karaoke, lorde’s bum, and the most beautiful $20 i’ve ever earned.
hello my loves.
greetings from waiheke island. i’ve got some internal team news coming up in the next day or so, so hold the phone. all good things, don’t worry. i’m just struggling to keep up, what’s new.
i was off grid again for almost a week – hiking, thinking, slowly and surely recovering from this shit-show of a year. i think, at this point, that i could spend a full month – or year, or life – unplugged from the internet, screens, emails, socialization, “work”, scheduling, considering the future and its lack of prediction, mothering, house-cleaning, cooking, shopping. it’s just been too much on top of too much, especially this past 15 months.
as my friend jack in new york put it: it’s been bonkers wrapped in bananas.
i’ve felt the lifeblood pulsing back into so many of my friends back home, and it’s infectious. it’s also make me yearn to come home. the time will come soon, i hope.
i’ve “given up” on so many fronts.
it feels good, this submission to life. this releasing of productivity, the to-do list, the giant landslide of old meaning.
who i am.
where i live.
what i “mean” to people.
whether or not i’m relevant, accepted, important….on so many levels.
so many moments of so many days i’m just a little boy’s mother, trying to get through the list of things to do before 2:30 when i pick him up from school.
right now, it’s 2:29 and i’m going to have to come back to this post later tonight.
it’s tomorrow. later tonight often involves falling asleep at 8:30pm when i put ash to bed.
i wanted to tell you a nice story.
as you may have gleaned from my instagram feed, i’ve been going to karaoke almost every week since moving to waiheke.
i feel like i could write an entire book (a novel?) about the inner and outer workings of waiheke karaoke. it’d be a book about songs, about what music means to people, about how, in any situation and against all odds – decor, sound and lighting quality – people have this fundamental DNA drive to get in a room and sing the songs they love.
they’ve been doing it since the dawn of time. the drums around the fire may have been replaced by a bunch of screens and a microphone, but it’s the same soup warmed over
human people gotta sing the songs they know and love. it’s just what HUMAN PEOPLE DO.
anyway: karaoke has some regulars, and the regulars are all over 60.
there are often only 15 people attending an average night, but sometimes it’s busting and the waiheke bowling club bar is filled to the brim with 40 people. there’s the badly lit room with the carpeted floor and white acoustic tile on the ceiling, there are metal chairs, there are cheap drinks and fries (sorry, CHIPS).
there are poker machines along the wall, there’s a pool table, and there’s a dart board.
the master of ceremonies, nooroa, ,brings his speaker set-up and laptop. it’s not a karoake “machine”, just searched youtibe for whatever anyone wants to sing and we hope for the best.
also, nooroa adds a single table-top piece of lighting equipment about the size of a coke can that throws a laser-y rainbow up on the wall.
that’s the entire ambiance. it’s totally terrible, and it’s perfect.
this is nooroa. he sings at least once a night and always brings the house down.
i have a group of regular waiheke friends who i sometimes only run into at karoake, although i also run into nick a few times a day, because he works at the paper plus select in town, which is also the bookstore, which is also the post office. it’s a small town.
they’re mostly ex-pats. nick is birtish. from manchester. roger’s from london. he and i also play pickleball once a week at the recreation center with the waiheke pick-up pickleball group. pickleball is like a cross between tennis, badminton and ping-pong.
chelsea and jonathan, both kiwis, are sometimes there, and when we are lucky they sing duets. they’re both indie musicians who are more famous outside new zealand than in new zealand. chelasea has a show in auckland and i ran into roger and his boyfriend calvin there. calvin usually comes to karoake but not always. xan was at chelsea’s show at the whammy bar, too.
xan and her husband nathan are american, they’ve lived in new zealand for four years. they sometimes bring their daughter, persephone, to karaoke. and xan and i sometimes go kayaking. and when i did my show at the auckland writer’s festival, she tour managed.
the kids are allowed to be at the waiheke bowling club bar until 9 pm. then they are thrown out.
the waiheke bowling club bar is not like a bar in america. it’s hard to explain what it is. it’s sort of like a community center, and sort of like an elks lodge, and sort of like an airport lounge. it’s the central indoor dining and bar-place for a larger concept building that was created for people to “do bowls” (which is a THING that kiwis do – it’s outdoor bowling, like a cross between italian bocce and american bowling).
(this is the waiheke bowling club).
i have still never done bowls.
i will have to try.
i’m busy with pickleball. i’ll get there.
the songs that come out are so widely varied, and as a songwriter who’s been mostly on sabbatical this year, it’s like i’ve been plopped into a strange little songwriting school once a week.
a lot of these people are OLD. there are songs sung by people in their 60s and 70s that i’ve never heard of….from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. the other night some guy in work boots and paint-splattered cover-alls sang “like a rolling stone” with closed eyes and his veins bulging and he meant every word. sometimes the old men sing “that’s amore” and everyone sings along. sometimes the little kids get up and sing disney songs with their parents. sometimes someone attempts an italian opera aria. nick almost ALWAYS attempts something from the musical theater realm that leaves us all moved. xan does ozzy osbourne. the other night an israeli guy sang a song that went on for 7 minutes and we had no idea what he was singing. someone almost always sings queen. someone sang flight of the conchord’s “business time” the other night. billy joel is also popular. bowie. elton john. whitney houston. barbra streisand amy winehouse was explored the other night (not by me).
it’s always a crash-course, in my little note-taking head, about what makes a memorable and beloved song memorable and beloved. i am learning.
i almost never go into karaoke with a PLAN.
i sit there for a while, listen to other people singing, and think about what might move people.
one of the most stunning things i’ve realized
the biggest rookie mistake, i’ve found, is singing something purely for your own pleasure. just because you like a song doesn’t mean it makes a good karaoke song for an audience of semi-drunk local kiwis in their 60s and 70s. i have found that i enjoy a different game: casting my eyes around the room and looking at the demographic and trying to figure out what would DELIGHT them.
i like making old people happy. it’s like a part of my old job, my old self, my primary artist self, that i can still tap into. i haven’t been touring, but i can get up in front of a group of people with no fear and try to entertain them, even if it’s in a badly-lit bowling club, singing madonna. life is mystery.
songs i have attempted and nailed:
“old time rock and roll” (bob seeger)
“99 luftballoons” (by nena, in the original german)
“mein herr” (from cabaret)
“the phantom of the opera” (in duet, with nick)
“you’re the one that i want” (from grease, in duet with nathan)
“we’ll meet again” (very lynn)
songs i have attempted and nailed and gotten very emotional during:
“never enough” (from the greatest showman – and there’s even a little video of it on instagam: https://www.instagram.com/p/CK01BLvp_nN/)
“new york, new york” (sinatra…and you can imagine why)
“nothing compares 2 U” (don’t get me started)
songs i have failed at totally, to my shock:
“memory” (from cats, the key was impossible)
“my way” (sinatra….that song is goddam harder than i thought)
and….”america” from west side story.
but then something magical happened.
it was two nights ago.
i came to karaoke with ash., which i don’t usually, because neil usually has him that night, but neil’s off on a trip.
ash likes going to karaoke. he runs around. he plays with the pool balls:
i brought my new friend sandy, who i met on my hiking trip on the south island. she’s from california. she was traveling during covid and got “stuck” here like i did. i’m always careful to not say stuck. i am not stuck. i just didn’t go home to new york because….covid. she didn’t either.
i listened while my friends and strangers sang, and i asked ash if he’d like a speical song.
he requested “feed me” from “little shop of horrors”. i honestly didn’t think i could pull that one off, i mean, it’s a duet, and i guess i could have asked nick if he wanted to give it a go, but then i started thinking about musicals and songs that ash is into lately, and i remembered “america”.
ash and i have been on west side story kick lately. a few months ago, we watched the movie, but we still haven’t gotten to the end. ash doesn’t know that tony gets killed.
we have listened to the soundtrack over and over and over again.
ash’s favorite song is “america”. there were a few weeks in the car where that was all we listening to….on repeat. the film soundtrack version. america, ameria, america, and occasionally “jet song”.
i’ve explained to ash that the song is a battle between anita and rosalia. and argument. two people expressing two points of view. a fight song.
I like to be in America
Okay by me in America
Everything free in America
(For a small fee in America)
i knew the film version like the back of my hand.
driving through various parts of new zealand with my little five year old in the back of the car, windows up and heater on because the winter is closing in on us as the summer opens up in america.
Buying on credit is so nice,
One look at us, and they charge twice
I have my own washing machine….
(What will you have, though, to keep clean?)
as covid releases its grip and stores open, bars open, theaters open. the pros and cons. the impossible measurements. the tightrope decisions i’ve made, on a daily basis, to stay away from my home country.my child? or go home and put him in lockdown?
Skyscrapers bloom in America,
Cadillacs zoom in America,
Industry boom in America,
(Twelve in a room in America)
and the stuff that was harder to wrap my head around, or explain to my new friends in new zealand.
george floyd. breonna talyor. marches. revoltion. hope. despair. donald trump. biden. the new supreme court. abortion getting closer and closer to illegal. the gun violence. the active shooter drills in elementary schools. the fact that gun sales are spiking.
Lots of new housing with more space,
(Lots of doors slamming in our face)
I’ll get a terrace apartment,
(Better get rid of your accent).
it was my turn. ash was pre-occupied with trying to convince someone to let him use the dart board even though i’d told him it was contraband.
i’d written down some other song, i forget what, but i went up to nooroa’s karaoke station, i aksed him to type “america from west side story” into the youtube window.
he found a version, but it was the broadway version.
i was lost.
the lyrics were all different, there are no monitor speakers so you can barely hear the underlying track, and the song is goddamn HARD. and, i realized quickly, totally out of my alto range.
i kept us as well as i could, and my posse of friends all did the
CLAP-CLAP-CLAP CLAP-CLAP-CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP rhythm during the long instrmentals and i danced around with ash and clapped along. it was what the spirit of karaoke always is, now that i understand it: totally egoless, free, silly, and whatever you want it to be. nathan shouted over the music at me that he and xan had tried it before and i was also a disaster because the broadway version has all these different lyrics and the music’s slightly different. i shrugged and smiled.
the song ended and everybody applauded. i put the microphone back in its stand and want back to my little group of friends and slugged a little wine.
“i sang that one for you, ash!!” i told him, and he nodded his approval. as long as he’s happy, i’m basically content. motherhood has torn most of my ego out and left it in the car outside.
about five minutes later a tall, old man came up to me…a very wrinkled, sweet-smiled kiwi guy who looked like he in his late seventies or early eighties.
it was hard to hear him over the music.
“ARE YOU THE ONE WHO SANG THE SONG JUST KNOW” he wanted to know, looking at me and sandy, as if he couldn’t quite keep us straight.
“YES” i said.
“WHAT ARE YOU DRINKING. I WANT TO BUY YOU A DRINK”, he said.
“THANK YOU!” i said, “I AM DRIVING SO NO MORE ALCOHOL FOR ME BUT I WOULD LOVE A GINGER BEER”
“A WHAT” he yelled
“A GINGER BEER” i yelled. i didn’t want one, but i figured ash would like it.
the man shuffled off and came back a few minutes later, with the ginger beer in a glass.
he handed me the glass, and a twenty-dollar bill.
“THIS IS FOR YOU. THIS IS FOR YOU AND YOUR SON, he yelled over the music. “I ONCE WENT TO NEW YORK, TO A PLACE CALLED LONG ISLAND. A LONG TIME AGO. WHEN I WAS THERE A MAN WAS VERY KIND TO ME, THE KINDEST PERSON I EVER MET. THIS IS FOR YOU, AND FOR YOUR SON, BECAUSE YOU ARE SO FAR FROM HOME.”
i nearly fell to my knees. i wanted to weep into his chest.
my friends….i wrote a goddamn book about asking and receiving. i knew better than to refuse his money. it would have ruined his gesture.
also, when old people give you money, there’s something magical about it. they can’t take it with them. sometimes, they want to give it away.
i put it in my pocket, put the ginger beer down on the table, and with tears about to roll down my cheeks, looked him straight in eye, took his hand, squeezed it, and said
“YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THIS MEANS TO ME. THANK YOU.”
he smiled back at me and shuffled away.
maybe next week i’ll sing “piano man”.
speaking of new zealand and all that, i hope you all saw that lorde announced a new album just now.
it’s called solar power and here is the cover art…
go lorde. i love your bum.
fun fact: this photo was taken on waiheke island, apparently, the same little island where i living. apparently she worked on the album here.
here’s her new video for “solar power”, which looks like it was probably shot on waiheke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvsP_lzh2-8
as i posted on twitter:
that’s all for now, my loves.
back in a day or so with more.
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