I'm in Chinatown at a place called Winnie's. Me and my friends are starting off our Friday night with a little karaoke, before taking the city by storm. We arrive, order beers, and monitor the action from a booth near the back. Most everyone sings the usual. But things get interesting -- i.e., people get nervous -- when Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck slink in the back door, wearing clothing meant to look like they're disguising their celebrity.
They sit at the dark corner of the bar, near the stage. They are not together, not as a couple, judging by their actions; they're just two movie stars out to have a good time this night. But several karaoke performers acknowledge them and make them feel uncomfortable with inappropriate giggles and gushes.
I pretend to go to the bathroom. The karaoke emcee calls my name, and my music starts. It's the Strokes upbeat, rambling, magical 'Someday.'
But I don't head to the stage right away; I'm hiding in the shadows. People are looking for me, and the karaoke emcee -- a middle-aged Chinese fellow -- is reaching a certain level of panic based on what might happen if the lyrics start and no one's here to sing them. And just before the words on the karaoke screen start rolling away forever, I sprint to the stage, breathless, like a famous lounge singer fresh from a back-stage encounter with a groupie.
I grab the mic and sing, 'In many ways, still miss the good ol' days/ Someday, someday/ Yeah, it hurts to say, but I want you to stay/ Sometimes, sometimes.'
My delivery is very Neil Diamond. I have flared my collars for effect. And my new fans are really getting into it; they seem to understand that I'm not making fun of the song, that I'm making it better with my smoky swagger, my limp wrist, and my effort to point at the young women in the audience and wink.
I ignore Gwyneth and Ben, as if to say, 'You're safe here. All the world's a stage, and we all are players.' This brings them out of their shell. They're enjoying my performance, I can see out of the corner of my eye.
I ignore them, that is, until I reach my favorite part of the song. It follows the break, and it starts, 'Now my fears they come to me in threes.' I sing this and the verses that follow directly to Gwyneth, walking slowly to her, the hand that's not holding the mic open and inviting to let her know I mean no harm, that I mean every word that comes out of my mouth.
She is doe-eyed, sweetly and briefly in love with me. Definitely impressed with my ability to sell this song. Standing in front of her, I reach in my pocket and pull out a peach scarf. I wipe my brow, while singing to her, 'You say you want to stand by my side/ Darlin' your head's not right.' And I hand her the scarf. She takes it, clutches it close to her small breasts, then -- lost in our shared moment -- pretends like she might faint. Ben catches her as I run back to the stage.
(Later, in the early morning hours, me and my friends and G & Ben eat Doritos on the floor of G's apartment, while smoking cloves and talking about the poor guy I beat up earlier when he tried to slip G his phone number.)
Encouraged by friends (G & Ben) who tell me I'm really good, too good for karaoke, I form a cover band of delinquent misfits. We get tattoos, play acoustic punk versions of all songs, rattling them to life with a snare, a stand-up bass, and my incomparable guitar-slapping style -- sort of like the Violent Femmes, but more violent. We call ourselves The Inkompetent Fools for Kurt Cobain, and that's how we spell it, too.
We're at a small, smoke-filled café in the Village. The place is packed; bereted yuppies stand on tip-toes to look over the shoulders of the black-turtlenecked others, just to get a peek at us, at something Yanky (a term the Village Voice later famously coins to describe our style -- meaning it's Yankee, but mangled). The wood-planked floor, which contains the scuff marks from Bob Dylan's Spanish-leathered boots, squeaks and snaps under the pressure.
We start into the Beastie Boys 'Sabotage.' Really, I'm still so green with my instrument that I don't know the chords; also, I don't know many of the words. But my screeching is so monumental, because I really feel this song, that no one notices I'm not even saying anything, except when I get to the title, 'Sabotage.' I sing the word like I'm screaming from a mountaintop, so that feedback and distortion ring proudly.
Then, the magic moment comes: Me and my bandmates, who are dirty and drunk and unshaven, start chanting, instruments hushed, 'Listen all ya'll, this is Sabotage/ Listen all ya'll, this is Sabotage/' -- now we're getting louder, and the yuppies are starting to join us -- 'Listen all ya'll, this is Sabotage/ Listen all ya'll, this is Sabotage' -- now we're shouting, everyone, and the smoke in the café is wafting left and right, caught in the collective breath of so many voices …… and it's at this precise second, when we are just about to again launch into the song, full-throttle, that I spot Mr. Beastie himself, Adam Yauch, huddling behind some friends, wearing a baseball cap pulled low. The look on his face says, 'I don't recognize this song. Is this Run DMC?'
The adrenaline rush that follows is so pronounced that, for the rest of the song, my ears wiggle.
My high school reunion: A green haze of swallowed revenge that's been held in the burbling stomach for so many years, then whiskey-burped into a dance hall, with Rubik's Cubes and disco lights reflecting.
We, the Inkompetent Fools for Kurt Cobain, have somehow tricked my class reunion committee into letting us provide the entertainment. They don't know that I'm the lead singer; they don't even know that I'm attending: When the former class president sent me an invite with a 'Please RSVP!' curly-cued on the inside, I wrote her back a long note scrawled with my opposite hand, very messy and black, that recalled how she made a habit of referring to me as 'Jimmy,' when my name is clearly 'Jamie.'
When we take the stage at the hall, I see many of the collar-and-khaki football bullies standing in the same groups they chose so many years ago, the ones who used to mock my almond eyes by saying I looked Chinese or Japanese, as if there's something wrong with being Chinese or Japanese. Now, they look like a herd of turtles, balding and fat, standing below the stage holding Lite beers, with their frayed, hair-sprayed wives cursing them in corners of the hall. Their eyes get wide when they see me and my full head of hair adjusting the microphone, Fender Mustang dangling past my waist. They whisper, 'That's Jamie Allen. That's Jamie Allen.' Disbelief and panic fill the room.
Me and my bandmates feed off the ugly energy, plug in (we're now electric and powerful), and start into a perfectly coincidental 'Turning Japanese,' originally performed by the Vapors.
I ignore the Herd of Turtles. I sing the entire song with eyes glued to Stacy Roberts, who's standing near the back of the place, next to her handsome husband, unable to move. She's wearing a pink dress that offsets her tan; she has perfect nails; she looks as though life has treated her quite well. Except for right now.
Her husband -- the type, no doubt, to mock people with almond eyes at his high school -- obviously doesn't understand that Stacy and I had that one night together, on the golf course, half-drunk, mostly naked. He doesn't know that I assumed our sweet, mosquito-bitten moment beneath the pollution-paled stars meant that we were dating; but to Stacy, it just meant casual sex. She later told me, after a particular seven-love-note day of school, to just leave her alone; then she told all her friends how emotional I was about the whole thing.
Now, Stacy's husband, it's beyond apparent, can't understand the broken (or is it frightened?) look in his wife's eyes as I sing, with an acidic slur I didn't know I possessed, 'I got your picture, I got your picture/ I want a million of ya all by myself/ I want a doctor, to take your picture/ so I can look at you from inside, as well/ You got me turning up and turning down and turning in and turning 'round …' Or something like that.
The chorus: My former classmates, puppets to me and my bandmates' unconquerable spirit, are starting to dance like Molly Ringwald in 'Pretty In Pink.' The Inkompetent Fools for Kurt Cobain, with Jamie Allen singing, rock.
And this is the best part. We get to that zany break in the song: 'No sex no drugs no wine no women no fun no sin no you no wonder it's dark / Everyone around me is total stranger, everyone avoids me like a Cyclone Ranger, everyone.'
As I'm singing this, even the Herd of Turtles, oblivious to the message of the lyrics, have come to accept me into their world, have actually realized that I am cooler than them, are now reaching for my pant legs, high-fiving each other, like I am their new God. But just as they think me and my bandmates are about to rock out again to the chorus, dancing and singing the night away, I live up to my band's name.
I screech something unintelligible into the mic (Admittedly, it's the Chinese words for 'You are not forgiven.'), lift my Fender Mustang high, then bring it down hard onto the stage. It cracks. I do it again and again.
The song is over, obviously. Everyone's watching,
stunned, quiet, muddled in the disgusting sound of a dying guitar. My bass
player hurls his electric bass somewhere. My drummer begins kicking his
drum set to pieces. I dry-hump what's left of my guitar, while working
the wha-wha peddle with a free hand. Then, I get up, and we, The Inkompetent
Fools for Kurt Cobain, walk off the stage, never to be seen in those parts
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