Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ridiculous But True Stories of Stuff that Happened to Me

Vol 1: Karaoke Hero

Back when I listed my Seven Random Facts, I was again reminded that lots of funny (both “funny haha” and “funny strange”) things have happened to me. I don’t know if my life has an unusually high percentage of such occurrences, but I do know that it seems like I say “did I ever tell you about that time…” a lot more than most people I know. Maybe that just means I'm a loud mouth who likes to for everyone to listen to me.

No, it's probably the other thing.

Anyway, due to the numerical limits imposed upon me by Johnny's silly challenge, I actually left out a bunch of pretty good ones when I did that post. So I’ve decided that, from time to time, when I have nothing better to write about, I shall share a few of these as-yet-untold stories. They are mostly ridiculous. They are all true according to my sincerest recollection. And they absolutely happened to me, and not someone else.

I mean, a story that starts with a “I know a guy who…” is pretty good, but it’s better with something like “so there I was, just minding my own business, when all of a sudden…”

Those are the good stories. Here’s one.

Maybe 6-7 years ago, when my friend Rusty Kennedy was still a youth minister, he asked me to do this thing for him in Indianapolis. It was the kind of thing that seemed destined to fail, and probably would’ve had it been any youth minister other than The Godfather himself. For those of you who don’t know, Rusty is sort of famous out there in the land of tall corn and superior college basketball.

The “event” was called Union. It was a city-wide youth gathering, sort of in the style of all these “Metro” Bible studies that used to be a pretty big deal. The idea was that they wouldn’t do Union too often, so as to keep the whole tone fresh and vibrant. To that end, the schedule was a little odd. Every four months, for three weeks, Union happened.

So every four months, for three weeks in a row, Craig Weaver and I would fly up to Indy early on Thursday morning, play in Indy on Thursday night, get to bed pretty late, then get up and fly back out of Indy by like 6 or 7 in the a.m., in order to be back in Texas for any weekend gigs we needed to do. Once or twice we actually flew straight from Indy to other places where we had some kind of weekend events.

I’ve been trying to tell you people that I’m a rock star, but nobody believes me.

This went for maybe a year and a half, and then I think they either took a break from Union or, more likely, they took a break from me and kept doing Union with another worship leader. I was thankful for those 18 months, both from a monetary standpoint and because it was a really fun, Spirit-filled time.

There are tons of other details that I could rattle off, but that stuff is just background info. The main story is way better, so I’ll jump to it.

Towards the beginning of the whole Union thing, we always ended up eating late-night meals, for time purposes, and because we were too busy during regular meal hours. We’d wait until the whole thing was over and cleaned up before we even thought about dinner. It would be like 10 or 11 at night, and we’d be out cruising Indy, trying to find suitable grub. A bunch of us would always go: me, Craig, Rusty, and maybe 3-4 of the other youth pastors or friends or whoever. Anybody who was hungry was usually invited.

Late on a Thursday night, your best bets are always sports bars and chain places like Chili’s.

So I remember this one time we ended up at this place called Champp’s. I don’t know what’s up with the two “p’s,” so don’t ask me. Unless it’s somebody’s actual name, it’s stupid. And even if it is some guy’s actual name, it’s still unfortunate, one “p” or two. Who can live up to a name like that? Guy like that is better off just avoiding sports altogether. And he darn sure better stay away from boxing. The sports page headlines would be unrelenting, even in pee-wee leagues and such. I’m just saying. But I digress.

Champp’s was serving food – typical sports bar stuff like burgers and potato skins and Grilled Honey Chicken Cajun Pasta – and as it so happened, they were also having karaoke night down at the bar.

When I say “down at the bar,” I’m being literal. As part of their gimmick or whatever, the place is set up like an arena of sorts. There are semi-circular platforms, going down in a stair-step (or bleacher) pattern, leading down to a bar at the bottom, and center, of the joint. People who want to eat are up on the platforms, and people who want to check each other out, or whatever, are down at the bar.

We were eating. Christian musicians are allowed to frequent these kinds of scandalous establishments only when they really need to eat and have nowhere else to go. Otherwise it’s a no-no. Or so I’m told by doofuses who like to create new laws and pretend like Jesus was a tee-totaling party-pooper nerd who only hung out with church people and drank mint chocolate chip malts (always vigilantly careful not to get a sugar rush!).

I’m digressing again. I promise I’m almost to the good part.

So there I was, minding my own business, when all of sudden, somebody says “hey Ross, you should go down there and do some karaoke.” I probably had a mouth full of seasoned, beer-battered philly cheese curly fries or something, and I bet I mumbled something that sounded like “humph,” which would’ve meant, loosely translated, “humph.” I mean, I sing for a living, and karaoke is usually for people who wish they could sing for a living. Me singing karaoke seems kind of like a race car driver showing up at a go cart track and trying to ram all the 13-year olds into the wall. Right?

So I blew it off and kept eating my Bacon Swiss Pesto Steakburger, and the conversation went elsewhere.

But all throughout our meal, we’re pretty clearly hearing the horrendous vocal atrocities of the wannabe Michael Bolton’s and Mariah Carey’s on stage. And we’re just kind of chuckling at it, making side jokes as we talked about Calvinism or One Day or Lordship salvation or whatever was cool for cool Christians to talk about back then.

Here’s a quick thing on karaoke. You know how I am about theories and rules and stuff. I’ve got a few about karaoke. Behold.

The karaoke performer can usually be broken down into one of only a few categories.

You’ve got your “I’m totally joking here, and of course I’m not a very good singer.” This is usually a guy. Women have a harder time with this for some reason. I think it’s because, deep down, women always want to be sexy, or at least not ridiculous, when they’re in front of people. Guys don’t seem to care about this as much. Except for those metrosexual dudes who always look shiny all over. I can’t figure them out.

The point is that your first kind of person is totally about getting a laugh and working thru their buzz in front of as many people as possible. They usually pick something like “You Give Love a Bad Name” or “Margaritaville,” or, if they’re really loaded, “Sweet Caroline.” I once saw a dude belt out a 2-octaves-too-low “Like a Virgin” that would make a maggot’s skin crawl. These people are a feast to the eyes and ears. They’re terrible singers, and having a drink or two in them only gives them more guts to hit the high notes and risk the obscene dance moves. Good times.

Then you’ve got your “I’m totally serious here, and this is my chance to prove to everyone at the office that I am not boring and I definitely could’ve made it on American Idol cause I’m absolutely as good as Taylor Hicks and Fantasia.” These people make me nervous and uncomfortable, but I sort of thrive on those two feelings, so I have a blast with them.

They usually pick something like “Because You Loved Me” or “The Greatest Love of All,” or even “The Dance,” and they alwaysalwaysalways end up embarrassing themselves. No matter how good they are, everyone in the room knows that karaoke is supposed to be fun, not meaningful. These people want you to quiet down and take in the lyrics and stuff. These people want you to lift a lighter in the air when they break out the Daughtry and start bringing it “Home.”

My favorite group is, unfortunately, the least common. That’s the “I’m about to do something to prove to my ex (and TO THE WORLD!!!) that he/she really blew it, whether he/she is here tonight or not.” Oh boy, this is way awkward, and somehow oh so beautiful.

These folks always pick stuff with a message: either a “How Am I Supposed To Leave Without You?” message, or a “Since You’ve Been Gone” message. These people be lovin’ them some Avril Lavigne and some Shania Twain. They be all up in the “to the left, to the left, everything you own in a box to the left.” Either that, or they’re crying their way thru Brian McKnight. And it doesn’t matter if they can sing or not. Because you can’t focus on the music. All you can do is try to avoid their probing, painfully serious stares as they comb the audience for someone to feel their pain.

We feel it alright. Like a burn on your tongue that won’t go away and makes everything taste funny.

Yeah, I know. Digression.

OK, so about the time we finish eating, somebody says “no Ross, seriously, you should really do it.” Then everybody starts talking about how hilarious it would be. I’m shaking my head, playing it cool, wondering what exactly would be so hilarious, and then Craig says “he won’t do it.”

Well, of course, that was it. Napkin on the table, the screech of a quickly-scooted-back chair, and I’m heading down the giant bleachers to hit the court like Rudy being called in for that last play, only it’s more like 25 Rudy’s are already down there, and now Tiger Woods is coming in to actually start doing some stuff.

Yeah, I know I mixed up all my sports there. It was a sports bar, and the dozens of screens with various telecasts got me all jumbled up. That’s not what’s important right now. Wait til you hear the next part.

So I make my way thru the Mojito-drinking, hey-ladies-talking masses, to the stage, where they have “the books.” Maybe you’ve never been to karaoke, but they usually have these books somewhere near the stage where a potential karaoker can pick out their tune of choice.

I start digging thru the books, keeping my eyes peeled for something from the greatest era of music ever: the 80’s.

And what do you know? These folks got themselves a whole pile of Lionel Richie.


No, I mean, literally, “Hello.” That’s what I picked. It’s a perfect choice, really. It was one of the biggest hits from one of the biggest stars of my generation. Lionel Richie is the epitome of 80’s pop greatness, and he’s beloved by all, regardless of race, creed, religion, or dance style. The man is a legend, I’m telling you, and if Ross King was going to make his karaoke debut, he was going to do it riding comfortably on the fashionably-padded shoulders of Lionel Richie.

I figured I’d have to wait a while, which made me nervous. I hadn’t been around that much hair gel and perfume in some time, and I was feeling a little phobic.

But they called me up like 2 songs later.

I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare myself, strategically speaking. I mean, which category was I in? Was I the guy just trying to have fun, or was I going to show these folks my nasal-but-passionate chops? There was, after all, a $250 prize for the winner. But if I went for the win and didn’t get it, how bad was that going to be? I decided to just take it easy at first and let the song take me where it wanted to go. I was in Lionel’s hands now.

The words came up on the screen. It was sort of off-putting at first. I’d never done this before. I stumbled thru a line or to.

“I’ve been alone with you inside my mind
And in my dreams I’ve kissed your lips a thousand times
Sometimes… see your, er, you pass outsidemughsthror…”

I was bombing. This was a bad choice.

But then, at that one word, I hit my stride.

Frankly, it had me at…

“Hello! Is it me you’re looking for?”

And then, like dewberry jelly on a hot biscuit, I started to rub the funk on it.

Kids, I’m not playing when I say that the crowd started to get a little quiet. Heads began to turn toward the stage. White people began to dance along, poorly and sluggishly, biting their bottom lips, bobbing their heads completely off the rhythm. Men tried to use my ever-escalating mojo to make moves on ladies who, so enraptured in the moment, immediately, inadvertently lowered their standards and acquiesced, inhibitions lost in a swell of vocal smoothness.

OK, some of that I’m probably making up, but people were digging it. That part is the truth.

And hey, this weren’t no Baptist church, so I gave ‘em a little movement as well. Some of you know that I’m terribly unembarrassed about dancing in public. The slow groove was in full effect.

Here was the kicker: the instrumental break. The ultimate test of any karaoke performance is simply this: what do you do during the instrumental break? There’s usually an 8-bar (or – heavens! – a 16-bar) break, and you’ve got to do something to fill that time. You can’t just stand there. And we all know how tragic it is when people try to clap or do an especially risky dance move to try to keep the audience engaged. Any momentum that you’ve got can be melted away like a slug under a salt shaker.

So most people just go for that head-down-body-moving-slightly-to-the-beat thing. Most of you old-school evangelicals can picture that one during the instrumental break of “The Warrior is a Child” or “There’s a Bridge to Cross The Great Divide” or some other overdone “special music” number.

But I was too high on the moment. These people were into me and, I admit, I was a little drunk on the power that I wielded over them in that moment.

So I did what Lionel would’ve done. This is the part where you’re going to say, “there’s no way he really did that,” but I did.

I talked.

I’m not making this up. Something had broken loose in me and I went careening off the rails into that void that teeters precariously between genius and insanity.

I started talking to the crowd. I think it went something like:

“You know, I can really feel the love in here tonight. I’m not from around here, and sometimes it’s hard for an out-of-town boy like myself to find a place where he feels like he can fit in. But you people have really made me feel welcome. It’s beautiful, really, and it’s hard to find words to express how touched I am. I guess there’s really only one word that sums it up, and that word is…

HELLO! Is it me you’re looking foooooorrr?”

Well, of course they loved that. I mean, I timed it perfect, and people kind of actually went a little crazy.

At this point, my confidence level was at a dangerous all-time high. This is the kind of adrenaline rush that produces stories about people lifting overturned cars off of their loved ones and frat guys swallowing whole pint glasses of goat urine,to a chorus of "chug! chug! chug!". This is volatile, psychologically toxic stuff.

The saving grace was that the song ended maybe 25 seconds later. I said “thanks,” I probably winked like a total moron, and then I waved (almost as moronic as the wink) and walked off stage, to much applause. I don’t think I bowed, but that part is cloudy.

The DJ actually said “Ladies and Gentlemen, Ross has left the building.” I would’ve hi-fived him if he’d been in hi-fiving distance.

That’s basically the end of the story, with two tiny caveats.

First, by the time I got back to the table, it was getting pretty late, and I think probably everyone at my table was wishing they’d never met me. I was pretty proud of myself. Nobody seemed to want to talk as much about it as I did. Jealous. But the point is that we didn’t stick around to find out who won. Everybody wanted to leave, except for me.

I suppose it was for the best that we got out of there when we did. Losing would’ve been unbearable for me. And winning would’ve been unbearable for everyone with me.

Second, shortly after I sat back down, a young woman came up to me and told me that I did a great job. She said something like,

“You know, you’re not bad at that. You should think about maybe singing more.”

I didn't have the heart to tell her the truth but I did take her advice. I continued to tour the country, though obviously keeping my ministry primarily focused more on churches than bars.

But no matter how far I travel, my heart always returns to that place; to that smoke-filled stage with the Indianapolians that showed me so much love and kindness; to that song that, with but a single word, reminded us all how powerful a simple greeting can be; to that Bleu Cheese Nacho Caesar Salad that nourished me to a show-stopping performance.

To this day, I ponder, and I suppose I will always ponder, this burning question: that night, for a brief shining moment, was I the Champp?


ian said...


LP said...

Epic Ross.

While in Boston for an R&R convention some years ago, I stepped into an elevator & GUESS WHO was in there?! Daz right!

And Guess what one word he said to me?! Daz right!

Johnny! said...

You were totally drunk on mojitos, admit it.

RR said...

No matter what the judges say, you are a Champp in my book

Shane said...

i can envision this whole scene and i love it

Bowser said...

I try not to laugh out loud when reading things on the computer while proctoring 15 high school students in study hall...this all became quite awkward when I read this post. One of the funniest things I've ever read.