Every Wednesday, Karaoke Jeff Roman regales us with tales of his karaoke adventures. This week, he visits his first gay karaoke bar, and provides a unique window into the mind of a fish out of water.
Driving through Wallingford last Wednesday, I spotted a sign in a bar window that read "Karaoke." Since the place was two minutes from the bar (Luau Polynesian Lounge) I spend most of my time at, I was excited to find a new option. I took a closer look to see what it was and discovered it was Changes, a gay bar. I'm not gay, but I couldn't care less that Changes was, and spent the rest of my drive home deciding what songs to sing on my inaugural visit there.
I checked out Changes' website and saw they hire a company named "Black Nail Productions" to run karaoke on Wednesdays, Thursdays & Sundays from 9pm to 1am. It's always a great sign when places hire a professional KJ because they have quality sound equipment and a big selection of songs. I came in that Thursday right at 9.
I'm pretty sure I've never been in a gay bar before, and I've definitely never gone solo to one. When I walked in, the place didn't look any different than any other bar. There was a long bar with tables on the floor and a few TVs showing sports. There were around 15 guys hanging out, and outside of a few dudes in extra tight t-shirts--appropriate for the season. I took a seat at the end of the bar between a guy in his thirties wearing a scarf and a pea coat and an old man with a big gray beard that looked like he worked in a garage. I grabbed a book of selections and was settling in nicely until bartender asked me what I was having. The moment I heard my deep baritone voice order that first PBR I got self-conscious. I forgot to figure out what to do in case anyone asked me if I was gay or not. Do I come clean, or just lie and say I am? Holy shit--I'm handsome and I'm skinny. Are these guys going to get pissed if they find out I'm straight? I wasn't looking to offend anyone or lead anyone on. All I wanted to do was sing, but I didn't factor in how much attention I might draw to myself. I decided to pound my tall-boy, order another one immediately, bury my head in the book, and I wait for the buzz to mellow me out.
At 9:15 no one had been called up yet. There was a pool table at the end of the bar that had all the catalogs. I turned in my selection to Marcus, the KJ. I remember having a very positive feeling about him right away. He was so friendly it put my mind at ease. As I figured, every performer that night sang in tune. The first few did songs I'd never heard before. The music sounded like country, but as I read the monitor on a couple of the numbers, it was pretty clear the songs were written by men, for men.
Midway through my third beer, I started loosening up. Marcus has an awesome song selection and I found a Springsteen cut I hardly ever see called "Prove It All Night." It's a powerful song about a man's desire to show his lover how well he can bring it in the sack. After 45 minutes of soft and sweet performances, I couldn't wait to blow the roof off the place.
When my turn was up I pulled out all the stops. I channeled 1978 Boss, jumped around as I rocked the air guitar, and blasted out Bruce's trademark guttural screams like the Incredible Hulk. It felt really good to get that first one in, and the fellas loved it.
When I got back to my stool, the dude in the scarf complimented my performance. I told him that I lived for karaoke and introduced myself. His name was Andy. I asked him if he had any songs up. He said no, and that he was mostly into show tunes and was there to just watch other people sing. The next batch of singers performed songs I knew, and brought more virility to their performances. I was really surprised how much country was being sung. This kid that looked like he was in the military sang a fantastic rendition of Randy Travis' "Forever and Ever Amen," and another guy sang one of my Dad's favorite Garth Brooks songs, "Unanswered Prayers."
By the time I hit the bottom of beer four I was cheering and clapping for everyone. I knew I might have been pushing the affable button a bit hard, but I was having a great time and wanted everyone to know I appreciated being there. A guy and a girl walked in and hung out near the pool table. They looked like a couple. A few minutes later another guy walked in and Andy said in an annoyed way, "Great, more straight guys." Not wanting to blow my cover, I replied, "What are they doing here?" He said he didn't know.
I decided I wanted to meet the crowd halfway with my remaining selections. Originally I wanted to continue with Springsteen, but most of his songs are addressed specifically to women and I wanted to go with more accommodating picks. It's not like I wanted to go over the top with Madonna or sing "Wedding Bell Blues"--I just wanted to keep the audience happy. I settled on Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." A quarter of the song is completely out of my vocal range, but I really love singing it and I figured they'd appreciate the effort.
After squeaking through the number, I got another good round of applause. When I bellied back up and saw Andy trying to figure out a song, He found one, turned in his slip and stepped out for a smoke. That's when Marcus came up to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, "Now I'm gonna ask you the million dollar question." I said, "Okay." He asked, "Are you gay?" I looked him in the eye, and replied with a guilty face, "No, I'm not." He smiled, patted me on the back, and as he walked back to KJ station, he turned around and said, "You're going to break a lot of hearts tonight, honey." That was one of the coolest things anyone's ever said to me.
After that I knew I was welcome. All the anxiety I felt earlier was gone and I really started to embrace the scene. Next up was a guy who did Taylor Swift's, "Love Story." I have many guilty pleasures, and Taylor's my biggest one these days. I think she is gorgeous, and I don't care what anybody says--I love her music. As I enjoyed the performance, I looked down the other end of the bar and saw a couple old time rock 'n rollers shaking their heads in disgust at the song. That's when I realized some of my random tastes could technically make me gayer than some of these gay guys.
I topped my night off with "Little Red Corvette" by Prince. By that time pretty much everyone knew I was straight, but there were still a few that didn't. When Marcus got up to sing Loveboy's "Working for the Weekend", the military kid from earlier came right up and danced for me. He moved from side to side and gyrated his hips as he smiled at me. Andy got up to do his song after that. I can't remember what it was, but I'm pretty sure it was good. As I left I shook his hand and he told me to be good. Marcus gave me a big hug and demanded I come in again. I totally will. Changes did wonders for my self-esteem.