Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
I don't have a karaoke song and it's really stressing me out.
Back in the day I used to go to this bar Sisters, which is and forever will be the best queer bar in Philadelphia, even though it is no longer in business. Sisters was a lesbian space but they graciously let people of all genders and identities mix and mingle as long as we were respectful. I liked to go on Thursdays when Suzi Nash would host karaoke downstairs and a DJ would spin the best songs in the universe upstairs. Also, there was a buffet. Lesbians really know how to live.
I discovered Sisters about a year after I moved to Philadelphia and was still feeling adrift in life and in the city. It quickly started to feel like a home. I had many a long heart-to-heart with Rosie, the long-suffering woman who worked the coat check and whose name, it turned out, was not Rosie. Honey, I was a mess but people were nice to me.
One Thursday afternoon I discovered this video of Tina Turner performing "Proud Mary" and watched it roughly 30 times whilst screaming in my room. That performance is an earthquake; she is a force of nature.
It's a live concert from 1982, 6 years after she'd divorced Ike Turner and been forced to rebuild her career with nothing but her name (and, as you may recall, Ike tried to take her own damn name from her too). I've seen dozens of performances of "Proud Mary" but none are as ferocious as this one. She is clawing her way back from the depths, claiming all that was taken from her and more. She is lion-like as she struts around the stage 7 minutes into the 10 minute performance. Her movements are a taunt; her grin is a challenge. "I've been doing this a long time," she growls as the piano and the bass vamp. "And you know what?"
"WHA WHA WHA WHAT?" an unseen person cries.
Tina answers, "The longer I do it, the better it gets."
This performance was my life coach for years. It was my beacon in darkness. I would study and I would go to Sisters and I would try to capture just a small part of it. Sometimes it was the attitude, world-weary but majestic. Sometimes, it was the prowl. Sometimes it was the scissor kicks of the backup singers. It was a lot. And sometimes it was everything.
The crowd at Sisters ate it up. I wasn't good; I can't sing and movement-wise I'm a combination of Mick Jagger and Mr. Bean. But I felt it deep in my bones and I brought it every Thursday as an offering.
It's been a long time since I sang "Proud Mary." Sisters has closed. I've gotten achey. And I'm not scissor-kicking the same demons I once was.
I went to karaoke for a friend's birthday party last night. I didn't sing. I just flipped through the book, my fingers prowling each page, looking for the next version of myself. It'll come to me.
What's your go-to karaoke song?
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