By Billy Liggett
Peter looks out of place in this pub full of 20-, 30- and 40-somethings.
He’s 80-something, and on this night he’s nursing a glass of ice water and a plate of fries at the bar — his light jacket and hat stick out on this muggy June evening — while behind him men and women step up to a mic and lose themselves for about four minutes before returning to their drinks.
But then, it’s his turn. This is why Peter ventures out to the Brickhouse on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh on Friday nights. Or other various watering holes when they plug in a mic and let anyone with a voice and an ounce of courage take the spotlight.
It’s karaoke night, and this crowd knows and loves Peter. His slow walk from his stool to the stage is accompanied by an applause nobody else in this house has earned.
I don’t know Peter, and I’m clapping.
The roar fades as the music rises, and Peter is performing a piece from an old musical (I’m told), a song not only foreign to me, but a complete time warp from the Uptown Funk that preceded it. He’s not “crushing it,” per se, but also … he’s in his eighties. The performance itself doesn’t matter. That he’s up there at all, living out whatever motivates him to hit the bars well after 10 and 11 p.m. and give it his everything in front of a room of young strangers … that’s what we’re cheering for long after the last note.
Peter’s well known in the relatively small karaoke circles of Raleigh, North Carolina. I’m told his go-to is Sinatra — and a recent performance of “My Way” killed it a few months back. I wish I’d seen it. Peter is an inspiration.
This is where I reveal that I — the quiet, mild-mannered king of Sanford Media (eat it, Gordon) — am a karaoke junkie.
I love it. I love doing it. I love watching people do it. I love it when they’re great. I love it when they’re terrible.
Especially when they’re terrible. Think about it … everything else out there has an outlet for the amateur. Not an artist? There are “wine and painting” parties for you. Terrible at sports? Get in line … it’s called intramurals or “adult co-rec summer league.” Write on a third-grade level? There’s a whole internet waiting for you, friend.
Karaoke is a rush. That’s why I thought I liked it so much.
But it took an out-of-place old man not giving a damn about what people thought of him to show me that I kinda love it, too. Where else can you be given the chance to do something so out of the ordinary, so frightening and so adrenaline-producing without the fear of rejection, disapproval or embarrassment?
Karaoke crowds, for the most part, don’t care. The fact that you got up there, performed and owned it … that’s all you, kind human. And the great thing is that tomorrow, you’ll be the only one who remembers your four minutes.
Unless you’re 80, of course. Then I’ll remember you.
You better damn well believe it that Billy Liggett, co-founder of The Rant and Olympic speed walker, will be at the mic at your next backyard karaoke party. Invite him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by personal, hand-delivered postcard. This column was edited by Gordon Anderson, whose cruel eyes and merciless heart made it everything it could be.