How to Overcome Crippling Self-Doubt with Punk Rock Karaoke
Photo by Michelle Bracken The Mumbles help Dallas Observer writer Danny Gallagher at Punk Rock Karaoke last Sunday at Three Links
My mind is full of fear. It's always trying to get me to think five steps ahead of any situation and predict all the possible outcomes, especially ones that could lead to the stripping of my dignity and the utter degradation of my worth as a social being. Some might blame this fear on a lack of social skills or just an unnatural fear of uncertainty. I blame a troll. He lives in my skull.
The problem is that neither of us can carry a tune or keep a beat and since he's trapped in my northern hemisphere on a life sentence, the best he can do is screw with the warden. This battle makes doing anything remotely musical in public one of the scariest things on our "To-Don't" list. Then again, if Limp Bizkit can turn the sounds of getting a limb removed at a third-rate HMO into music, then maybe we have a shot.
The Elm Street Music & Tattoo Festival, however, presents an interesting way to fight the little bastard off for once. Every now and then, the band the Mumbles puts on a show called Punk Rock Karaoke in which they play covers of punk and new wave classics for anyone who feels like belting out a tune behind a plugged-in mic.
Guitar player Darin Robinson said the group puts together a binder of song lyrics from Agent Orange to X-Ray Specs and lets anyone in the crowd who thinks they're good enough or (in my case) drunk enough jump up on stage and belt out a tune.
Photo by Michelle Bracken Danny manages to pull himself up to the stage thanks to copious amounts of Jameson's and Shiner Boch or as he now calls them "Super Magic Fear Eraser-Aid."
"We do it about every six weeks at Three Links," Robinson explains. "We did play the Comic Con after-party this year with 1,300 people in costumes losing their minds and coming up to the stage dressed as characters singing Sex Pistols tunes. It was incredible and surreal."
Naturally, I warn him that the tornado siren qualities of my falsetto might just clear the room. Robinson, a 20-year regular of Dallas' live music scene, said he's sure he'll hear worse. He assured me that I would not be alone in my apprehension.
"Bang back some Jamesons and scream at strangers," he suggests. "It's good for ya, mate. It's a live band at stage volume in a great sounding room with great monitors. You're going to remember it and you're going to want to go again before the night is over. The one thing we hear more than anything is, 'I was so nervous but man, that was insane. Can I do it again?'"
The thought of unleashing my vocal chords before a crowd of Elm Street music heads is still strong enough to turn my stomach into a knotted, meaty monkey fist. I choose a song that I know pretty well and think I could carry, Elvis Costello's "Radio, Radio," but the fear of being made a fool in public is still great. The nerves are slowly gathering into a massive tidal wave in my brain and that stupid troll is hanging ten like the Noid in a Hawaiian-themed Domino's Pizza commercial.
So my plan of attack is simple: drink. I grab more than a little something to buffer my nerves. I knock down beers and whiskey glasses with barely a pause between them. I look like the world's most pathetic one-man bachelorette party. I also invited two close friends who know how to do the karaoke thing, John and Michelle, for moral support or at the very least to tie me up rodeo style and throw me on the stage if my body is incapable of making the trip.
Robinson's group is more than just a competent cover band. They bring a great wave of energy to the room and never half-ass on their instruments. They feed off the nervousness of the weaker pups in the herd and thrive along with the talented. They look and feel happy and excited to help everyone live to out their rock dream or overcome their fear.
My buddy John is also a damn good singer. He helps by setting the bar high for me so I can limbo under the thing and at worst suffer some minor, mental whiplash. He belts out the Dead Kennedy's "California Über Alles" and it really pumps some octane into the place. My genuine shock and excitement at his set is short-lived because it's followed by the words, "Danny, come on up."
A stream of WTF's spill out of my mouth as I carry an open Shiner Boch can to the stage. Emcee and backup singer Colin McCarty gives me a pat on the back as my quivering jaw shuffles towards the microphone. I do what I always do in these awkward situations. I make a tasteless joke.
"Hey everybody, so this is my first time ever doing this," I say into the mic. "Actually, this is my Make A Wish."
Photo by Michelle Bracken One of Gallagher's new found fans asks for an autograph after his set. No, really, he did.
It gets a laugh. Bassist Allan Tate cracks a smile and offers me a high five. Then without warning, I'm thrown into the pool and it's up to me not to drown. The opening riffs of "Radio, Radio" take off without me and McCarthy keeps me on track by signaling when it's time to start bellowing. My eyes want to look at anything but other people's eyes. My heart is pumping gallons of whiskey-tainted blood. I even have a tiny dose of painkillers inside me thanks to a back injury from a couple of days before so I was already one beer bottle to the face and restraining order away from fully recreating the authentic punk rocker experience.
It doesn't hit me until "I wanna bite the hand that feeds me" that I was actually singing in front of a group of people and by the time the realization overtook me, it starts to become fun. I can't tell if I was close to being on-key or closer to sounding like the Amber Alert warning tone on an iPhone but no one cares. I don't either. If anything, I kind of regret pushing my blood alcohol level over the limit before I started because it makes me feel somewhat detached from whatever plain of higher existence that such live experiences can produce.
It is, however, the only regret of the night. Even if a few of them enjoy watching a doughy, self-loathing mess with legs squirm under the weight of his own id, it doesn't matter. It means that they were enjoying it.
One beer later and my screeds of "Radio, Radio" bring the song to a close. It feels like I've taken a huge whiff of some airborne substance that's fired up all the synapses in my brain. A huge, Joker-like smile is plastered across my face. The afterglow feels giddy like the adrenaline draining from your veins after you've been tricked into thinking you cheated death on some amusement park ride. Someone actually asked me to autograph their shirt and I didn't even mind the fact that it was a dude or that he didn't even have a prominent upper chest.
My skull troll is silent. I can't tell from his expression because my eyes can only see outward but he was either surprised or really pissed off at me. He doesn't say a word.
I'm sure he'll be back to plant some new fears in my path the minute that anyone I know wants to play the new Just Dance game on Xbox One or go line dancing. It's just nice to know that there is actually a way to shut him up that doesn't involve prescription drugs or sticking my head in a microwave.