Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Morrissey Does Not Have A Twitter Account

Friday, May 16th, 2014

 

Despite the comforting blue “verified account” check on the @itsmorrissey account that showed up on Twitter this week and which has amassed 250,000 followers, Moz posted today on his True to You zine that he does not now and never has had a Twitter account:

 

Statement

16 May 2014

I would like to stress that I do not have either a Twitter or a Facebook account. I gather that a Twitter account has been opened in my name – as ‘It’s Morrissey’ – but it is NOT Morrissey. I do not know who has opened this recent Twitter account, but please be aware that it is bogus. That’s, of course, if you should remotely care.

Untwitterably yours,
MORRISSEY
Salt Lake City
15 May 2014.

Thank God, really.  What would Morrissey make of Twitter?  What would Twitter make of Morrissey?

Update: two days later, the twitter account @itsmorrissey was gone.  Oh twitterverse!  How mysterious you are.

Vampirism’s Downside

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

When I was a young person, half out of my head with hormones and Anne Rice novels, I thought I wanted to be a vampire, because I thought living forever would be like SOOOO GREEEAT, and also I had the general idea that I would get multiple opportunities to make out with David Bowie, because I had watched the Hunger so many times that I wore out the rental tape from the Independence Parkway location Blockbuster in Plano, Texas.   (As you know, all the most sinister people rent from Blockbuster).  If I were a wampyr, (another way to say vampire!),  I would feel powerful and important and I would save a lot of money on food, and I would outlive all of my enemies, except for the very small percentage of them that also became vampires.  When you’re a young person and life feels like it’s full of infinite possibilities and people and combinations, so many paths to travel, this is an attractive concept.  It seems like there will never be enough time to read all you want to read and see all you want to see.  Twenty years later, you couldn’t pay me to be a dirty stinking undead vampire!  If I’m this sick of humanity and media right now, how bad would it be at 500?  There’s only fifteen different kinds of people in the world, and I’m sick to death of fourteen of them-  Also, if I lived forever, how many Spiderman remakes would I have to endure?  Who am I going to talk to?  Already, my interests and music references are met with blank looks of incomprehension by young people in bars.  What about the little girl vampire in Let The Right One In?  Two hundred years old, and all she gives a shit about is sucking blood and working a Rubik’s cube!  Who’s gonna talk to me about Robyn Hitchcock and Twin Peaks and Heathers in a hundred years?  Huh?  Answer me, goddammit!

Les Savy Fav at FYFFest: Things That Happened

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

 

The fat man came onstage in a poncho.  He took it off and spoke to us about free love.

The fat man was wearing a tie-dyed top, which he raised and began to soulfully fuck his own belly button with his finger.

The fat man took the top off to reveal a silver unitard, which he grabbed his crotch through.  He left the stage to clamber up a tree.

The fat man climbed into a tree and hung upside down in a silver unitard.

The fat man asked for all the lights to be turned off, and asked for flashlights.  He put one in his crotch.

The fat man got down to his underpants and sang to us.  He stood onstage with the unitard pulled down to his knees and danced under the lights, his sweaty torso gleaming in the lights.

The fat man draped himself in a beige dress, which he pulls up to his tits.

The fat man produced an 8 foot ladder.

The fat man sat onstage and decorated himself in 3/8” black electrical tape.

The fat man started to climb the ladder.  A roadie tried to steady the ladder while the fat man got on the top rung and was shooed away.  He stood on top of the ladder, singing majestically, while I worried that he would fall off.

The fat man tried to jump off the ladder and land on his feet, but had to tuck and roll.  He lays, grandiose and Dionysian, upon the stage and didn’t stop singing.

The fat man produces a tiny striped sweater.   He starts trying to put the sweater on.  The armpit rips out but he gets into it.

The fat man produced a box of toilet paper and threw it to the crowd, so that we could pitch it through the air in arcing parabolas, shedding twisted paper paths.  I caught one but I throw it too straight and it doesn’t unravel much.  I think this is because I never threw footballs.  The empty box that used to hold the toilet paper is also passed around the audience, apropos of nothing, until it hits a girl in the head and we drop it.  I am impressed that one forcefully thrown bog roll lands on the top of the giant truss that forms the top of the stage rig.  It’s a beautiful moment but I also reflect on the fact that all of the bathrooms will be out of toilet paper by the last show, and we could have used it.

The fat man announced that it was the last song.  I was caught admiring the tendrils of toilet paper everywhere and missed the moment when he laid the folded-up ladder on top of the crowd, climbed atop it, and made rowing motions until the people below began transporting him through the crowd.  I walked over to where it was happening and was amused by the sea of people taking photographs of the event.  We could probably make a 360 degree hologram of it at this point in composite.

It was amazing.

She Made Me Swayze

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Photo from Spitfire Creative/Ashley Flowers

Sometimes, a friend asks you to dance a routine in tribute to Dirty Dancing and, to a greater extent, to her new haircut, so the lovely Sofiya Alexandra and I performed as part of Brock Wilbur and Rick Wood’s monthly at the Hyperion Lyric theatre, Tell and Show.

The next day, I was in the audience of So You Think You Can Dance, and the guest judge was Dirty Dancing choreographer Kenny Ortega, not ten feet from me.  The universe is trying to tell me something.

 

Alt Resume

Friday, June 14th, 2013

I am close to taking my Summer Sabbatical, which is not really what it is, but it makes my Mom feel better when I say “I’m Taking A Sabbatical” instead of “I’m quitting my job and hanging out all Summer”.  I thought it was time to get my list of “OTHER” skills together and post them on the Internet.

If you feel like you read a slightly different but kind of the same list as this one, it’s because my site was hacked and my service restored from last week’s restore point and I lost it.  It’s because SOMEONE was very jealous of my 70 hits a day.  Eat it, haters!

1. Pit Toilets: I’m very good at using pit toilets in Asia.  You just have to pretend you’re camping, which you kind of are.

2. Sleeping on Airplanes: Also work related.  I can sleep bolt upright on a red eye to Turkey and emerge as fresh and ready as if I had slept in a garbage- filled car.

3.  Tap Dancing.  I’m not the world’s best tap dancer (SAVION GLOVER, because we can really only have one famous tap dancer at a time), but it’s the skill that took the most time and expense to learn, and which has the lowest street value.  I’m considering trying to make people pay me NOT to do it.

4.  Bemani.  It’s no longer fashionable but I can totally do it- I get more points for style than accuracy on Dance, Dance, Revolution, but Karaoke Revolution is my bitch.

5. For that matter, I can lead in six count swing, and I can lead about five things in Lindy hop- I’m a good Lindy follow- I like a lot of dances.

6.  I can make dance parties happen.  I can make people do it.  At karaoke, at coffeeshops- most of the time.

7.  Karaoke.  I’m good at it.  I don’t have the most amazing American Idol style voice, but I know my range and I will perform the SHIT out of a song.  I like to work a crowd.  When I do it in Hong Kong they are upset with the dancing and eye contact.

8.  Comedy.  I do it for money and for free.  Mostly for free.  Don’t ask me to tell you a joke, I’ll make you laugh, m-f.  Just you wait.

9.  I can draw- I haven’t for around five-seven years, but I probably still can, right?  I’m sure I can.  I have an art degree.  I can blind contour the shit out of something.

10.  According to the Munsell test of Color Acuity, I am a Superior Color Discriminator.  I will discriminate the shit out of your color.  I need a lab coat and a light box with a true North setting.  But I will do it.

11.  I can make patterns and sew.  Again, I usually don’t.   But I can make seriously obscure and fucked up Halloween costumes!

12.  Goth Makeup and Fantasy Make up!  I want to teach a stage makeup course for comics and actors sometime.  I have an airbrush and I’m  not scared to use it!  I can airbrush a fake tattoo on you!

13.  I’m really good at telling long, involved, interconnected stories to people on acid.  I can be on acid or not, it doesn’t matter.

14.  I can tell a fake art history lecture at the drop of a hat, especially if the hat is from a particularly evocative period

15.  I’m really good at making one kind of vegan chocolate chip cookies.  Just one kind.

16.   I’m really good at maintaining a blog for 8 years that only my mother consistently reads!

17.  If I had just bought my first guitar, I would be a crazy natural guitar playing genius- however, I have had my own guitar for a decade, and play it occasionally.  I’m mediocre, but proud!

18.  I’m really good at steering an oversized Costco shopping cart with my elbows while eating free BBQ nuts.

19.  I’m a good trivia team member- I don’t know that much about television or sports, but I’m very good at arbitration to try to determine the likeliest answer.  Also, I like to win but I don’t care if I do.

20.  I’m really good at running a White Elephant party.  I will whip the crowd into a frenzy over Scratch tickets and a rubber garden gnome.  Blood will flow!

21.  Despite all the above, I’m really good at not going to Burning Man!  I haven’t gone every year it’s happened!  Consecutively!

With this kind of skill set, I’m gonna destroy this job market!

Tori Lamest

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

 

Tori Tribute 025  Speaking of, here’s a picture my friend Tara took five years ago, which is what it looks like when I am drunk enough to think I look like Tori Amos.

London!

Friday, April 5th, 2013

byronbowie

I went to London last week to see the David Bowie Is exhibit at the V&A, to visit my sister Emily, and to experience 32 degree weather and a light dusting of snow during the week everyone usually calls Spring Break.  We hit Camden market, ate some local vegan food, enjoyed the Tate Modern, and thoroughly failed to get stage time, but the most important thing was the exhibit I flew across an ocean to see.

The Bowie exhibit had sold tickets by time slot, in order to have some semblance of crowd control.  It is currently sold out until it closes in August, so there’s not a lot of good to me telling you about it, but I am anyway.  In the traditional style of my family, my sister and I were late for our slot, because the exchange for the green circle line was inexplicably closed, and a very nice man with teeth that splayed out like a water spigot told us in a very friendly manner that there would be a bus along in only twenty-five to thirty minutes. Luckily, I got in without crying or striking any marble countertops with my wee fists.

Photos are prohibited at the show, which at first seemed like a bummer, but when LACMA opened the Kubrick show and anyone could take non-flash photographs, the flood of Instagram photos of dispensers from the Cordova Milk Bar made the whole thing feel less special.  Granted, the image is not the thing itself, but sometimes it feels like the thing.

The show itself was arranged in rough chronological order, but mostly as clusters of influences and connected things interesting information.  There were famous outfits, but also some amazing Berlin era paintings of his friend James Osterberg, instruments, handwritten lyrics, stage props and designs, and other ephemera. The show stayed away from salacious gossip about Bowie’s drug use, love affairs, and mental problems, but returned again and again to the theme that Bowie is an editor, collaborator, and borrower, always consuming, interpreting, and composing music and image that is consistently ahead of its time.

Speaking of Kubrick, Space Oddity was a pun on Space Odyssey.  Seems obvious now.

I was glad to see the SNL footage of Bowie with backup singers/prop managers Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias that was used in the great documentary The Nomi Song, but also amused to see photos and drawings of  English music hall artists that Bowie’s sculptural outfit was drawn from, which Klaus’ outfit was a simplified version of.

The Alexander McQueen jacket from Earthling that I had always rather assumed was a shiny vinyl thing was, in fact, a distressed and torn Union Jack frock coat- I had been seeing the white lining as “shine”- and of course, it was inspired by another of my favorite bands, Pete Townsend’s mod Union Jacket.

I learned that when David Bowie was writing Suffragette City, he was rocking a 26 1/2″ waist on cocaine.

Bowie has always been a fan of the mash-up and cut-and-paste surrealist method of songwriting, but in recent years, he’s written a program to do it.

Bowie’s a better mime than you are.

Also, the reason I just started seeing the amazing video for “Boys Keep Swinging” with Bowie in various drag aspects is because it was slightly too kinky for RCA records and they banned it.

The wiping-off lipstick gesture from the video was something that came from Weimar-era burlesque, and that would later be quoted in the video for China Girl (written by his friend James Osterberg), and later I would do it in high school, but it just annoyed my boyfriend Philip Montoro.

The Space Oddity cover used a photo of Bowie superimposed over a painting by Victor Vasarely.

The close of the show was a wall of “influenced by” images, including The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding in his makeup and silver jumpsuit, Annie Lennox in all her androgyne glory, John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig, and dozens of fashion pictorials.  Many musicians have picked up and made careers out of things that Bowie used for a week or two and abandoned- I’m looking at you, Marilyn Manson! ( We love you!  Please be on Gothixxx!)

Selfridge’s now has a new David Bowie pop-up shop, though, so even though you can’t see the show, you can buy all the V&A stuff from the exhibit, as well as a specially curated collection of vintage from Decades in LA, and  three makeup looks by Illamasqua’s Alex Box!

And that’s a weird coincidence, because the other thing I made sure to do when I was in town was to take a makeup class called Drag Superhero at the Illamasqua store on Beak Street, where we did this amazing natural, no-makeup look!
birdguhl
It was a great deal of fun and I enjoyed working with my makeup artiste, a very darling fellow named Brett from Sheffield, where all the good music comes from.  When we were done, I was asked if I wanted a towel or remover to take the look off with, and I was a little surprised at their shock that I would walk back to the hotel with my “face” on.  I explained to them that I was not visiting weirdoland, that I had been weird for quite a long time, just never before on Carnaby street.

After going out for drinks, my sister Emily and I were plumb tuckered out and we went to bed.

sisters

A Very Gothixxx Valentine

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

The girls are back to discuss self-help, the Superbowl, industrial guys, and goth dating.  Also, there’s a song!

Hey Ya! Song Interpretation

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

This was one of the biggest songs from the last decade, but do you know what lies below The Love Below?  I’ll be interpreting songs at Book Klub, hosted by Doug Mellard and Sofiya Alexandra, every month at Stories on Sunset!

Baby Ketten Forever

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

I know I’ve mentioned the majesty of Baby Ketten and its benevolent overlord, John Brophy, on this page, but finally the New York Times Magazine has given Ketten its due.

 

  • Shawn Records for The New York Times

John Brophy, the mastermind of America’s greatest karaoke night, lives in a well-kept bungalow in a neighborhood of small homes in southeast Portland, Ore. When I visited on a weekday afternoon last spring, Brophy, then 36, wore a ringer T-shirt and dark jeans. His wrist was encircled by a half-dozen bracelets, and his dark hair swooped in front of his face. Like many Portlanders, he’s in a band, called Gingerbread Patriots, although currently the band is on hiatus — the “Shows” section of the Gingerbread Patriots Web site is empty but for the words “2009 will bring shows shows and more shows!”

John Brophy, the Baby Ketten K.J., at his Portland studio.

While his daughters, ages 10 and 15, did homework, Brophy and I sat on his bed in front of a flat-screen monitor as he showed me how he builds a karaoke track. Over the course of the next two hours, he would create a karaoke video for Radiohead’s song “Electioneering,” complete with snazzy graphics, Thom Yorke’s lyrics and Jonny Greenwood’s electrifying guitar solo, so that I could sing the song at the karaoke night he runs, Baby Ketten Karaoke. Rotating between private parties, bars and a pizza place, Baby Ketten is ecstatic, virtuosic and a little intimidating. At the center of Portland’s amazingly creative karaoke scene, it’s something close to a genuine artistic movement. And it’s ridiculously fun.

Every week, Brophy adds as many as 20 tracks to the Baby Ketten songbook. Some of these are songs he purchases from karaoke studios, not unlike any karaoke jockey, or K.J., in America. But many of them are songs hand-assembled by Brophy, much as he’s doing with “Electioneering” — B.K.K. originals that Brophy constructs either because the studios that recorded “official” karaoke versions did bad jobs, or because the song is such an obscurity that no studio has ever recorded a karaoke version. For example, if you’d like to sing Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl,” the Gregory Brothers’ “Bed Intruder Song” (with full Auto-Tune), Danger Doom’s “Sofa King” or Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” Baby Ketten has them all. (I know: I saw people sing them.) Your local karaoke bar doesn’t.

To build his B.K.K. originals, Brophy scours eBay for old 45s with instrumental B-sides. He sometimes builds hip-hop songs by isolating the samples the original producers used and stacking them block by block, like Legos. He works on songs online with a network of like-minded D.I.Y. K.J.’s around the world. Sometimes, in a sound-dampened studio in his basement, he records whole tracks from scratch, playing the guitar and bass himself. He once drove himself crazy recording the bass for Joy Division’s “Transmission.” “That choppy bass at the beginning, I always thought it was early stuff, Peter Hook was unpolished, he was playing poorly,” Brophy told me. “But listening to it with headphones — it’s all intentional, he’s doing pulloffs.” He demonstrated on an air bass: “Dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun,” pulling his left-hand fingers off the fret with every single eighth note, a staccato exercise that looked exhausting for three measures, much less a four-minute song. “I don’t play bass like that, but I had to get as close as possible. Well, I didn’t have to.”

To build “Electioneering,” Brophy started with a French studio’s rerecording of the song as his template, then spliced the actual Radiohead song’s instrumental intro and outro (featuring Greenwood’s solo) onto the middle section of the track, with a dozen deft clicks of the mouse. He Googled the song’s lyrics. Then he stretched, clapped his hands together and prepared to “tap it out.”

In order to tell the program he uses to highlight each word of the lyrics during playback — when the bouncing ball, as it were, should bounce — Brophy must tap each syllable of the song lyrics in rhythm. Perched on the edge of the bed, Brophy listened intently, his finger poised above the space bar, as the song filled the room. As Yorke sang each syllable — I go for wards you go back wards and some where we will meeeeeeeeet — Brophy jabbed the space bar. Watching his rhythmic tapping, each finger landing just a millisecond before the beat, I was reminded of his demonstration of the intricacies of Peter Hook’s bass. This is just another way of making music: the space bar a string, a computer with 16 gigabytes of RAM an instrument, the actual singer off in the future — me, the customer, who would later that week look to Brophy’s video to guide me through the song.

Every so often, a city becomes a crucible of innovation for a particular musical form: a place where circumstances conspire to create a very special creative flowering; where mad geniuses push one another to innovate further and further beyond where anyone thought they could go. Seattle, 1990. The Bronx, 1979. Memphis, 1954. These moments changed American entertainment.

But what if a musical revolution wasn’t in grunge, or hip-hop, or rock ’n’ roll? What if it was in karaoke? Is it possible that one of the most exciting music scenes in America is happening right now in Portland, and it doesn’t feature a single person playing an actual instrument?

You may recall when you were younger that many nights achieved, for perhaps an hour or two, a state of euphoria so all-consuming that the next morning you could only describe the nights as “massive” or “epic.” Adventures were had. Astonishing things were seen. Maybe you stole a Coke machine, whatever. You would toss off these words — massive, epic — casually at brunch, annoying the middle-aged people sitting nearby who were grimly aware that even as those nights become few and far between, the price you pay afterward in hangovers and regrets is significantly greater. (If you are younger, you may be in the middle of a massive night right now, in which case you should stop reading this article. Put down your phone and go to it! This might be the last one.)

For me, those few such nights I get anymore revolve around karaoke. Something about the openness required to sing in public — and the vulnerability it makes me feel — allows me to cut loose in an un-self-conscious way. It’s hard, anymore, to lose myself in the moment. Karaoke lets me do that.

But I recently moved to Arlington, Va., with two children, and so I rarely go out at night to sing (or do anything). We have friends in Arlington, but not the kind of friends we had in New York — not yet. I sing whenever I can on business trips, with friends I browbeat into renting rooms at trusty karaoke spots like BINY or Second on Second. But for quite some time, I’d been reading Facebook status updates and tweets from acquaintances in Portland that suggested the city was some kind of karaoke paradise — a place in which you could sing every night in a different bar, and where the song choices were so outlandishly awesome that you might never run out of songs to sing.

My mission in Portland was to see if this could possibly be true. Portland does have dozens of karaoke bars, and over the course of six nights we did our best to visit them all. I sang Lee Ann Womack in a honky-tonk in far southeast Portland, Kanye West in a comedy club and INXS in a Chinese restaurant. I watched Emilie, my seven-months-pregnant sister-in-law, sing Melanie’s “Brand New Key” onstage at Stripparaoke night at the Devils Point, a teensy, low-ceilinged club on a triangular lot well outside Portland’s downtown, while a topless dancer worked the pole next to her. Afterward, the dancer — whose bare stomach featured a tattoo of a vividly horrible shark and the word REDRUM — gave Emilie a sweet hug.

And one night, I went with Emilie, her husband and my wife to the Alibi Tiki Lounge, which advertises itself as Portland’s “Original Tiki Bar.” Inside, the crowd seemed at first to be the familiar karaoke mix of wannabes and birthday celebrators you might find in any bar in any city. Someone sang “Sweet Caroline” almost as soon as we walked in. A drunken birthday girl couldn’t handle the Ting Tings song she’d chosen, so the K.J. switched midtrack to Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” which was more her speed.

But an hour in, a goofily dressed group gave an impressively committed performance of a Tenacious D song, one of them growling and snorting like Satan so enthusiastically that several audience members in the front row became visibly uncomfortable.

When they were done, I walked back to their table, where I sat down next to a guy with long straight hair and a top hat. “We’re all musicians,” the guy, Gregory Mulkern, said. He himself is a professional banjo player. “But we really love karaoke because you don’t actually have to care at all.”

“Karaoke in Portland is just different from other places,” said his friend Bruce Morrison. “There’s a lot of showmanship.”

Mulkern swept his long hair over his shoulders and put his top hat back on. “People in Portland,” he declared, “are sillier than in other places.”

In the corner of the booth, a woman with dark-rimmed eyes and black lipstick leaned forward suddenly and took my pen from my hand. She wrote a phone number in my notepad. “Do you know,” she asked, staring intently into my eyes, “about puppet karaoke?”

Chopsticks III: How Can Be Lounge is located between a heavy-equipment rental shop and a Hanson pipe factory. It’s the kind of awful nightspot where if your watch was broken, you could keep time by the diminishing height of the melting heap of ice dumped in the urinal in the men’s room. When the heap of ice read 10:00, Chopsticks III was jammed with 50 people or more: groups of women out for a night away; a dwarf with an Afro who submitted his power ballads under the stage name Micro; a group of four buddies whose Monday-night karaoke club requires them to sing any song a friend challenges them to, blind. Also, a troupe of puppeteers from a local children’s theater, their snakes, ducks and cowgirls laid carefully across a table in the back of the bar.

This was puppet karaoke.

A puppeteer brought a long green boa constrictor onstage and sang “Steal My Sunshine,” which turned into “Sssssteal My Sssssunshine.” (The puppet’s name, I found out later, is Señor Serpiente.) A guy who looked just like Dick Butkus approached the microphone warily, unnerved by how big and puppet-heavy his audience was; when he sang “Drift Away” by Dobie Gray, we went wild, singing along to every word, clapping in time on the break. During the awkward karaoke fade-out at the end, he beamed. “You guys are awesome,” he said, then went back to the booth where he’d been sitting alone, nursing a beer.

A singer named Big Dan took the stage and tore into a guaranteed karaoke mood-killer, Drowning Pool’s nu-metal “Bodies.” But such was the magic of this night that during the song’s first verse, the puppeteers crept to the edge of the dance floor, and when the chorus hit — “Let the bodies hit the floor! Let the bodies hit the floor!” — they flung their puppets upward, the bears and cowboys and pigeons and fish all falling with little felten thumps to the ground. Big Dan, dressed all in black and even bigger than his name suggests, giggled so hard he could barely finish the song.

And me? I sang John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Cherry Bomb,” and dancers danced, and all through the song I thought about how relevant its lyrics (about how once upon a time we had fun, and now the kids laugh at us when we talk about the good old days) were so very relevant to my personal situation, the way you do.

Later, I drove downtown. The beer had long since worn off, but I still felt as if I were buzzing with the evening I’d just had. This was why I came to Portland. I needed to sing one more song, work one more crowd. My phone’s battery gave up the ghost just after valiantly supplying directions to the bar featuring Karaoke From Hell, a live band that has been backing amateurs in Portland for more than 20 years.

Inside the bar, a woman with a clipboard fended off all the requests of “Don’t Stop Believin’ ”; I slipped her 10 bucks and a few minutes later sang “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” with a tight rhythm section behind me. I thought I could keep singing forever, but the song’s only two and a half minutes long.

“You mention karaoke,” Danny Coble, a Portland K.J., told me, “and most people around the country have a certain picture — a 50-year-old K.J. with a flowered shirt, and he does Elvis impressions.” But in Portland, karaoke has attained a certain level of cool, thanks in part to the fact that it’s less the province of drunken bachelorette parties and more the territory of born performers scratching an itch.

“Portland has arguably more bands per capita than any other town,” Coble said. “Lots of people have two or three bands. But there’s never enough gigs, or no one comes to your gig, or you don’t have a drummer right now — so the city’s filled with frustrated performers.” In Portland, that bottled-up indie-rock performative energy comes out at karaoke night, where inventive song choice and onstage charisma are prized.

“Karaoke makes regular people rock stars, and rock stars regular people,” explained Caryn Brooks, the communications director for Portland’s mayor. Sometimes the singers are actual rock stars. Brooks has a vivid memory of the time in the late ’90s when, at the original Chopsticks, she saw Elliott Smith sing Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.”

“I don’t want you to overlook the Japanese connection,” pointed out her boss, Mayor Sam Adams. (His term ended Dec. 31; he’s best known to fans of “Portlandia,” the IFC sketch-comedy show, as Sam, the mayor’s assistant.) “I believe we’re the smallest market with direct flights to Tokyo. We have 148 companies in the region that are Japanese-owned.”

“Also, we like a nice cocktail,” Brooks added.

Portlanders have a complicated relationship with “Portlandia,” but most everyone I talked to agreed that the show, with its hide-and-seek league, extreme locavores and put-a-bird-on-everything crafters, gets one thing exactly right: People in Portland are passionate about their weird pursuits.

“Portland attracts creative people,” said Katie Behrens, a die-hard John Brophy fan — a self-described Ketten — on another night. “And when creative people do karaoke, they look for ways to make it better.” We were all drinking a beer on my last night in town, warming up for a night of Baby Ketten at a pizza place on Mississippi Avenue. Behrens is 27 and an aspiring comedian. That night she was between jobs. She was exuberant about her relationship with all the Kettens and with John in particular — “My record is 10 nights in a row” — describing him again and again as not just a K.J. but also a supportive friend who makes her a better singer, a braver performer, a better person. “My second family is Baby Ketten,” she said. “I’m part of something special. And I don’t have to sit by myself.”

At the pizza place, John and a friend were setting up his custom light stands and speakers. I tossed a couple of bucks in his tip jar and signed up for “Electioneering,” the Radiohead song I watched him make at his house, then bought a round for our table. “Let’s call Justin to the stage,” John announced, “for something I’ve never done before.” We heard the unmistakable bass line to the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” but the song was playing noticeably slowly — perhaps two-thirds as fast as usual. We looked at Brophy, who shrugged. A tall young man in a puffy jacket swayed up onto the stage, then kicked into the lyrics — but instead of imitating Jack White’s rock ’n’ roll keen, he sang in a rhythm-and-blues croon. The song was instantly transformed from dirty garage rock to bedroom soul. It sounded incredible, as if the song were written that way in the first place. When it was over, Justin bowed, accepting our applause, then replaced the microphone in its stand and walked out the door, never to return.

After that, my performance of “Electioneering” was somewhat beside the point, but thanks to watching Brophy build the track, I certainly knew the song cold. It’s amazing what a difference a great sound mix makes — Brophy mixes singers from his board on the fly, and there was no mud or muddle in the sound, just pealing guitars and me, doing my damnedest to put on a show. As soon as I was done, I put my name back on the list for the song I’ve been waiting more than 20 years to sing, a song I love, a song that scared the hell out of me. My favorite ballad by my favorite band; a song I assumed would never, ever be available at karaoke, because it’s a feedback-drenched, near-indecipherable dirge: R.E.M.’s “Country Feedback.”

But it would be a while before the rotation got back to me. Brophy’s policy, designed to make sure as many people as possible get a chance to sing, is that new arrivals are moved to the front of the line, so for the next two hours I sat at our table and watched the weird and wonderful karaoke scene in action. The comics critic Douglas Wolk sang Trey Songz’s “Bottoms Up,” tearing ferociously into the Nicki Minaj verse. Katie Behrens sang Dia Frampton’s “The Voice” version of Kanye West’s “Heartless” but lost her voice on the bridge. (Everyone cheered for her anyway.) A short woman in a wool cap and wire-rimmed glasses rapped Ice Cube’s “You Can Do It” with one of the tightest flows I’d ever heard. “That’s my sister,” said the woman sitting next to me.

“My neighbors are junk dealers,” she continued. “Not junk like heroin, junk like junk. They sell junk out of their yard. It’s the most Portland thing.” Addie Beseda had the short haircut that seems more common on women in Portland than anywhere else I’ve been, and seemed remarkably lucid for someone who, self-reportedly, had been celebrating the first day of a new programming job since she left work.

“Here’s the important thing to remember about Portland,” she said. “No one’s here to get rich. Unlike everywhere else in America. There’s a critical mass here of people here following their passions. Oh, it’s my turn, hold on.” She polished off her beer, jogged up to the stage and began what was, by a wide measure, the most amazing song I heard in my Portland karaoke odyssey: “Prisencolinensinainciusol,” a 1972 epic written in gibberish by the Italian performer Adriano Celentano, supposedly to mimic how English sounds to the Italian ear. It is like four minutes of “Jabberwocky” with a Continental accent and a mod beat. The karaoke version is a Baby Ketten original, of course. Addie nailed every syllable, then high-fived her fellow Kettens all the way back to our table. “So, yeah,” she said. “People from Portland do stuff like that.”

Portland isn’t just the capital of karaoke, I was realizing. The Japanese influence, the small-business climate and the abundance of bands don’t really matter. Portland is the capital of America’s small ponds. It’s a city devoted to chasing that feeling — the feeling of doing something you love, just for a moment, and being recognized for it, no matter how obscure or unnecessary or ludicrous it might seem to the straight world. It is the capital of taking frivolity seriously, of being silly as if it’s your job.

At his booth, John Brophy cued up songs and cheered singers on and ran the lights and made everyone sound great. He is on a mission. In the week I was in Portland, he K.J.’ed two nights of public karaoke and two nights of private parties. The other nights he went out to sing at other people’s clubs. (At that honky-tonk, he sang LeAnn Rimes’s “Blue” so beautifully that I nearly wept.) Friends stopped by the booth to say a few words, request a track, buy him a drink, drop a dollar in the tip jar. All night long he smiled in the dark.

Much later that night, I finally sang “Country Feedback.” It was everything I hoped it would be. I closed my eyes and turned my back on the crowd and sank to the floor and went Full Stipe, really. It was the first time I ever truly felt like a rock star.

Closing time approached, and it was my last night in Portland, and I really hoped it might never end. We were all part of the show, and so we were all trying to find the perfect last song to sing. At 2:20 in the morning, I stepped onstage and heard the repeated piano pattern that begins LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends.” That’s how it starts.

John Brophy and the six remaining singers joined me up there, all six of them much younger than I, as the people who are out at 2:20 in the morning tend to be, and I felt a twinge of sadness that this would most likely be the last time I was out this late in a while, and we all danced wildly through the song’s six and a half aerobic minutes of ecstasy and regret, enthusiasm and embarrassment.

“I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision,” I sang, “for another five years of life.” As the song says, to tell the truth, this could be the last time. If I made a fool, if I made a fool, if I made a fool on the road, there’s always this. I have a face like a dad and a laughable stand and I can sleep on the plane and review what I said. I sang: “Where are your friends tonight? Where are your friends tonight? Where are your friends tonight?”