I believe karaoke is the tingling of God’s silly bone. One day, he must have banged his arm, and to ease the pain, belted along with Kelly Clarkson. My brother and I own a restaurant in Chicago, Joey’s Brickhouse. We’re Italian Jews, which means besides bickering we’re into food. Our restaurant happens to be diagonally across the street from two regional theaters, The Bailiwick and Theatre Building Chicago. I’m a theater nerd. I went to Tisch School of the Arts in New York City. When I moved there, I wanted to be something. By the time I left, the only something I wanted to be was a New Yorker. On both dreams, I was denied. “Some Dreams Were Made to be Denied” is a lyric in a song by The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Boy do I relate! I wasn’t talented enough to be something. I wasn’t talented enough to make rent, even after 15 years of struggling in a city where I felt deeply at home. In New York, struggling feels like home. At one particularly difficult point, I was living on Saint Marks Place in a one-bedroom apartment with four roommates and a dog. Two doors down was a karaoke bar. It’s where I reclaimed the B-Movie version of my dream. You see, I believe Karaoke is redemption for lost dreams: “Since You Been Gone, I Can Breathe for the First Time.” When I sing along with Kelly Clarkson, I don’t like myself for liking that song, but at least I admit I like that song. I miss Saint Marks Place. I miss what I was struggling for. But I love what I’ve built in my new neighborhood…a safe haven for dreams in a restaurant called Joey’s Brickhouse. Sometimes, when a new show opens across the street at one of the regional theaters, we throw a karaoke party. Here’s the key to karaoke, and life: pick a song you like and let go of judgments. If you sing off key and from the heart…the room smiles. If you sing with perfect pitch and an attitude like you’re out to prove something…the room frowns. There are no Idols, American or otherwise. As a matter of fact, we don’t need Simon sitting there in a tight t-shirt and bad haircut, proving to the world how macho he is by picking on young singers who haven’t learned that you don’t want Simon’s approval in the first place. You don’t cozy up to a bully. Instead, you play your game on the other side of the playground. Typically, I kick off karaoke with The Captain and Tennille: “Love, Love Will Keep Us Together, Think Of Me Babe Whenever.” It relaxes the room. Instantly, everyone sees a dork on stage having fun and they understand this: they can do better (which if freeing). Somewhere in the middle of the night, I drop a song by The New Radicals, “You Get What You Give.” I call for all sexy people to climb up on the bar. By that point, everyone feels sexy and so the bar is littered with silliness. This is the moment when God’s funny bone tingles and everyone lets go of failure…”Wake Up Kids We’ve Got The Dreamer’s Disease.” Yes we do, all of us have the dreamer’s disease. When did we decide to let a panel sit in judgment of our dreams? I believe karaoke is God’s way of reminding us to have fun with our dreams. This I believe.
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