Camille Reyes

Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

Karaoke Ninjas and Radioheads

In Culture, Music on December 17, 2011 at 2:15 pm

I am a karaoke ninja. Well, maybe the ninja who knocks off several roof tiles as she jumps Crouching Tiger style from doll house to doll house. Karaoke is hard, and I love it. What makes it most difficult are my years of vocal training. You’d think this would be a plus, but it is a completely different genre of singing, almost a different category altogether. Think of Mariah Carey (damn fine voice-forget the terrible material) trying to act. Guh.

So yes, sometimes I have Glitter moments on the tiny stage with the ten cent mic and a crowd full of talkers. So what if I chose a weepy ballad! Song choice is half the battle though. I like songs with string sections, piano, and introspective lyrics like some awesome love child between Samuel Barber, Tori Amos, and Ani Difranco. These don’t tend to go over well in a bar. Case of You. Silent All These Years. Breathe Me.

I need to study the karaoke stylings of my best friend. She has no training, and a Big Gulp heart. She always picks crowd pleasers like 4NonBlondes’ What’s Going On? or Jet’s Are You Gonna Be My Girl? Her voice cracks ever so perfectly on the latter. Everyone wants to go home with her. She owns the stage.

The best friend and Gordita singing a crowd pleaser.

But no, I keep choosing my obscure little ditties, wondering what key I’m going to get, hoping I forget anyone is watching. Even though I always have my birthday party at a karaoke bar, it is almost too performative for me. Singing for me is in many respects a solitary pursuit. This made my old stage and professional gigs a bit problematic. I still remember people lining up to thank me for my brief run as Annie in my high school musical. Although I would have never said this out loud, my interior monologue was: You’re welcome, but I didn’t do it for you.

One exception to this was my brief stint as a strolling opera singer and hostess at a Tampa Macaroni Grill. I sang arias for tips in a white button down shirt, black apron that was too long for me, and a pink tie I borrowed from my dad (and never gave back). I also had trouble carrying all the silverware and menus to the table. Aside from the Puccini, it was one big mess. I needed the money. I digress.

I inhabit songs, and they inhabit me. Occasionally I surface from this special communion to acknowledge the crowd, get them involved. This might seem theatrical, and it is, but it is also selfless. I’d rather be alone, but I enjoy watching other people so much, it seems unfair to hide completely. My favorite song at karaoke as of late oddly speaks to this strange tension–the tension between adoring, wanting to be adored, and being alone. It’s Radiohead’s Creep. Now those of you who know me are probably already laughing because I look like a cute leprechaun–creepy in a horror movie, but not when you are a petite ginger. The juxtaposition of my physical appearance with the lyrics is comedic at first. But, like the use of a girls’ choir on the same song to promote The Social Network (the trailer is genius, and better than the movie), once you get past the oddity, a strange empathy emerges–at least, that’s my hope when I sing the song, for you and for me.  Here’s the chorus:

But I’m a creep
I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here

With apologies to Tom Robbins, “even cowgirls get the blues.” Clearly, I need more therapy. But I hope that when someone experiences my version of this song, they think, well, if she feels that way, then maybe I’m not alone.

The first verse of the song sums up the near universal feeling of not measuring up to someone you’ve placed on a pedestal. (This lyric would be the micro-blogging leitmotif of my love life with one exception, not to be discussed.)

When you were here before
Couldn’t look you in the eye
You’re just like an angel
Your skin makes me cry
You float like a feather
In a beautiful world
I wish I was special
You’re so fucking special

I like to really stick the word “fucking” when I sing it–again for the jarring juxtaposition (nice girls don’t say “fuck”), and because the near repeat of the line immediately before is not lazy lyricism. The subtlety is important. I read the line as a 1 part jealousy, 2 parts fatigue and 1 part kernel of motivation to move the fuck on. I try to capture this interpretation in song–not easy to do. I am almost to the best part of the song though, the bridge and the climax:

She’s running out the door
She’s running out
She runs runs runs

This is heartache in three lines. The first time I sang it (on acoustic night at the best karaoke bar in the universe, Baby Grand in SoHo), I achieved near transcendence. Playing with a live guitarist gave me the freedom to stretch it out even more than Thom Yorke does. The audience felt my anguish, knew I was somewhere else, and went nuts. Their cheering brought me back to earth, and for once, I was grateful to them.

Lyrics: Radiohead, Creep (1992)

Bonus: the girls’ choir version without the trailer.

Deconstructing in a Breakdown

In Writing on December 12, 2011 at 8:30 pm

I realized tonight that I am technically not a great writer. This would not chafe much were I a chemist, but since I have fancied myself a writer since my first head swelling feedback on a 7th grade creative writing assignment, wherein a anthropomorphized refrigerator wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting household, this is a let down. (Diagram that sentence, nerds!)

I’ve been unwittingly making excuses for my faults. “Oh, professors tell me I write in a more French, lyrical way. I don’t need your American sense of order <spit>.” Until today, I did not connect other feedback, including my need to “summarize the literature more, critique less,” or “get closer to the texts” with my actual deficiency. No, the cartoon coyote in my brain dropped the TNT tonight while working on a research proposal—a dangerous space for me since without the original research, I have few props with which to embellish my own exciting ideas. No, I have to review the literature that came before–a vital step, but one that requires, much to my horror, topic sentences and transitions.

I shant transition here; you see I wonder if my shortcomings are similar to the brilliant mathematicians who struggle to calculate the tip at dinner. There are such Einsteins, yes? I’m not saying I am Margaret Atwood, or even J.K. Rowling. Hubris is not my issue; it’s crankiness. I used to know this stuff because, much like sentence diagramming, I had to number the parts of a paragraph within the context of an essay. Like James Brown, I used to break it down. THEN, I brought back the fridge funk. I had game.

Maybe I should give myself a grammar and structure camp over the summer. Get back to my roots. Oh, but that sounds tedious, like picking up the socks strewn about my apartment right now, only much worse. I don’t have this lazy tendency elsewhere. (By the way, I added that last transition after I finished the post. Doh.) Whenever I get the notion to take up tennis again, a biannual event since age eight, I start with the mechanics of my swing. I now hear the voice of my last instructor (my first being my dear dad): “Swing UP Mount Hood, UP Mount Hood, UP Mount Hood.” My swing secured, I then pay attention to my footwork, trying hard not to overrun the ball (good God, that is a metaphor for my life!). Finally, I get to my favorite part: crushing the ball. THWACK! That felt good.

Now if only I could muster the same patience and dedication to fixing my writing issues. At least I can finally be honest with myself about my GRE writing scores. Turns out, I wasn’t misunderstood. No Van Gough here. For now, I will crack open another Red Bull, and ponder it no more. In the immortal words of Margaret Mitchell and Scarlett O’Hara, “After all, tomorrow is another day.” Today, and until about 5:00 p.m. tomorrow, I must finish this paper with a stylish thwump.

Portland, Oregon skyline and the swinging Mt. Hood