3 AM, arriving home wired and “high” on audience feedback. I always remained detached from the audience as a musician entertaining at the bar. It was a job, nothing more, and I never hung out with the “bar” people outside of work. But I understand very well how people develop those relationships.

Amaya knew that I was remembering, and I think that was her goal. To remind me of days before, when I used to have a job that I loved, where I told my children that I was going to “work.” when in reality I was going to “play” (music).

I had the privilege, for so many years of my life, to do something I loved and get paid for it. I’m now pursuing something I love on a different level – but I’m not getting paid for it yet. I don’t think I’ll ever reach the same level of satisfaction and passion for my job that I did during my musician years. But I plan to try. Anything we do should be done with that passion – the goal being doing a job, for pay, that we would do anyway, for love.

Amaya and I closed down the bar at 2 A.M., then came home and drank tequila shots and listened to the new album by “A Perfect Circle” until the sun came up. I awoke refreshed (well OK, slightly hungover too) the next day. Spending an evening back in touch with my musician days – a part of my younger life that was rewarding and highly fulfilling, relatively happy and carefree – brought me back in tune with who I am inside, and helped me feel I can cope with the stress I’m under.

So I would encourage all of you to take a few hours and do something a bit crazy and out of the ordinary – go hang out at your neighbourhood bar and sing karaoke. Or do the equivalent – whatever works for you. It’s a “rest and regroup” that can do wonders to restore balance!

Debbie is a native Edmontonian, and a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology, and currently serves as the president of the Athabasca University Students Union.