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FEAR AND LOAFING: The cheese sings (nearly) alone (Lounge Singer)

Our guitar-slinging reporter faces the music as a lounge singer
 

 

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My debut is going better than expected. Two songs into my set at the Ovation Theater at Green Valley Ranch Resort, I have won over the entire audience.

The entire audience consists of Jerry Cohen from Henderson and his wife, Annette. Both are clapping.

The lounge singer has been losing prominence since the trend toward pop idols, Broadway shows, magicians and impressionists was launched by Steve Wynn's Mirage in 1989. And I'm not helping to gain any of it back.

Michael Grimm, 30, is one of about 100 lounge singers still working the city synonymous for them. From 7 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, he rocks the Ovation, whipping his band through blues and R&B covers with the soul of a porch singer in the Mississippi Delta (where he happens to hail from).

"Just be yourself," Grimm said during my rehearsal. "If you're honest and you're not trying to be cool, people catch onto that."

People who can achieve coolness without trying always say stuff like this. The rest of us need to pretend. (The cool hat and red jacket belong to Grimm.)

I thank the Cohens and launch my next tune, U2's "All I Want Is You," strumming the 12-string acoustic guitar reanimated from closet driftwood by Today's Music.

As a musician, I'm what you call beach good. If you see me three blankets down and you forgot your radio, you will tolerate me. You may even make a request. In the '90s, I regularly toured Long Island's southern Hamptons coastline, unbooked, assuming that each performance would lead to a meaningless romantic encounter with someone other than myself.

Not once was I ever correct.

The sound of two Cohens clapping once again fills the room.

Other people are scattered among the 317 empty seats. But I don't count Grimm, his manager or his keyboardist. (His band goes on next.) Station Casinos publicist Lori Nelson is here because it's her job. Ditto R-J photographer/videographer Jason Bean and one sound and one lighting guy.

Eight fewer people and -- using tree-falling-in-the-woods logic -- it's debatable whether I'd be making an actual sound.

True, the resort didn't grant me a popular slot to begin with: 5 to 6 p.m. on a Friday. But an electronic sign has advertised my "one night only" appearance above the casino's slot machines for two days. And I invited all 1,600 of my Facebook "friends." (Attention everybody whose profile photo includes a guitar: No longer will I feel guilty for ignoring your gig invites).

Playing to an empty room is one of the dues most lounge singers pay. Grimm did it numerous times in the Greek Isles' lobby.

"It's horrible, man," he said, "but you just have to keep playing. It's your job."

Once, Grimm's sole audience member was a woman who complained repeatedly about the volume of his guitar.

"It wasn't even turned on," he said.

Grimm moved to Vegas from Mississippi in 1999, after being hired to strum in the backup band for the Imperial Palace's "Legends in Concert" out of Biloxi. Grimm's sanity soon begged him to try his luck in the nonimpersonation musical field, however, and he credits his success to "just a bunch of little steps."

I bust out my best John Mellencamp for "Pink Houses," dividing the audience into women and men on the chorus. (First Annette sings, then Jerry.)

To be fair, I shouldn't even count the Cohens as audience members. They're not here because they saw the signs above the slots. They didn't wander in because of the irresistible sound wafting out of the showroom.

They recognized me earlier on the casino floor, where I wandered with my guitar, attempting to Pied-Piper someone, anyone, into my show.

"You're Corey Feldman," Jerry said, pointing, "from the paper."

For 15 minutes before that, my grass-roots crowd-gathering effort was so spectacularly unsuccessful that one group of 30-something guys actually refused an offer of reverse admission -- $5 from my wallet. ("That's less than a dollar for each of us," their leader said.)

After the big ending I give to "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by the Rolling Stones, Jerry approaches the stage. Perhaps he's going to leave a tip. (Grimm can earn as much as $100 in a night.) Maybe he has a request. (I hope it's one of the 25 songs I know by heart.)

"We have to leave," Jerry says. "We would stay, really, but we have somewhere to be right now."

Fear and Loafing runs on the first Sunday of every month in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.

 
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