Empty orchestra, full vocal section

Fellow Oakland Soft Rock Choir members hit karaoke night at the White Horse Inn in Berkeley

Micah and Valerie

I don’t know what to tell you about nights like last night, except that they exist. If the philosophers are right, and I have no empirical evidence that they are not (but plenty of hope and, even, after a fashion, faith that they are), nights like last night never stop existing. They exist in an endless thrumming present, ceaselessly vivid.

In my memory of one of those nights, there will always be a short, compact, powerfully built young black man wearing a loose white knit cap and singing along with the karaoke machine at the White Horse Inn on Telegraph Avenue to the Dixie Chicks‘ “Goodbye Earl,” and something in me will marvel at this choice of song and his poise in its performance. There will be a young black woman hiding her face as I take her picture one moment, and then bounding up to a microphone to sing David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” There will be another young black woman, dark-skinned and lean with blonde streaks flecking her hairline, who will essay and exceed expectations with renditions of Amy Winehouse‘s “Valerie” (offered explicitly in memoriam) and Adele‘s “Rolling In The Deep.”

Kings of Leon's "Sex On Fire" karaoke lyric, White Horse Cafe, Berkeley

But it’s not forever

I go for these moments. I don’t always know or notice when they happen. I try to pay attention, observe them as they pass, inhabit them and watch them disappear. Trapped in amber, they do no one any good.

More often, I get the moments with the three young women wearing thin summer dresses over jeans or tights, shouting along in unison to Kings of Leon‘s ”Sex on Fire.” Those moments are still fun. I just don’t find them as transfixing. They don’t feel so powerful to me. They aren’t beacons broadcasting to some part of me that isn’t still or yet aware that it is mid-2011, that there are dozens of opportunities and millions of ways to inhabit and perform and live in and among bits of music, to try on pleasure and try out identity and register fandom.

But the moments that are beacons matter. At least, that’s what I remember feeling when the whole room was shouting along to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and I snuck out to my car, popped the trunk and pulled out the electric guitar I’d used in a gig earlier that evening, snuck back into the bar and waited for Beelzebub and his infamous, inevitable devil-put-aside-for-me.

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