PORTLAND – Walking into a bar here called Bodacious Classics last night, a newcomer might have thought that people had mistaken this night for Halloween. There were barflies dressed up as members of the Starship Enterprise, a half dozen Klingons, and even a Mad Max floating around.
In other words, just another Thursday night.
Dressed up or not, the reason so many people have flocked to this sci-fi themed bar in Southeast Portland can be summed up in two words: Klingon Karaoke. Klingons belted out karaoke hits like “My Way” and “Bad to the Bone,” not in English but in their native Klingon tongue. James Colvill attended the weekly event as Qaolin, his Klingon alter ego, and he was by far the most well-versed singer in the crowd. He should be — after all, he is the brainchild of this form of Karaoke.
After taking a healthy sip of Jack Daniels, the 48-year-old took the stage to perform a rendition of Montly Crue’s “Shout at the Devil.”
“Jach! Jach! Jach! Veqlargahdaq yIjach.”
Colvill pumped his fist in the air in time to the music, saturating the air with the sounds of Klingon. He was decked out in full Klingon apparel, from his prosthetic forehead with its long flowing black hair to his custom made dagger.
By day, Colvill is a chef at a nursing facility. By night, he is capable of captivating an entire bar. “I try to make everyone’s day a bit more surreal,” said Colvill.
Klingons are those bumpy headed aliens from Star Trek, whose fictional language and culture have surpassed whatever life they had on television. According to the Klingon Language Institute, an organization based in Flourtown, PA, Klingon was originally invented for the television series by Marc Okrand, a renowned linguist. Writers on the group’s website insist that Klingon is one of the fastest growing languages in the world.
Colvill made his Klingon Karaoke debut two years ago while attending a sci-fi convention in Seattle. To do so he translated Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” using his Klingon dictionary. “You have never experienced Frank Sinatra till you have heard it from a Klingon,” Colvill said.
“Da wij,” the Klingon translation of “My Way” is still the most requested karaoke song at Bodacious Classics, and Colvill was only too happy to perform it last night.
Ryan Tuttle, a 24-year-old student, sat in a booth with his girlfriend and turned around in his seat to catch the performance. “We thought our friends were going to perform tonight,” Tuttle said. “They are drama students, but they flaked. At least we are being entertained by the Klingon.”
According to Colvill there are usually more Klingons in the crowd. “But it’s deer season,” he said, “they’re out blowing up bambi.”
Ward Young, a 35-year-old tile maker, congratulated Colvill after his Klingon rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” Young is the guitarist for Stovokor, a Portland based Klingon metal band. “Klingons are very macho, very militaristic, and metal is definitely their music. We dress up as Klingons when we perform.”
Members of Stovokor — which is what Klingon’s call the afterlife — often come to pay homage to Colvill. Said Young, “We wouldn’t be here without [Colvill]. He laid down the road before us.”
Not anyone can perform at Bodacious Classics — owner Ralph McKee has a policy. While performing his duties as DJ, McKee explained: “You have to wear a costume, the song has to be clean, and you have to bring your own music.”
McKee, 55, bought the bar six years ago when it was an oldies club specializing in music from the 50’s and 60’s. However, the business almost went belly up three years ago when the nearby Ross Island Bridge was closed for repairs. “It was a major catastrophe,” McKee said. “Eighty percent of the business in the area left, and on top of that, running a bar is ugly in Oregon. They are taxing us to death.”
In order to survive, McKee had to appeal to a younger market — one that was more willing to go out. “I wanted to redefine nostalgia. I asked my son for advice and he suggested the whole sci-fi genre. It’s been bringing in a younger clientele.”
McKee was introduced to Colvill through national syndicated radio host Clyde Lewis, whose weekly show “Ground Zero” features topics on the paranormal. When Lewis told McKee about Klingon Karaoke, he immediately went for it.
What started out as a sci-fi night has transformed into “intergalactic refueling station,” according to McKee. If one looks past the Star Trek posters and life size Yoda doll, they can still find the sports and classic car memorabilia. Saturday night is still oldies night, but according to McKee that might change. “Those folks don’t go out as much as the younger ones,” he said.
McKee is regularly adjusting the nightly themes. “Thursday is Klingon Karaoke, Tuesdays is Bar Wars [Star Wars theme], Mondays is Matrix, and we might start doing a Mad Max night.”
McKee himself is skeptical about the existence of extraterrestrial life and language, but just in case he’s wrong he has built a UFO landing strip in the parking lot. McKee said, “We are taking diversity to the extreme. Aliens are welcome, as long as their money is green.”