This is the conclusion in a three part series, The Karaoke Files, set in The Westgate Bar and Grill in Tacoma’s West End neighborhood. The events written about took place over ten weeks. Some names have been changed.
The first song I saw Brittany perform was Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life.” Her hair was long and curly and she wore it parted down the middle. You could find her in a loose tee shirt and basketball pants, perusing the catalogues of karaoke cds that she brought along with her at a table in the corner. She was quiet and mostly kept to herself, but throughout the night was joined by other regulars, and I found myself at her table most of the time.
I followed her to the smoker’s patio one night, when she agreed to let me interview her. Pulling a cigarette out of its pack, she tapped out some tobacco from its tip and tamped it back down. She sat in a folding chair with a bucket filled with rain and cigarettes at her feet.
“I’m about to get really high right now. I just put a little bit in the tip,” she said, slowly nodding and pointing to her cigarette. I smiled and asked if she was from Tacoma.
“Born and raised,” she replied, exhaling a plume of smoke. “But I had to get out once. Moved to Humboldt County and just got back last October.”
I asked her what happened, why she came back.
“My girlfriend and I ran a homeless shelter. But then I got fired on April 17th. I didn’t care, though. I was happy as long as I could stay through 4-20. We just got high the rest of the week and caught the Greyhound back up the coast.”
Brittany told me her dream was to host a karaoke night of her own one day. She arrived faithfully to the Westgate every night at 8:00.
Week 10, What’s Up
The music starts and I immediately recognize the song. I still have no idea what the words are, so I read the lyrics with the “female” icon next to them and harmonize as best as I can with Robert, who has been asking me to sing a duet with him for weeks.
“See,” Robert says during an instrumental break, “I knew you could do it.” The song is awkward and the timing is off in certain sections, but that doesn’t stop Larry, the karaoke host who helped me learn proper karaoke form over those ten weeks, from announcing that we did “a beautiful job,” while the audience applauded.
It’s close to midnight and I have yet to sing my last song. I ask Larry how many people are up before me. He makes a quip about a pumpkin and I agree, we both laugh.
“There’s always next week, right?”
I tell him that I probably won’t be back for at least a few weeks. He looks a little shocked.
“But you’re part of the family now, you can’t just ditch us,” he says.
“I know, I think I’m already experiencing karaoke withdrawal symptoms.”
He then does something that I have never seen him do—he puts me at the top of the list to sing.
My last song captures my Westgate experience perfectly. By the second verse, most of the bikers from the front of the bar have come to dance and the entire audience is singing along. My inner teenager is experiencing a rock star moment as I belt out 4 Non Blondes, “What’s Up.” If I close my eyes I can feel my old combat boots, my tights ripped at the knees, and my dirty jean jacket. I look around at my new friends, these people who escape and sing for a night to be someone else, or to be themselves, maybe a bit younger, and feel high.