Saturday, August 6, 2011

Death of a dream ...

For a long time I've had the dream of being the lead vocalist of an 80s cover band, all tutus and moxie. It is what I think about during long drives while I hone my repertoire with specially made car karaoke discs. It is what I think about on a treadmill when I play "Kiss Me Deadly" for the 12th time in a row. It is especially what I think about when I'm standing on a stage, bottom lipped pressed against a communal microphone in a very unhygienic way, not even bothering to glance at the words on the screen when I sing "Borderline."

I think about this more than I think about having a novel that follows the same critical trajectory as "A Visit from the Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan and I think about it more than I think about being called upon to do triple jump demonstration for the president of the United States.

If had a way to measure most-played fantasy: Me as the lead vocalist for an 80s cover band would be number one every week.

Well. That got shot all to hell last night.


Chuck and I wandered down to the Spirit Valley Street Dance to gorge ourselves on deep fried bad ideas wrapped in tinfoil. Fact: Street dances are never fashion forward. And this one is especially retro. The whole scene looks like old photographs from a roll that was exposed to sunlight. In fact, the closer we got to Ramsey Square, the quicker the calendar rewound, whizzing and whirring like microfiche playing headlines in reverse.

"Skin tight acid washed jeans?" Chuck said, whipping his head around to confirm what he had just seen a 12 year old boy wearing.

And when a longtime local cover band sang "Headed for the 90s, living in the 80s," Chuck looked around and nodded as if to say: How very astute of Escape Club. Clearly they had this place in mind.

We should have made Spirit Valley Street Dance Bingo Cards, Chuck said.

Super tan guy in florescent tank top. Check.
Man shirtless beneath leather vest. Check. Infinity check.
Hairball fan dressed in costume. Check.
Someone wearing neon blinking accessories. "Nah. They sell those here," Chuck said. "Doesn't count."

I saw a woman carrying a giant green inflatable martian and a man do a back flip during a Pat Benetar cover. I saw a blinking bachelorette party. An older dude squeezed through a large gap in the crowd, but rearranged his body in a way that made it seemed more cramped than it was.

"How come that guy thought he had to luge through here?" I asked Chuck. "He had like seven feet of space?"

I copped a line from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and said in the warbled voice of Sweet Dee "Are we in America?"

"Right in the middle of it," Chuck said.


My lead singer of an 80s cover band fantasy has been coaxed along by Hairball. This band plays a mish-mash of old hits slipping into elaborate costumes to represent the band they are aping. They are Ozzy Osbourne and they are also Axl Rose. They are Prince and then they are Journey. There is a top-hatted Tom Petty. A live snake as a prop. Pyrotechnics.

I can give or take the band. I wouldn't, like, buy a T-shirt. But I admire what they do and how they do it. And they are a good time. You tend to forget that the lead singer isn't Ozzy Osbourne and isn't Prince. It's funny. It's theatrical. It is fun. And when they say something like "Hey, you get to see all your favorite hair bands all in one place for less than the price of an arena rock concert," I don't even think that is bullshit. I'd rather see Hairball perform than watch Axl Rose play a handful of vintage G&R, then go unplugged for some new acoustic stuff that shows his softer side.

But there is a whole other side to music from that period. There is Lita Ford, Heart, half of the "Footloose" soundtrack and half of Fleetwood Mac's discography. The Go-Gos, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper. I can do all of these. I can also do Gladys Knight and Gaga and America. Ke$ha isn't exactly out of my range.


We were behind the sound board when a woman with rippling abs came onto the stage and invited the audience to "Raise your glass in the air!" before segueing into covers of party hits by the Black Eyed Peas and Pink. She shimmied and strutted and wrapped a boa around her neck. When she laid the groundwork for "Bad Romance" I tuned in especially hard since I've been working on this for awhile.

This is not especially a tricky song. You do have to go from almost raspy rap to a higher-pitched screaming chorus. And some of the nonsense lyrics involve contorting your tongue and monkeying with your jaw muscles. It's a good vocal exercise and eventually slips briefly into French lyrics.

The singer totally cheated. Brought the chorus down an octave and didn't know all of the words to the song.

"Oh my God," I said to Chuck, who was unable to rearrange his face muscles from a position that suggested confused and a little suspicious. "She's living my dream, but she's making it look really ugly. She's breaking it!"

I have a friend whose husband is a singer-songwriter who tours around a bit and plays for small bar crowds. She could never bring herself to watch him perform because she would get embarrassed.

"I can see what she meant by that now," Chuck said. "It would be embarrassing to watch you do this."

The band continued with a rotating cast of lead singers, including two guys dressed like Beastie Boys, but who performed a medley of Run DMC. It didn't quite make sense.

"This is like my high school talent show," Chuck said when they performed "Humpty Dance" and changed the lyrics to "I once got busy in Mr. D's bathroom." "Every hat they wear should be a lampshade."

At one point the band stood quietly on the stage, no one played a note, the singer had his back to the audience.

"Do STUFF!" yelled a guy behind us.

It's not as pretty as I thought, this lead singer for an 80s cover band business. I suppose it could be done better, but the failure rate is really off the charts. I'm not sure a tutu and moxie could cut it.

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