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Putting Creedence in Karaoke : Terror strikes when the newcomer is called to the stage, but soon you realize how much fun you're having.

July 23, 1993|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You've done all your preparation work according to plan--beer drinking, mostly--and you're thinking smugly that your little suburban adventure is going to be a breeze. A snap. You'll soon be regaling your friends with tales of your derring-do.

And to think that at first you were squeamish, you chortle smugly to yourself. How silly of you.

Right then, of course, comes the moment of truth, blindsiding you like some red-light-running Freightliner. Your now-fibrillating heart leaps into your throat and stays there, right in the place from whence the melodious words are soon supposed to warble out.

Like an idiot, you've signed yourself up, on a Friday night yet, to sing in a crowded karaoke bar at the Corbin Bowl in Tarzana. And suddenly, horrifically, you realize from the nudges of the people around you that they've called your name.

Your number's up, pal. It's time to get up there and do your thing. If only you knew what it was.

Your head reels. The mind spins. You try to clear your throat, and you realize you can't, because it's gone numb--that wildly pumping and pulsing cardiovascular organ of yours still seems to be lodged way up there in your Adam's apple, plugging up your pipes.

As you toddle stageward, you glance furtively about the room. Suddenly, the friendly and oblivious crowd you had been amusing yourself watching just seconds before has become a fuzzy yet scary mob, all eyes looking at you in some kind of judgmental silence.

Ah, karaoke--sport of thrill-seeking Japanese businessmen and drunken daydreamers everywhere. Suddenly, however, it doesn't seem at all fun anymore.

But it's too late! No backing out now! It's just you and that microphone. And, of course, that unctuous DJ who has shared the stage with all those who have gone before, mocking and ridiculing them, or worse, fobbing off a plastic guitar into their free hand and goading them into playing it.

And who could blame him for such mockery? These "performers" either stunk or, even more hilarious, were good--which of course means they've had nothing better to do with their leisure time than to practice this weird ritual of public self-humiliation.

But now you are the focus of attention, and you're cursing yourself for snickering at the geek who whined his off-key way through a U2 dirge, and the Michael Bolton clone who must have spent months perfecting the heartthrob's cheesy hairdo and mode of dress, not to mention his quavering voice, soulful glances, head motions and plaintive clutching of the microphone.

Why all the harsh self-recrimination? Because you are positive, at this moment, that those very crooners who went before you are all thinking that you and your pals were laughing at them, not with 'em.

And they appear to be wallowing in the uncontainable joy of knowing that they'll soon have the chance to do the same to you.

Luckily, you've not only had a few beers with your designated driver, but, shall we say, some additional alcoholic additives as well that were not only strongly suggested but practically forced down your throat by that experienced karaoke couple holding up the bar next to you.

What the hell, you start to think. You'll never see these people again. Just get up there and start belting.

By now you've reached the stage, just three steps up from the watchful crowd. You raise your outstretched hands over your head like some exuberant football fan in post-touchdown frenzy, then grab the mike from the DJ and not-so-quietly ask him the obvious question: What in God's name do you do next? Instead of telling you the simple answer, of course, which is to read the TV monitor in front of you and, by all means, NEVER lose your timing, he announces to the crowd that they will soon witness the night's first "Karaoke Virgin."

You actually get some applause for that, or maybe those are hoots of derision. But the music starts and, as the strains of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" boom muddily out of the loudspeaker, you notice that a half-in-tune voice is singing along. Then you notice that the voice belongs to you. (You also notice that the several hundred other times you and your high school buddies sang the song along with your car radio that none of you were even close to getting the lyrics of the chorus right.)

The next thing you realize is how much pure, unadulterated fun you're having, but by then, of course, it's over. A seeming eternity of nervous trepidation followed by a fleeting instant of unmitigated, unbridled joy--sort of like, um, another near-universal rite of passage.

When you come to, after the last "There's a bad moon on the rise," you lament that it was all just a blur.

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