Punk Rock Karaoke
December 9, 2010
Punk rock is supposed to be cool. Karaoke, while often barrels of fun, is not. So imagine the conundrum the members of Punk Rock Karaoke–drummer Derek O'Brien (Social Distortion, the Adolescents), bassist Steve Soto (the Adolescents, 22 Jacks), guitarist Greg Hetson (Circle Jerks, Bad Religion) and guitarist Zander Schloss (Circle Jerks, the Weirdos) put themselves in by not only giving their group a musical oxymoron for a moniker, but for having to play shittier versions of already shitty songs.
Band members wore suits as homage to the faux-sophistication often
found at karaoke bars and the smiles on their faces said they were
having a good time. Me, on the other hand? I wasn't so sure. Yes, I've
sang in punk bands and yes, I know most of the words to the songs on
PRK's sign-up sheet, but for some reason my hand signed “Ryan” next to a
song title although my brain was telling me to run far, far away.
My trepidation stemmed from a little problem I have called panic
attacks. For those who don't know, panic attacks make a person feel like
the world is caving in and the only solution is to high-tail it the
hell outta there. Like putting a Band-Aid on a wound that requires
stitches, running away from a chaotic situation might make a victim of
panic attacks feel better for the moment, but in the long run bailing
makes things much worse.
Knowing the only way to rid myself of panic attacks is to force
myself into environments that have the potential to make me lose my
mind, I signed up and prayed to St. Vicious that I could make it through
a two-minute punk song without causing the type of scene that gets
155,000 Youtube views before morning.
First up was a woman named Linda who tore through a pretty killer
version of the Sex Pistols' “Anarchy in the U.K.” Like much of the
crowd, Linda was moderately conservative in her attire (ie, she wasn't
rocking a Mohawk) in a manner that suggested either maybe she heard this
song once before or her medium-length black shirt was hiding a much
more wild side. Luckily, it was the latter. She danced, pranced and
sassed her way through the punk classic and in doing so raised the bar
for the remainder of the night. Before Linda, my anxiety was at a
comfortable five. After Linda, I was a solid seven looking eight in the
Next was a guy who appeared to be in his mid to late 20s in a
skateboard t-shirt singing the Misfits' “Astro Zombies.” Anyone who
knows anything about the New Jersey horror punk group knows Glenn Danzig
didn't just scream his way through those tunes, which can make for a
trainwreck of a karaoke performance if not handled properly. I watched
the guy take the microphone off the stand and waited for a disaster,
sort of like how I suspect most people watch hockey for the fights and
not the actual hockey. But the bastard killed it. The first “Woah” out
of his mouth was spot on and at this point my anxiety scale said goodbye
to eight and hello to nine.
Luckily for me (can you sense the sarcasm there?), I was next. Like
only an idiot would do, I chose the Descendents' “Bikeage,” a song that
requires actual singing and hitting of notes. Sure, I could have yelled
my way through a Minor Threat tune as a warm up, but noooooooooo. I'd
love to blame someone or something for this moronic first selection, but
I am a moron, so the choice made perfect sense.
Standing center stage, I grabbed the microphone and wondered when all
the flashing lights and sirens got installed at Alex's. Two more
seconds and I was out the side door, but Hetson began strumming the open
chord C to F progression and all I could do was down my Schlitz and hope for the best.
Goddamn if my therapist wasn't correct when he said the only thing
better than alcohol or Xanax for anxiety is growing a pair and thinking
the previously unthinkable. I was watching O'Brien as he hit the
bass/snare signal for me to come in and on instinct, I faced the crowd
and belted out “Running out of time again/Where did you go wrong this
For two minutes of pure punk delight, I was normal again and it felt pretty fucking awesome.
The crowd was into it. I was into it. As I left the stage feeling
like a freakin' million bucks, I think the band was into it too. Like
Napoleon at Waterloo in “Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure,” nothing
was stopping me from riding the wave again, so I put my John Hancock
next to Black Flag's “Nervous Breakdown.” A few minutes later, I was
back on stage.
Honestly, I think I might have done the worst “Nervous Breakdown”
ever. I know the opening verse starts with “I'm about to have a nervous
breakdown/My head really hurts,” but I couldn't remember the order of
the other verses. Was the second verse “I hear the same ol' talk talk
talk/The same ol' lines” or “I won't apologize/for acting outta line?”
It didn't matter. The crowd sang along and for the first time in my life
I understood what dudes on PCP are thinking when they jump off their
roofs because I seriously could have pictured myself flying at that
I must not have sucked that bad because later a girl–a cute one to
boot–asked me to duet with her on the Dead Kennedy's “California Uber
Alles.” Never one to let down a damsel in distress, I agreed and enjoyed
the shit out of being the Garfunkel to her Simon.
I'd love to say something about the singers who did the Circle Jerks'
“Red Tape” and “Back Against the Wall,” TSOL's “Code Blue,” the
Ramones' “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” and more, but I
was in my own world and it wasn't just the booze talking. What I do
recall is that I had a great time watching and hearing all the others
wished I could bottle up what I was feeling and use it the next time I'm
on a flight or crossing a bridge (two things I hate doing).
I wasn't done singing, but the band was done playing. In hindsight, a
fourth trip on stage might have been pushing the boundaries of what's
acceptable at karaoke night. Plus, you gotta leave 'em wanting more.
Critic's Bias: I was drunk.
The Crowd: The sorts of people who you'd expect to see at a punk rock cover band on a Thursday night. You know, old dudes.
Overheard in the Crowd: “He didn't fuck that up as much as I thought he would.”
Random notebook dump: All the punk lyrics taking up space in my brain –
space that could have been used for curing diseases, writing the Great
American Novel or inventing the next Facebook – finally paid off.
“Anarchy in the U.K.”
“Back Against the Wall”
“I Don't Care About You”
“Gimme Gimme Gimme”
“Sheena is a Punk Rocker”
“California Uber Alles”