The Karaoke Chronicles: My Yellow-Bricked Duet with Micky Dolenz

Editor Note: This is the next entry into the Karaoke Chronicles by our new contributor, Russ Kazmierczak, Jr.

Thanks Russ, for your willingness to put your self out there regularly whether that is Karaoke or cartooning. Your insights into the broader community are welcome.

Let’s see what Russ has to say about singing with Micky Dolenz.

 

April was National Karaoke Month, and a variety of variables prevented me from celebrating as much as I usually do. The day job, my art gigs, and a wicked sinus infection contributed to an almost karaoke-free month. Then, my girlfriend spotted a Facebook event that demanded our attention. Micky Dolenz was coming to town, and he was inviting fans to sing karaoke with him. If anyone could break my karaoke fast, it’s Micky Dolenz.

Micky Dolenz was the lead singer for The Monkees, and I love The Monkees. I’ve been a fan of The Monkees since their 20th anniversary revival in 1986. The first record I ever bought with my own money, the first concert I ever attended, and the first TV show I ever binged (thanks to Nick at Nite and MTV marathons) all have the same answer: The Monkees. As I grew older, and the Internet revealed everything about everything, I researched their history — as actors cast to PLAY a band on a television show, inspired by The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.” The music produced for the make-believe band became hit records in their own right, and soon enough The Monkees’ fans willed the TV show to life. Despite the entertainment industry’s resistance, The Monkees became a band! Micky often says, it’s like Leonard Nimoy became an actual Vulcan. It was the ’60s equivalent to a YouTuber achieving celebrity status, and I love how formulative their influence has become on pop culture.

As a kid, I sang along to my Monkees records for my parents’ friends on our staircase stoop, a prototypical karaoke experience. So, when I saw “Karaoke with Micky” events on Facebook before, I thought the experience would be a validation of a literal lifetime’s worth of fandom. Alas, those events were out of state and I wrote off the opportunities as logistical nightmares. When I read he was going to be in Mesa, practically in my own backyard? I still thought twice about it. Would the reality of singing with Micky Dolenz come anywhere close to my childhood dream of being a Monkee?

The venue certainly wasn’t the swingin’ showroom The Monkees played in on their TV show. Google describes Roosters Country as a “casual, red-hued venue,” but, to a mid-town square like me, it’s a biker bar. Now, I LIKE biker bars, and I have some warm karaoke memories in biker bars across Phoenix and Southern California, but I never thought such a place is where I’d stand onstage side-by-side with my lifelong hero, Micky Dolenz. From what I gathered when my girlfriend and I arrived that Friday evening (April 26, the LAST Friday of National Karaoke Month), Roosters takes its karaoke seriously. It has a great stage (mostly for bands, I’m sure, but the karaoke only benefits), and the KJ is energetic with a great selection of music.

In fact, that entire selection of music was what participants in the event had to choose from. I anticipated a short list of Monkees tunes, but the event organizer, Jodi, explained that Micky likes ALL songs from that era. When I asked if he might know Elton John’s “Good-bye, Yellow Brick Road,” they wrote it down as a possibility. Ultimately, I requested “Words,” a Monkees B-side written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, surprisingly found in many karaoke catalogs, and originally performed in duet by Dolenz and the recently passed Peter Tork. I had the romantic notion of assuming Peter’s half and so moving Micky that I’d become an honorary Monkee, right on the spot.

The event opened with a regular round of karaoke, and I sang Exile’s “Kiss You All Over” to warm up the pipes. When Micky arrived, he took the stage, told a few stories about living next to Alice Cooper (he was in town to raise money for Alice Cooper’s Rock Teen Center), and began the rotation. Fifteen fans, including myself, paid for the chance to sing with him, so the night wasn’t going to last very long. The first singer had selected “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” an excellent but expected choice. Micky sang along with the choruses dutifully, but he seemed to have more fun later with non-Monkees songs, like “Pretty Woman” and “Twist and Shout.” I wondered if I’d blundered with my selection.

After a few participants sang, Micky took a break and did a round of autographs and photographs. Jodi led him around the bar, which was cluttered with both event attendees and undoubtedly befuddled regulars, wondering why a bunch of karaoke nerds had taken over their neighborhood haunt. I was the second performer in the second round of singers, and I eagerly took the stage. Until that moment, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel, standing next to Micky. He is absolutely one of my all-time heroes, as a performer. I thought I might shake. I presumed I would cry. I did neither. I simply reminded myself repeatedly to live in the moment and enjoy myself.

The KJ looked at me and said, “Yellow Brick Road?” I realized he had written that suggestion first, and, despite sharing that “Words” was my prime choice, the night was in full swing and his job was to keep it moving.

“That’s the one,” I replied. Micky asked me what song we were going to sing, and when I told him, he said he knew it, but hadn’t sung it in public.

“Don’t worry, Micky,” I assured him. “Just follow my lead.”

That was the most clever comment I could muster in the presence of my hero, as I took the wheel on our four minute journey. I’ve liked “Good-bye, Yellow Brick Road” for a long time, and when my favorite singer/songwriter, David Gray, covered it a few years ago on YouTube, I knew I could wrestle the tune to my range at karaoke. I sang it there with Micky confidently, and he chimed in on the first chorus and finished the tune with me, enthusiastically. Considering the song’s themes of defiance against expectation and establishment, it became an appropriate choice for a fan well aware of The Monkees’ history. As much as I’d loved the song before, it became a different thing entirely when sung alongside Micky Dolenz.

I didn’t become a Monkee that night, but that’s okay. I sang karaoke with Micky Dolenz. Rather than become a part of Micky’s yellow-bricked world, he became a part of mine, howlin’ old owl and all, and I never thought that would be equally rewarding. It totally was. Of course, the night included a lot of little details that I could unpack into essays in and of themselves, but the overall experience is a simple arc of anticipation and satisfaction — dream and reality, fulfilled, plain and simple.

Most people caution against meeting your heroes. I say, meet them. And, if you can, sing with them. Karaoke isn’t a month; it’s a road, with plenty of onramps, and you never know who might join you in the passenger seat.

(Special thanks to Jodi Ritzen, for organizing an amazing event, and to my girlfriend Randi, for encouraging me to go.)
 

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