Saturday, December 11, 2010

In The Key of Suck

I blame Glee. When the ultra-popular teenage soap started last fall, glee clubs were a minor and half-remembered slice of high school, a place for the musical-theatre nerds to blow off steam between angsty productions of The Secret Garden; now it's a place for middle-aged soccer moms to showcase their mediocrity during the holiday season.

Let me back up. I occasionally do some ushering for the Ryerson University theatre. It's a good gig: show up, rip tickets, watch a show, and get paid. Last year I lucked into the holiday dance showcase, and this fall I worked the Toronto Film Festival (hot tip: Let Me In isn't as good as its Swedish source material, and the hipster romance Blue Valentine is unbelievably boring!). Tonight, I ushered in a thousand friends and family members to a local singing choir - I'll omit the name, to save the well-meaning participants more embarrassment than they already suffered - and watched as they butchered nineteen radio hits.

They were a sweet bunch, in their black knee-length dresses and their black collared shirts. During one number, they donned sunglasses. It was cute! But they weren't talented. No, their talents lay elsewhere. I'm sure some of them are great drivers, or wonderful at decorating cupcakes. I have no doubt that some of them are experts on, like, oral sex, or Michael Caine impressions. But were they talented songbirds? They, unfortunately, were not.

Clearly influenced by Glee, the group included Rolling Stones numbers and closed with the Journey song "Don't Stop Believing", which both opened and closed the first season of Glee. This was right after they massacred "Your Song", the Elton John classic that my parents favour. I love that song; this version was offensive in its terribleness. Other selections included Sly and the Family Stone and the Black Eyed Peas (this choir was fully 100% white, it should be noted), and a stiff version of "Hide and Seek" that left me scratching my head.

So, here's the problem. I like singing. I like it when adults sing - many of the CDs I buy are by adults. I like it when children perform, because children are usually pretty cute, and cuteness gets you a lot of mileage with me. But if you're an adult and you want to sing in public, you should do what other adults do when they want to sing in public: get blind drunk and go to a karaoke bar. You don't rent a hall and charge your favourite people money to come watch you clap your way through "Go For A Soda." That's silly.

Professional choirs are something else entirely. When you have to audition to get in, it changes it from being the 40+ equivalent of those Little League games where everyone gets a "Participant!" ribbon, into a legitimate artistic endeavor. But if you can just show up? If the only obstacle for joining is buying a knee-length black dress? That's sort of...lame. I'm not saying don't sing. I like singing, even though I'm horrible - I have this reedy little voice, and I've listened to so much Fever Ray at this point that I sing with a Swedish accent - but just reconsider joining a league of equally middle-of-the-road performers. It's just a little embarrassing.

Look: if you're a good singer, audition for a grown-up choir; you know, one with standards. And if you can't get in, then maybe singing isn't for you. There's no shame in being bad at something. I'm no good at stock car racing, so I don't spend a lot of time on the ol' oval. "But it's not hurting anyone!" I can hear you saying disapprovingly. Yes. It's hurting. It hurts to have to lie ("That was so good!"), and hear your favourite songs ruined. These men and women have other talents, I'm sure of it. Maybe it's time to showcase something they're actually, um, good at. But I know this is a pipe dream...I'll see you next year, at the 2011 Holiday Showcase!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dance Caving In

Last night I went to the Dance Cave, the venerable Toronto institution that specializes in retro dance parties and allowing girls to get humped by creepy perverts. I love the Dance Cave, more so since I spotted it standing in for Tom Cruises' "Caribbean nightclub" in the horrible movie Cocktail. I love it in a tolerant, sigh-inducing way. I love the way you can't wear sandals there because the floor is a sticky mess of beer and broken glass. I hate the infestation of crappy U of T kids on the weekend, with the full admission that I was once one of those crappy U of T kids. I love it, with strings.

But the main reason I love the Dance Cave, aside from when the DJ plays The Prodigy's 1995 single "Poison" during her retro-'80s night (and I danced so hard one of my boobs fell out a little), is that it's a node on the scene of the people.

Okay, I know that sounds stupid. Hear me out. Remember high school? Where everyone was mashed in together, so you had goths mixing with preps mixing with nerds mixing with pretty girls mixing with drama queens? Remember how awkward that was? Sometime after you left high school, you started to wonder where all the people who aren't you/your friends ended up. Whatever happened to the dramatic goth-lite kids who would smoke cigarettes behind the high school and come late to every class? What became of the stoner boys who were so beautiful and so high? Where did the D&D kids go, the ones who had twelve-sided die and tiny hand-painted figurines of warrior-elfs? What about the hipster-nerds, who started fight clubs in their mom's basement and who had girlfriend who never let them get to third base? Where are those people?

Because as we get older, we start self-selecting more and more for the people who are just like us. It's not a bad thing: I like my nerdy obsessions, and well past the judgmental, self-conscious confines of high school, I don't have to justify them. They're accepted by my friends and family as just Stuff We Are Into: Scott Pilgrim comics, zombie lore, bikes, weird beers, DIY haircuts, cheap sushi, the occasional foray into nature (or a close facsimile), the library. It's not that we don't interact with other people, other types of people. But do we brush up against them in such close quarters? (The subway during rush hour doesn't count.) We don't.

So even though we see the girl with blue dreadlocks on the subway, commuting to her CSR job with Rogers, listening to early Nine Inch Nails and staring into space like the rest of the ridership, we don't often see her in her natural habitat. If you want see the girls who wore cardigans and had a salon haircut, just stake out any brunch spot or Indigo books - you'll see her there, eating muffins with her boyfriend. But how many folks head out to the Dance Cave on a Monday night? Not a lot. And if you do head there, you're likely to see the girl with the blue dreadlocks. Why there? Why not at brunch? Because they rarely play big beat at Aunties and Uncles.

Frankly, I was chuffed to see a bunch of folks in their mid-30s to late-40s standing around at the Dance Cave last night. Clearly, they knew each other - maybe from other venues and events, maybe from working together through the years, maybe through friends. They were there because it was clearly one of "their places" - a venue that serves most, if not all, of their needs for a night out. And it was casual. Having a few beers and dancing to The Cure and the Chemical Brothers is just a Monday night, the way some folks always bookmark Saturday morning for the farmer's market, or Wednesday evenings for Bible study. It's a place to come together, and to feel comfortable (as comfortable as you can be dancing in leather pants and knee-high jackboots, anyway). I love that - there are so many ways of existing. Sometimes, without them right in front of my face, it's easy to forget that. Last night was a welcome reminder that, sometimes, the dark side just wants to go dancing.