I started lip syncing to Barry Manilow’s Weekend in New England in 1978. I was familiar with drag queens that made mouthing to songs an art. My tone-deaf vocal cords longed for an outlet. I made my debut at the work Christmas party. As the tape began, I stared at the crowd and begged them to get me. The sound was too low and there was a cassette malfunction. My face switched colors as I turned around and whispered. “Can you start it again? Make it super loud.” The audience nervously laughed. As I gathered steam, I nailed the song’s melodrama. My arms and hands didn’t have any boundaries as they swept to the melody and Manilow’s signature key change. The uproar clapping multiplied as I finished.
When Karaoke hit the scene in 1990, I was told, “You have to try it. It’s so much fun. You don’t need a good voice. It will be perfect for you Gordon” my sister explained. I knew “Weekend in New England” would be way too difficult. I would sing” Evergreen” because I could talk through parts of the songs. Barbra was my idol. Despite singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade” at the top of my lungs when I was a teenager, I needed something easier. I went with my sister to a straight bar in San Diego. After going through the song list, I found Evergreen and gave a slip of paper with the song number to the DJ.
When I was announced a wave of bravery pushed me onto the stage. Despite my hoarse voice I enveloped the crowd with my Barbra presence. I had her hand movements and inflections perfected as I whipped through “Evergreen”. There was an empowerment of using my own instrument rather than lip synching. I was baring my essence. I tapped into vocal emotions. I triumphed.
Now that I had scratched the Karaoke surface, I itched to recreate the high I felt. West Hollywood was getting on the Karaoke bandwagon.
The current hot gay bar Mickey’s had a weekly Karaoke night, very different from the conservative San Diego. The DJ announced, “Our next singer is Jeremy Wilton. He’s going to do Mariah Carey’s “Love Takes Time.” His voice pitched perfect notes that shot through the room. As Jeremy held an endless note, the crowd lavished praising shouts towards him. I thought Karaoke was for amateur singers. This guy was a professional.
“Now let’s welcome Gordon. He’s doing that old chestnut “Evergreen.” I ignored my butterfly nerves and seized hold of the mike. I had invited a few friends for my West Hollywood debut. I began with, “Love soft as an easy chair.” Oh no. This version is slightly different from San Diego. It’s a bit slower. My voice didn’t have a chance. As I grappled with each verse, I heard boos and laughter. My head crumbled. I was grinding to the ground but I didn’t stop.
My brain thought get off the stage. The three-minute song slowed down to an hour in my mind. A splattering of clapping as I bowed and left the stage.
This injury hurt my skin. I understood how vicious an audience of gay men can me. They can make icons or destroy them. My friend Charlie said, “They loved you.” I didn’t believe him. My wounds ached. Lip synching will be my salvation. I’ll need my scarred skin to harden before I attempt Karaoke again.