The Karaoke Chronicles | Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me

Editor Note: This is the first entry into the Karaoke Chronicles by our new contributor, Russ Kazmierczak, Jr.

Thanks Russ, for your willingness to put your self out there regularly whether that is Karaoke or cartooning. Your insights into the broader community are welcome.

Let’s see what Russ has to say about Karaoke.


The Karaoke Chronicles : Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me

San Francisco, 2007. I was in town for a work thing, and my last conference ended at 2:30 p.m. As my coworkers discussed early dinner-and-drinks plans, I told them I was going to karaoke. They said, well, sure, we can all go after dinner . . . but I told them karaoke started at 3 p.m. They didn’t believe it, and, frankly, neither did I.

Finding karaoke was different back then. In Orange County, California, where I lived, you found karaoke by flipping through the back pages of “The OC Weekly.” You called bars to confirm their ads were accurate. If you went to a bar on a Tuesday night, and they had karaoke, you made a mental note that this was a “Tuesday spot.” Sometimes you might even write it down, on paper. It was a dark age.

When I found out I was going to San Francisco, a new city to try karaoke, I jumped on the Internet to research. This was 2007’s Internet. If I didn’t like Google’s results, I tried Yahoo. Maybe even AOL. Among the varied results of Geocities pages, I discovered The Mint, which claimed to start karaoke at 3 p.m. Until then, I had only known karaoke as a nighttime activity, reserved for slow nights in dive bars. It felt subversive — something that should only be done in the dark, like midnight bowling, or making love.

From its pictures online, The Mint looked like a neon palace for karaoke enthusiasts. If you sang until last call, and then slept until noon the next day, you could live a waking life of pure karaoke. I had to see it for myself. So, after I made my proclamation to my coworkers, I began my walk to The Mint. Remember: 2007. No Uber. No Lyft. I could’ve hailed a cab, but I wanted to see the city. Get this — I used my flip phone to TEXT Google my hotel’s address, followed by “to The Mint” (with its address), and Googled texted me back a list of directions. That’s how I GPS’ed back then.

The fastest way to The Mint was through San Francisco’s Tenderloin. If you’ve ever been, you’re already laughing. The Tenderloin is infamous for crime and homelessness, which is as apparent at 2:45 p.m. as it is at 2:45 a.m. I may have been offered crack twice during my midday stroll. I made my “I’m hard” face, the same one I use after midnight on the light rail, and it must’ve worked. I’m here to tell the tale, 12 years later, and still crack free.

When I finally arrived, The Mint looked just like its pictures. Inside, sunlight streamed through window blinds, and the bar looked like a noir detective’s office, pinstriped with slivers of daytime. I ordered a beer and sat at the far end of the bar, despite the many empty seats closer to the stage, because I wanted to take in everything. Honestly, during the day, The Mint looked like any other metropolitan bar. Then, as expected, the karaoke started. The rotation began with five singers — all five people in the bar. To celebrate singing karaoke during the day for the first time, I crooned Elton John’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.” It was fun, but, despite my egomania, my performance isn’t the one I remember most.

An African-American gentleman in a loud Hawaiian shirt took the stage, and I remember anticipating something obnoxious, like “Margaritaville” or “The Piña Colada Song” (pre-“Guardians of the Galaxy”). Instead, what followed is still the most sincere karaoke performance I’ve ever seen, of Vertical Horizon’s “The Best I Ever Had.” Note, I didn’t say his was the BEST performance I’ve ever seen. All these years later, I don’t quite remember what it sounded like . . . but I still remember how it made me feel. He sang with the unmistakable sincerity of a broken heart, and the song obviously meant something to him. He pulled us into its words, and a sappy ballad from the ’90s became a beautiful piece of poetry that I’ve never heard the same way since.

A performance like that could only be done during the daytime. Had he sung it at night, between the big singalongs like “Sweet Caroline” and “Don’t Stop Believin’,” he would’ve been drowned out by drink orders and barroom buzz. That afternoon, as light and shadow played tug-of-war with the mood of the room, his performance had space to breathe, albeit for just four other people. I’m honored to have been one of them. I had been going to karaoke for years, but that night elevated my interest to the point of passion. After all, I can’t think of a better word to describe what I experienced that day.

“The Karaoke Chronicles” is my catch-all column about karaoke. Future articles will list the best karaoke songs for fans of onomatopoeia, some of the best and worst karaoke venues I’ve been to across the country, and what makes a great karaoke jockey, just to name a few ideas. Even as karaoke’s popularity grows, resources are scarce. It’s about time somebody brings this thing called karaoke into the light. To be continued . . .!

Find Russ and his Comics at:
Karaoke Fanboy Press
Twitter: @AmazingAZComics

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