Thursday, April 19, 2007

Karaoke night

Almost eleven. Karaoke night at the club. The usual dregs, a few who for some-unknown-reason actually think they’re good, others who just go up because their friends tease them until they do. It’s a little bit like American Idol in a war zone, but it’s something to do, and every once in a while a song will bring back memories so that for a minute you can forget how lonely you are.

The night was nearly over – probably one or two more songs and that would be it. And then this really young looking kid got up to sing – he was wearing the new digital camouflage trousers with just a tan tee shirt, not filling it out but baring his gangly scrawniness for all of us to see. He wasn’t more than a PFC, or maybe a Specialist at the most… heck, he couldn’t have even turned 18 more than a couple months ago. I admit, this kid’s body language just screamed loser, and there were more than a few smirks in the crowd. But the kid ignored them, proceeded methodically up to the stage, set down his rifle, and then adjusted it, before standing up to speak to the DJ.

When they sing, most people stand somewhere behind the teleprompter so that they can read it, and it’s set towards the front of the stage for this reason. But this guy walked out in front of the thing, right up to the edge of the platform, and just stood there facing the crowd. Head down, eyes closed… I wondered for a minute if the poor kid had just froze, until the music started…. It was the helicopter that came first, faint, but coming closer, louder, until it seemed the speakers were going to burst… The song was Goodnight Saigon, and I swear to you that this scrawny kid, this skinny-assed, eyes-closed scrawny kid - the one we were so ready to make fun of just minutes before - was just pouring his God-damned heart out, pouring his whole anguished soul out into that microphone.

One by one, the normally raucous tables went silent… a last oblivious group was even shushed. All eyes were on the kid now, and there he was, singing about US. It was one of those odd moments when you just know that a song is about you specifically, and it all makes such perfect sense that it doesn’t even matter that that can’t logically be possible. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

By the second chorus someone on the other side of the room started to sing along that part about “until we’d all go down together ….” And in a second she was joined by almost everyone else there, every table, and that was when we became brothers. White, black, Army, Air Force – holding on to each other through a song. By the end we of the song were all singing that we’d all go down together… all go down together… together… until the whoop whoop whoop of the rotors finally came back to drown us out.

Then there was silence. Just silence. The kid picked up his rifle, stepped off the stage, walked across the floor…. and right out the door. He was gone before even the first fist started to pound the table, and then more and more and more fists, and clapping and shouting now, and we were cheering. Really cheering, and pounding, and shouting at the top of our lungs. Cheering this scrawny kid for singing his damn heart out, for us. It was good, and it went on for quite a while, pumping our hands in the air, even after the kid must have been way, way out of ear shot. Finally, as the cheers died down, what had been an absolute roar faded into one huge, intertwined conversation as everyone tried to describe to everybody else what they’d just heard. And as I turned to pick up my cover before going, I noticed that Chris was still sitting there, crying quietly. And that was good, too, because I didn’t want to cry alone that night.


Blogger KAB said...

You can hear Billy Joel sing "Goodnight Saigon" at:

April 19, 2007 10:00 AM  

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