A Song That Reminds You of Somewhere: “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1993)

Task 6 on the “30” Day Music Challenge — A Song That Reminds You of Somewhere.

Y’all, I really wanted to have a better answer. I really tried. I even used the Jack Donaghy method and tried to capitalize on my most reliable period of uninterrupted thought (in the shower). I wanted to think of a song that reminded me of the hammock in my grandmother’s backyard. Or the park that hosted water balloon fights between me and my eighth-grade besties. Even, I don’t know, a song that sparks distinct memories of the halls of my high school, the Chicago Board of Trade, or the interior of my first car.

Dancing at Lebo's, California, Ohio

Pretty Much Sums it Up.

But, alas, I just kept coming back to Lebo’s. Lebo’s — located less than 10 miles east of downtown Cincinnati in the town of California, Ohio — is a large, barn-shaped bar soaked to its very core with hops, sweat, and the cast-off fat from chicken fingers and mini egg rolls. It’s the best kind of dive, that attracts all matter of clientele. Softball players stopping in for a pitcher or six of Miller Lite. Accountants from downtown hoping to slum it in ironic fashion. The elderly. You know.

There were a host of ‘regulars’ there that would treat the crowd to their ‘regular’ song (some of which I heard for the first time in this setting).  Fifty-something buddies Chris and Dave T., who would harmonize on Tommy James’ ‘Draggin’ the Line‘  before moving on to their standard solo selections, as well. (Tom Jones’ ‘Delilah‘ and Zager & Evans’ ‘In the Year 2525,’ respectively. The former is far more entertaining, and slightly less apocalyptic, than the latter.)  There was Brian-Austin-Green doppelgänger Todd, who would sing ‘The Chanukah Song‘ no matter the season.  Two preppy white chicks who shall remain nameless that would always insist on making the country-music-loving folks listen to ‘Baby Got Back.’

When I was a willing and frequent participant on Cincinnati’s karaoke circuit, Lebo’s was my Friday-night stop. And each week, the karaoke jockey, who looked like a cross between a standard schnauzer and Floyd from the Muppets, would open the stage with ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance.’ He wasn’t technically good, per se, but you don’t have to be to sing this one (or any Tom Petty classic, really).  There is a lot of spoken-word posing as singing, a few fun ‘Oh, hell yes’ opportunities, and the automatic visual association of a not-quite-dead-yet Kim Basinger. Did we wish he would ever mix things up a bit, try something new?  Perhaps, but then it wouldn’t have been Lebo’s.

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The Secrets of an Extended Stay

Well, well, well, I got a new full-time job. It’s exciting and new, but strangely familiar, as I took a different — hopefully better — gig with my old company (1997 – 2008) and will report to one of my former bosses. Even more flattering? The Cincinnati-based company recruited me from Chicago, which means they really value my skills but also means I will be frequenting the Queen City more often than I used to.

Which is fine.

I like it here, I have friends here from years past, and the beers are cheap.

I’m here right now for a month and am staying in an Extended Stay hotel. It’s clean, it’s close to the office, and the shower’s water pressure is surprisingly satisfying. And yet, I must admit, it’s a tad depressing. There are fellow business people here, but also people who appear to be shacked up indefinitely. I saw one room from the parking lot where a mother and small daughter had evidently hauled in in a wire shelving unit to hold piles and piles and piles of clothes.

Sigh.

Here are other things I’ve learned in my 24 hours here:

1. Bring or buy your own coat hangers. My room had four. For a place that charges by the week.

2. You might want to bring your own towels. This isn’t the Ritz. Ditto body wash, hair dryer, shampoo and conditioner. This isn’t the Hampton Inn.

3. A ‘fully equipped kitchen’ means one skillet, one pot, two plates, a small fridge, a sink no bigger than the one on airplanes, bowls large enough to hold one Frosted Mini-Wheat, no oven, and a colander.

3a. If buying wine for said small fridge, get screw-top, because there isn’t a corkscrew. And snag a wineglass or two if you’re particular about such things. I? Am not.

4. Go ahead and bring/buy some: dishwashing detergent, Clorox wipes, paper towels, hand soap (for the kitchen if not the bathroom as well).

Now, I’m not sure how many people use the ‘fully equipped kitchen,’ but it was important to me.  It’s not healthy to eat every meal out, nor is it economical for my company. And I figured my new/old job in my new/old city (temporarily) would be a good chance to kick off on achieving my new/old body. When I left Cincinnati in 2001, I weighed about 15 pounds less than I do now. If I keep up this impressive 15-lbs-per-decade pace, I will not be living my Golden Girls life to the fullest.

So I swung by Trader Joe’s last night after checking in and picked up some provisions. Fizzy water, tea bags, wine (see above), raw oatmeal. And for dinners I aimed for simplicity. Tonight was veggies stir-fried with a touch of curry sauce served over Quinoa.

And this feast came after a lovely walk in the park. Oh yeah. Also on the ‘pro’ side of this Extended Stay hotel? It’s a five-minute drive to a beautiful park with a 2.6-mile jogging loop that provides dusk-time glimpses such as this:

And a visit with this little guy:

So it’s not all bad. I’m excited by the prospective challenges of my new job, I look forward to some time spent with long-distance friends, and while I miss Chicago, maybe I’ll be looking a little bit trimmer when I return. Just in time for lake season. (Note: I go to the lake like once a year).

My Karaoke Life in 17 Pictures (In Which I Question Some Former Hairstyles)

I greatly enjoy cooking, reading, (very) (occasionally) jogging, playing trivia, writing, watching the MLB, and partaking in a number of other rather passive pastimes. But when it comes to pure unadulterated fun, there are few activities I like more than karaoke. And it’s not a phase, ladies and gentlemen. I’ve been on the karaoke circuit (if there is such a thing) for more than a dozen years, have more than 100 different song attempts under my belt, and am always in search of the newest venue or the latest song to challenge my meager pipes.  Now that I don’t having a driving commute, however, I’ve lost my practice venue, so some of my song attempts are totally on the fly.

While relaxing over Christmas, I was looking through some Facebook photos, and realized that karaoke was a very consistent theme. Some of the pictures below are bittersweet for various reasons, but there are universal truths that haven’t changed. ‘Baby Got Back’ done expertly by a couple of white chicks will still impress the right crowd, ‘The Rose’ should NEVER be performed — EVER — and while you may think alcohol can help your skills, all it can do is make you sloppy.

Without further ado, here are some high- and low-lights of my karaoke life, in pictures. Please excuse the gap between the early 2000s (when everyone was getting married and had professional photographers on the scene) and 2010 (when everyone had cell phone cameras at the ready).

January, 2001.  Childhood BFF Amy (who will show up a lot) and I sing ‘Baby Got Back’ at fellow BFF Rebecca’s wedding. I was about 19 red wines deep at the time. I appear to have cornrows and may or may not be a vampire, if we’re using my skin tone to judge.  This song led into a solo rendition of ‘Baby, One More Time.’  In unrelated news, my boyfriend at the time broke up with me about 36 hours later.

April, 2001.  Amy and I at it (‘Baby Got Back’) once again at Amy’s bachelorette party.  Believe those are still cornrows, ladies and gentlemen.  And who wears a white shirt out on a night that involves drinking on a bus?  We won’t begin to discuss Amy’s outfit – it was a bachelorette party in 2001, am I right?!

October, 2004. My bachelorette party.  Believe I’m singing Duran Duran’s ‘Rio.’ And I appear to be slightly more into it than any of my friends and relatives. The Bud’s chubby in my left hang is clinging to my pinky for dear life. THAT?  Is passion, ladies and gentlemen.

April, 2005. Zapata’s Mexican Restaurant in Collinsville, IL.  Where once I entered a karaoke contest so unashamedly rigged it made Idol’s inclusion of Sanjaya in the top 10 seem entirely legitimate.  And speaking of Duran Duran, this is the first exhibit of me singing karaoke while wearing a Duran Duran tee shirt … 

May, 2005. … and here is the second. Simon & John & Nick & Andy (sniff) & Roger. With a jean jacket and a red SKIRT, and the DEVIL HORNS UP HIGH, everyone.  Rep-re-sent.  This was at Ole Morales Tacos in Alton, IL.  Because when you sing karaoke at a Mexican restaurant in suburban St. Louis, you must wear a tee shirt honoring one of the biggest British New Wave bands of the 80s. It’s a known rule.

July, 2006. Yes, that’s my Hanson tee that I still wear to this day.  And my faded jeans that may or may not have had a hole in the knee.  That’s also my karaoke machine on the fireplace, which brought joy to no fewer than two dozen high school friends at this impromptu lake house reunion one summer in Chattanooga.

September, 2007. Me and the lovely Dr. Christine belting out … I have NO IDEA.  ‘I Touch Myself,’ maybe?  I think?  No recollection of this happening, but I look vaguely terrified. And am so ready to run that I’ve brought my purse on stage with me. This was Molly’s pseudo-surprise 30th birthday party in Atlanta. What bar are we in?  No idea.  Probably a Mexican restaurant.

November, 2008. Back to Zappata’s.  Back to ‘Baby Got Back’ with Amy. I appear to be doing a Corona-enhanced jig.

March, 2010. At my friend Ken’s wife’s surprise 30th birthday party. I’m with Ken’s cousin Claudine here, scared out of my wits as (I think) I was just conned into singing ‘Party in the U.S.A.’ and had no interest in moving my hips like anything in a room full of relative strangers.  I sang roughly 75% of all karaoke songs performed that night.  Yeah, I’m that party guest.

May, 2010. With Cincy pals Kelly and Leslie.  Leslie is ROCKING. OUT.  Can’t remember what we were singing, but the KJ appears more interested in playing with a metal turtle than listening to us.

August, 2010.  Ahhh … Four Trey’s.  The pride of Roscoe Village, Chicago. Note the Christmas lights.  In August.  And the trash can right by my feet, suitable for karaoke-induced vomiting.  My Chattanooga-turned-Chicago-turned-back-to-Chattanooga friend Amy (different Amy) and I used to enjoy wowing the crowd with little-remembered Wham! ditty, ‘I’m Your Man.’  This photo was snapped during her solo.

September, 2010.  Woo hoo!  Live band karaoke at the 10 High bar in Atlanta for Molly’s 33rd birthday. Bringing a bit of Illinois to the Peach State, I attempted some Cheap Trick – ‘Surrender,’ to be specific.  Kind of difficult with a key change right off the turnbuckle.

December, 2010. Okay, so this may look like a hot mess, or a party for nerds in someone’s basement circa 1993.  Neither conclusion is exactly wrong.  This convergence of attitude and outfits was at Lincoln Karaoke, the Asian karaoke stop north of Chicago that features private rooms, neon tambourines, overpriced draft beer, Solo cups (apparently), and more fun than should be allowed on any given evening. We are all wearing our 90s finest (I’m in a plaid-on-plaid-on-long-underwear tribute to Angela Chase) and if you look closely, the song we’re all singing is the Spice Girls “Wannabe.”  From left to right, that’s Molly, me, Suzanne, Taylor, some rando dude that was in our group somehow but didn’t get the dress-code memo, and Christine.

June, 2011. Jump!  For my love!  JUMP. IN. I shall, friends.  I shall.  This is at my friend’s Julian’s lake house, the best adult playground on the planet. Some like the jet-skis.  Others, the shuffleboard table. I prefer the less potentially deadly entertainment of the do-it-yourself karaoke roulette wheel of shame. Sometimes you discover songs in your wheelhouse that should be brought out for public consumption.  Other times (e.g. Fleetwood Mac’s ‘You Make Lovin’ Fun’), you grow to accept that some songs should be left to the original artists.

August, 2011. St Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  One of two places I’ve done outdoor karaoke – the other was Vegas. Here, Leslie and I are attempting to rock right now with Rob Base (and DJ E-Z Rock’s) ‘It Takes Two.’ Was not the crowd for this attempt, folks.  Was not the crowd.

November, 2011. Alice’s, in a remote area in northwest Chicago.  Hipsters, bikers, and Bruno Mars enthusiasts, all friendly, all talented.  Karaoke Fred likes his singers talented, his crowd relatively sober (despite the bar being open until 4:00), and his inflatable instruments neon-colored.  This is a magical place, despite the trend of everyone getting just one chance per night to sing.  Here I’m doing a standby, JCM’s ‘Hurts So Good.’

December, 2011. The Blue Frog, a wee itty bitty, super classy, karaoke dive spot in Chicago’s Gold Coast.  In the right-hand side of the foreground, John and Lauren are intently reviewing the relatively pristine karaoke books.  I’m in the background in a silver skirt, rather dressy for the venue but it was my birthday (observed).  Later in the night, I would get my hair attached to those Christmas decorations you see behind my head there.  While singing Ke$ha. Not my proudest moment. The party don’t start till I walk in.

Thanks for indulging me in this trip down karaoke’s storied memory lane!  And this gallery, sadly, doesn’t even include shots of three of my karaoke mainstays – Lebo’s in Cincinnati (every Friday, 1998 – 2001), MLT (also Cincinnati, every Tuesday, same years), and Martini Bar (Chicago, many Thursdays in 2011).

And last but not least, I’d like to share  a photo of my pal Marilyn.  This is from a few weeks ago at Tostada’s (another Mexican restaurant!) in Cincinnati.  I first met Marilyn in the late 90s at Lebo’s, where she would sing anything from Reba McEntire to Joan Jett. She had her standard comfort-zone favorites, but also wasn’t afraid to add something new to the mix.  Everywhere she goes she makes fans and friends, and always has her supportive husband by her side, switching places at the table when she takes the stage  so that she can watch the singers the rest of the time but he can watch her when she’s got the mic. Marilyn has to be pushing 80 these days.  So as far as I can figure, and God willing, I’ve got at least 40 or so good years of John Cougar Mellencamp, Ke$ha, and Sir Mix-a-Lot ahead of me. Stay tuned.