Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Karaoke and Cover Bands

I'm a snob sometimes. At least about some things. I'm less of a beer snob than I once was. I've actually enjoyed Coors Light. Well... "enjoyed" may be too strong a word. I've tolerated Coors Light. On those rare occasions when having any beer was better than having no beer at all, I've cracked open a can and consumed every horrendous drop.

Of course, it had to be done in ninety seconds or less. Allowing it to warm up by more than a few degrees before you finish it reminds you that you are drinking something that, at room temperature, tastes like the runoff from a chicken coop.

I've mostly gotten over the beer snobbery, partly because there have been times when a "lesser" beer has been offered to me, and, beggars can't be choosers, right?

But I'm still a snob about karaoke and cover bands. I'm not a fan.

The problem with karaoke is that most people can't sing. In fact, many people shouldn't sing. EVER. Three cocktails doesn't make it better. Neither does five. If, when sober, your singing voice sounds like kittens being stabbed to death with a dull pencil, I can assure you, being drunk doesn't solve the problem.

People tell me that it's just a fun thing to do when you're out with friends. Get up and sing. And have fun living out a momentary fantasy of being a musician. Why is it that no one wants to live out a fantasy of being a mime?

Once, while sitting at the Stained Glass Pub in Silver Spring, Maryland, an acquaintance of mine who worked there saw me wincing at the sound of the weekly Wednesday karaoke in the room next door. After a few minutes, he walked over to me, appearing very serious. He looked left and right before he leaned to speak in my ear.

"Outside of the NSA and the CIA," he whispered, "I'm one of the very few who know that karaoke is long-term, covert payback for Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

I laughed hysterically.

For the most part, I dislike cover bands too. For those of you who don't know, a "cover band" is a group of musicians that performs songs written by other musicians. We've all seen the fifty-somethings who spend their Friday nights pretending they are Mick Jagger or Van Morrison.

I'll admit, there are some cover bands that have honed their technical skills to a fairly high level. And there are some who play cover gigs just to make a few bucks, meet chicks, and get free booze while working behind the scene to craft their own material. That's great. But most of them are just guys who dream about being Bono or Eric Clapton while scurrying to keep up with the orders in the Taco Bell drive-thru. Ok, maybe that was a bit harsh. Maybe.

The bottom line with karaoke and cover bands is that, in both cases, it's merely copying something that someone else has already done. And coming up with those ideas in the first place is the really hard part. Especially those ideas that are so catchy and memorable that others want to imitate them for decades afterward.

Part of my karaoke and cover band snobbery stems from a simple, long-time appreciation of great music. I was one of those that would buy a record and sit and listen to it from start to finish while reading the liner notes. I spent many thousands of hours listening and absorbing.

And some of my snobbery comes from the time I spent working in radio, concert promotion and artist management, particularly from the years that I spent booking local shows for so many aspiring young bands. Hundreds of them. And I listened to many hundreds more demos that were sent to me along the way. Some of them were really, truly good. And most of those bands will never get to play a venue bigger than a dark, smoky club. If they're lucky, maybe it will have a few lights and a decent PA system.

The music industry often ignores real talent in favor of something they can package and sell with ease. But that's an entirely different story. Just believe me, there are many gifted people making really good original music that most of us never hear.

The remaining portion of my karaoke and cover band snobbery comes from a life spent going to concerts - watching live music played by incredibly skilled and talented artists - both for personal reasons when I was younger and for professional reasons later on. When you've seen some really amazing performances, and heard songs done by the artists who wrote them and made them famous, it's hard to pretend anything less than that is really worth hearing.

The drunk lady sitting at the end of the bar can't cut it. Even with some nice, slick backing tracks. And the aging rock-star-wannabe doesn't cut it either. I have news for you. You're not Robert Plant. Not even close.

I thought of this the other day, when I was outside at the tiki bar of one of my favorite hang-outs. A cover band was playing, but I was sitting through it because I was chatting with a friend. We were having a long discussion about this very subject - karaoke and cover bands - when the band started playing "Walk This Way."

Continuing his effort to get me to admit that the band was decent, he said, "See? This is pretty good, right?"

I shook my head to let him know he was fighting a losing battle, and said, "Dude, I've seen Aerosmith do it."