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Karaoke and Covers: A Response to Rob Sheffield’s Turn Around Bright Eyes

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 Karaoke and Covers: A Response to Rob Sheffields Turn Around Bright Eyes

There is simply no other American ritual that rewards people for doing things they suck at doing. Yet we stick around, before and after our song, cheering each other’s flaws. -Rob Sheffield

John Milton once wrote the divine is heard in Apollo’s lute. John Keats revised Milton, writing that hearing the divine is all well and good, but nothing is real until it is experienced. Turn Around Bright Eyes is about the difference between hearing the divine and being the divine, which, for Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield, is the difference between hearing David Bowie and being David Bowie. And Bonnie Tyler. And Neil Diamond.

Turn Around Bright Eyes continues the narrative of Love Is a Mixtape, beginning with Sheffield as a young widower who moves to Manhattan’s Financial District just in time for September 2001. Somehow in the midst of both personal and public wreckage, Sheffield finds karaoke. The ritual of engaging with music in a new way led him to the center stage of a new decade, a new neighborhood, and a new marriage. Sheffield has spent his life worshiping rock gods and goddesses from a distance. Now his rock pantheon is jammed up with all his friends.

Sheffield takes the reader on singing escapades that happen around his Irish Catholic family’s piano, on sticky leather couches in the East Village, and at something called Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp. He recounts each song with the specificity of a music-obsessed Charles Darwin. But that’s only one of the ways he talks about music. When Sheffield describes what it’s like to sing Merle Haggard, he’s really talking about a language of respect. He understands Rod Stewart as a good omen for growing older (with a Rod grin, bien sur). When Sheffield writes about singing Frank Sinatra, he is conveying the dream of a future that he only could have discovered by stepping into the shoes of Ol’ Blue Eyes for “New York, New York”.

It is always fun to strut around in the metaphorical pumps of your favorite divas. Sheffield writes convincingly about this. But the uncanny thing this book does is make you want to wear your very own non-metaphorical shoes, grab your non-metaphorical audience, and sing your life. Join Consequence of Sound as we celebrate this book by getting a head start.

–Sarah Grant
Associate Editor

Lyle Lovett – “Nobody Knows Me”

Music keeps us going during rough patches in our lives. We can each share our own version of that narrative. But I almost never hear stories, like mine, about songs making a painful period worse, or even unbearable. After breaking up with my now fiancée a few years ago — seven years into our relationship — I found that so many of my favorite songs cut too deep and had to be shelved for my own mental and emotional survival. Not only had I lost her but also half my record collection.

When we got back together two summers back, one of the first things I did was create a mixtape with a couple dozen of those abandoned songs. One morning, I burned through a tank of gas driving along small-town Pennsylvania back roads, belting out songs like “God Only Knows”, “Alison”, Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times”, and Lyle Lovett’s “Nobody Knows Me”. I had gotten all my sad songs back and now felt like I actually knew what those artists were really singing about.

–Matt Melis

Dramarama – “Anything, Anything”

If it wasn’t for Freddy Krueger, I wouldn’t have played this song in college. I’m a horror nut, having cleared the genre’s section at my now-demolished local Blockbuster growing up. Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, Happy Birthday to Me, Head of the Family (!), and, of course, the Nightmare series. Now, Renny Harlin’s The Dream Master, the blockbuster follow-up to the creme de la creme sequel that is Dream Warriors, isn’t all that exceptional, but it was one of those go-to rentals growing up. I’d check it out all the time, either to go gaga for Lisa Wilcox, wallow in horror at the infamous Cockroach Scene, or replay this one song again and again and again: Dramarama’s “Anything, Anything”.

Even today, I’ll argue that the Los Angeles power pop band was an underrated gem in a decade of sometimes excruciating pop-rock. They were The Replacements without the snow, Mudhoney without the distortion, and Dinosaur Jr. without the solos. Their 1985 debut album, Cinema Verite, has become one of my personal favorite albums of all time, hallmarked with exceptional covers of Lou Reed (“Femme Fatale”) and David Bowie (“Candidate”) and the sort of snarky cheese that works when you’re a teenager in a bedroom with nothing to do but sing about being a bored teenager in a bedroom with nothing to do.

Cut to graduate school. DePaul University. 2008. I’m in a total copycat Replacements band called The Code Kids, and what do we cover? Hint: One, two, Freddy’s coming for you. It’s simple enough that we learn “Anything, Anything” in just five minutes, which we perform at our debut show at The Cobra Lounge on a cold, cold December night. We used to get pretty drunk before shows, but I’ll never forget the electricity in my arms and legs that night as I screamed out, “Just marry me, marry me, marry me” to a bunch of locals, two of them over the age of 40, and the only two who recognized the song.

My lead guitarist ended up breaking his guitar on the song, which turned into a wild nightmare for the last song of the set, namely because it was a two-minute power-pop song fleshed out by a two-minute guitar solo. Without him behind his axe, things went downhill pretty fast for the remainder of the set, but hey, given the history of “Anything, Anything”, I guess I should have expected a visit from the ghoul in the boiler room. It sure as hell beat being turned into a cockroach.

–Michael Roffman

Genesis – “Supper’s Ready”

“Walking across the sitting-room, I turn the television off,

Sitting beside you, I look into your eyes

As the sound of motor cars fades in the night time,

I swear I saw your face change, it didn’t seem quite right.”

Song lyrics are a treasure trove of memories: good, bad, happy, sad, proud, and even embarrassing. This particular quatrain kicks off the 23-minute epic “Supper’s Ready” from the 1972 album by Genesis, Foxtrot, itself deemed a progressive rock landmark by many fans of the genre. Well, my college housemates and I used to sing this particular opus in my beat-up, old car from start to finish, in a style uncomfortably similar to that later adopted by the guys in Wayne’s World when reprising Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. So, that’s good, happy, and almost certainly embarrassing.

When a song that made its first impression on the world over 40 years ago brings back memories quite so vivid, it’s testament to the power of music to shape and color our lives. In those days, we could recite Genesis and Yes songs word for word, irrespective of their length, and still have time to fit in a selection of Monty Python sketches. “Supper’s Ready” takes you from the humdrum of a TV dinner to a joyous post-apocalypse, riding a whole gamut of emotions by way of love and war, false prophets, man and nature, myth and legend. Hearing it today makes me recall what a great piece of music it remains, but I equally remember how dinners were often announced in the farmhouse we rented in the Devon countryside:

“And it’s hey babe your supper’s waiting for you,

Hey my baby, don’t you know our love is true”

We briefly had Rick Wakeman for a neighbor, but that’s another story.

–Tony Hardy

John Denver – “Country Roads”

Two years ago, I set out with 30 people to bike from Baltimore to Seattle in 70 days. Most of us had just graduated from college, so it is a little embarrassing to admit that our flagship, feel-good song was “Country Roads”, a tune about a state, a mountain range, and a river located in the opposite direction of where we were headed.

Every “Almost Heaven” led us further down the highway to Hell, to a place where “country roads” was a euphemism for endless gravel and the occasional cattle grid. By day 30, morale was corroding like dried mud on a derailleur. Four people had just gone home. And either due to the delirium or the dried fruit, it felt as though they had actually died.

When we arrived in Mitchell, South Dakota, the Corn Palace was the second strangest thing seen the day two dozen cyclists in matching blue outfits rode into town asking directions for the First United Methodist Church. Being in a cross-country cyclist gang is not so different from being in a hair metal band: hauling your gear from one dusty town to the next, staying long enough to air out your spandex before you wake up, French kissing the morning, and getting back in the saddle again.

My rock n’ roll fantasy came true the night we let our helmet hair down at Mitchell’s Longhorn Bar, which beckoned us in with its full stage and the inviting décor of taxidermy bolted to the ceiling. No one knew what day of the week it was; but the five honky-tonkers seemed to tolerate the entertainment, which kicked off with the classic pairing of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Kool Moe Dee singing about two topics we spent most of our time thinking about: “Maps” and “Wild Wild West”.

That night, Ludacris’s “Get Back” was as wild as Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”. The dead eyes of desert hares twinkled on the dance floor for “Take On Me”, “Summer Lovin'”, and “Rapture”. The boys sang “I Touch Myself”, which was an emotional highlight for a group of people who share communal butt-rash cream. I don’t recall picking “Goodbye Earl”, but I was so into it, I sauntered onstage for somebody else’s song (“Ground Control to Major Tom”) and sang it in the style of Natalie Maines.

When the bar was trying to shut down, there was no way we were leaving before “Country Roads” was played. The only version they had was a weird electronic remix, but we piled onstage nonetheless, singing to an audience of imaginary Mountain Mamas to take us home, country roads. Although at that moment, standing together onstage in South Dakota — 2,000 miles down and 2,000 to go — no one sounded like they wanted to be taken home.

–Sarah Grant

Donovan – “Atlantis”

When I arrived in Ithaca, NY, for college, the gushing waters of the gorge spoke to me, singing of a sense of freedom and distance from home that was entirely novel. The sound enveloped my soul, and as I stumbled along the torn, decrepit, potholed deck of Thurston Bridge, I bemoaned that it would be years before this thoroughfare would be restored. A group of freshmen passed, and I blended in with them, allowing myself to be led before an ancient stone footbridge. To my amazement, they fearlessly leaped one at a time into the gorge. I had always chosen care over adventure and caution over risk; however, I felt a piercing urge to shed those traits that had once seemed immovable and permanent. Stepping tentatively up on the railing, I felt an intense awareness of the cool air and spray of the gorge, a moment of weightlessness and absolute mental clarity, a sudden spank as I hit the water.

During those first few weeks in Ithaca, I absorbed the sound of the water, and its echo lodged a song in my mind to the tune of Donovan’s “Atlantis”. As the elders of our time choose to remain blind, let us rejoice and sing and dance and ring in the new. “Atlantis” and the water of the gorges filled me with a hopeful idealism that I would one day offer a contribution to a world rapidly spiraling out of control.

Now, years later, as I return to that bridge, I feel at one with the water. The water is an infinite, ever-changing channel, and it speaks to me not just of freedom, but of focusing my efforts to help repair what’s been frayed and broken. I now find it impossible to eavesdrop on the mellifluously rushing current without feeling a warming sense of hope, and silently mouthing Donovan’s lyrics: “Hail Atlantis!”

–Henry Hauser

Pulp – “This Is Hardcore”

Once upon a time, my crew and I were in Ft. Lauderdale the night before the Jamaica leg of the inaugural S.S. Coachella set sail, in need of drinks, food, and pre-cruise shenanigans. There was no official pre-party in the Ft. Lauderdale area in honor of the cruise, so we set out to find our own. Our first stop was a bar near the hotel that was having its karaoke night. While the screens displayed the meager sports offerings available a week before Christmas, the speakers blared remixes of Train and Pitbull between karaoke selections for a crowd on the less delightful side of obnoxiousness. It wasn’t our scene at all, so before departing I went into troll mode and chose an obscure six-plus-minute song with extensive instrumental selections: Pulp’s “This Is Hardcore”. In response, the host declared it to be “interesting…,” while a bewildered bro exclaimed, “That was a real sexual song!” in response to my tuneless, off-key, and awkward, obscenely gestured rendition.

–Frank Mojica

Journey – “Don’t Stop Believin'”

“Just a city boy/ born and raised in south Detroit!” The homage to the ruined jewel of my home state and the potential to really lean into those last two words and crack the note open, joyously off-key, are just two reasons why I love “Don’t Stop Believin’”. Journey’s ode to searching desperately for the good in life soundtracked my formative years at the University of Michigan, where football is the official religion, and I watched those games with the best friends I’ve ever known.

It wasn’t just a game, not to us. Ten years ago, as I learned the game for the first time, Michigan football was magical. We’d be down by two touchdowns, three, four in the fourth quarter, and none of it mattered. An improbable catch, another incident of physics-defying, behind-the-back, oh-my-god-did-you-see-that sportsmanship was always coming, and while we waited for our miracles, the band belted out “Don’t Stop Believin’”. We were steeped in the belief that all we could do to help the team was to stay — to cheer, to never stop believing, to sing along. And sing we did, lustily and off-key, a cry to the heavens, a prayer. When the answer came, as we’d known it would, we sang our fight song before returning to Journey, a mantra. The Michigan football team was nigh unbeatable in those years, and so were we.

Later, the song played at our house parties, and more recently, it’s the one guaranteed request at our weddings. My friends — my best friends, my chosen family, the ones who taught me to love the game and so much more — live all across the country now, and we’re lucky to see each other once a year. When the DJ cues up Journey, though, we drop everything to rush the dance floor, throw our heads back, and hold hands as we sing to the movie that “never ends/ it goes on and on and on.” Sure, it helps us “hold on to that feeling” of being young, but “Don’t Stop Believin’” is more than that. For four minutes and 11 seconds, we can still believe in miracles. We are all there together, across all the years and the miles and the experiences, and all the crap we’ve helped each other through is behind us. Together, we will never stop believing.

–Megan Ritt

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