Mr. Maud and I met friends at the Miami karaoke bar on a Friday night.
A tall lad with a wispy moustache kicked things off with REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling.” He gazed out tenderly at his companion, who held a cellophane-wrapped rose close to her cheek and didn’t seem to mind that he was flat from the second line. “What started out as friendship has grown stronger,” he sang, “I only wish I had the strength to let it show.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. We didn’t sneer or laugh. We consulted our watches only a handful of times, and then discreetly. We clapped at the end and smiled when the boy kissed his date.
But this first performer, we soon realized, was part of a group of guys who’d evidently set out that night to sing two and three heartfelt love ballads apiece before a live audience.
The next fellow pulled on his goatee and launched into Journey’s “Faithfully.” His pitch was even further off than his buddy’s–some among us wondered if he was, in fact, tone-deaf–but he closed his eyes and held his hand to his heart as he sang the last verse:
And being apart ain’t easy on this love affair
Two strangers learn to fall in love again
I get the joy
Of redescovering you
Oh girl, you stand by me
I’m forever yours…faithfully
When the third performer began to croon a heartfelt ditty by Peter Cetera, the smiles froze on our faces.
We whispered among ourselves, trying to calculate how many more ballads we could endure before we pulled down the fire hatchet and got to work on the sound system.
Where, Mr. Maud and I wondered, was Miami’s answer to Miss Lola Belle?
Oh, for a disaffected young Brooklynite in ratty Vans and an Aerosmith t-shirt!
But the ballads came to an end, finally, and then our Brooklyn snobbery vanished. People in Miami can dance, and they aren’t too proud to shake it to karaoke.
As the room filled with moving bodies, Mr. Maud got everybody hyped up with his version of Prince’s “1999.” The next several performers did Hip-Hop and Miami Bass, and did them well.
Then some girls took the stage and fondled a few instruments lying against the wall. “Are we allowed to play these?” one of them asked the announcer.
Before he could answer, a heavyset man we dubbed the “Karaoke Godfather” appeared from the VIP corner and stood in front of the stage, arms folded across his chest. “You can play anything you want,” he said, waving his right hand majestically in the direction of drum sets, keyboards, bass guitars. “Anything.”
Later he reappeared to take a gander at a girl the announcer said was celebrating her 21st birthday.
I persisted in singing mostly AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, as is my wont, and when I took the stage for the last time, one guy reportedly said, “Hey, look, it’s that crazy Maud.”
My poor friend Kevin was the designated photographer. The experience of seeing me perform caused his body to produce so much bile that he was rushed to the emergency room the following night and had unexpected gall bladder surgery.
He, his girlfriend, and my other friends managed not to look too nauseated while I was actually performing.