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Published: Friday, 7/17/2009

Let life's music transform you

The first time Brandon Bohland sang karaoke solo, he was booed off the stage.

The next time it went much better - if you ignore a few minor details.

"I started swinging the microphone in a circle and the microphone came up and hit me in the eye," he recalls. "So I couldn't see out of my right eye and I had to go in the ER and they had to put the old needle in my eye and let out fluid. All for karaoke."

Isn't that the way it always is with superheroes? They suffer some mishap - some mutation or spider bite or exposure to too much Britney Spears - and all of a sudden they develop amazing powers.

So goes the story of Brandon. Sort of. He doesn't claim to have become a singing superstar since that blow to the eye, but from that song on he wasn't afraid to let loose and rock out.

Others have noticed. Following two rounds of competition this summer at the Bier Stube on Monroe Street, he was named the top male singer and given an automatic entry to tomorrow's state finals for the Karaoke World Championships USA in Greenville, Ohio. (The female winner, coincidentally, was his step-cousin Lauren Vaughn.)

I bring this up not because Brandon's case is a lesson in contrasts, although it is: By day, he's a tie-wearing account manager for a company in the alternative energy business. He's enrolled in an MBA program at night and plays harmonica at church.

When he sets foot on stage, however, he's Brian Johnson, the wild, screaming lead singer of the heavy metal band AC/DC. At the Bier Stube, he went crazy singing "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and "You Shook Me All Night Long."

"I turn into a completely different person," Brandon says. "I can't even understand it. I've seen pictures."

So how does one explain this transformation from a guy getting booed off stage into a crowd-pleasing, head banging, microphone-swinging maniac? You could say he found the Zen of karaoke. Brandon stopped trying to perform as himself; instead, he relaxed and got into the moment - and another character.

I know what he's talking about even though I've never achieved it. My own karaoke past is tinged with regret. I once grabbed the mic (only once, for a story) to sing the '80s hit "Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield. Go ahead and make fun. Maybe my choice had something to do with the fact that a cousin of mine was so into him that she measured long driving distances by how many times she could listen to his cassette.

Anyway, I got up to sing and found myself trying not to be bad rather than trying to have fun. It showed. At the time I thought it was saving me from embarrassment but now, every time I hear that song on the radio I change the station. It's a reminder of an opportunity lost.

More than that, it's a reminder of how easy it is to be trapped by your own self-image. I was stuck on how I was supposed to act. The lesson to be learned from the new Brandon, the one who will compete tomorrow, is simple: We should never forget who we are, but it's OK to unbutton that top button, take off the tie, and have a little fun being someone else for a little while too.

Which is why, somewhere deep in my heart, I really do hope I hear "Jessie's Girl" on the radio again. Next time, maybe I'll sing along.

Contact Ryan E. Smith at:


or 419-724-6103

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