“They sit at the bar, and put bread in my jar, and say, “Man, what are you doin’ here?” – Billy Joel, ‘Piano Man’
It was an impeccably seamless transition. One minute she’s singing, really belting out a tune, with a voice so phenomenal the hairs on the back of your neck are standing at attention. Then, song over, she hands off the microphone, walks over to a table, and begins busing beer glasses. It was one fluid motion, from diva to dishmaiden, and within its juxtaposition lay the unique complexity of Michelle Hazelton.
She’s the Peacock’s only female bouncer, but that’s merely the tip of an elaborate iceberg for this particular Jill of All Trades. At any given moment, you might find her bar-backing, serving food, busing tables, checking ID’s at the door, breaking up a bar fight, or singing karaoke.
At home she might be writing one of her novels, perhaps the one that compares – lovingly tongue in cheek – children with parasites. “Kids suck the life out of parents, but we love it,” she says wistfully, with a coy smile.
Maybe she’ll be working on an original song to add to her repertoire. She has played music on many occasions around town, developing a devoted following. Perhaps, in a more culinary mood, she’ll bake a cake. With this unique mother of three, anything is possible.
Her goal, at work, is to avoid confrontation. “I talk, and reason with people,” but there are exceptions. “I’ve been punched in the face.” A few years ago, on Halloween, she told a guy he had to leave. “He looked at his friends, said ‘watch this’ and he swung at me.” Hazelton grabbed him, threw him on the ground, and, with help from another bouncer, showed him the door. But, usually, “More people want to hug me than hit me, when I kick them out.”
A fellow bouncer attests how valuable Hazelton is to Peacock Security. “When a customer needs to be kicked out, it is always awesome to have a very strong woman, who can go up, and get the customer out with as little violence as possible.” He says there’s been many occasions when she has saved co-workers from physical harm by deftly diffusing conflict.
Hazelton says, “I have all the respect in the world for the guys that I work with. I think of them as brothers.” Being the sole female bouncer at the most storied bar in Corvallis is cool, and she’s damn good at her job, but her truly astounding creative gifts are musical. A Peacock patron says, “The most amazing thing about Michelle is that she’s her own individual. You don’t file her under anything, because she’s herself.”
A few years ago, her authenticity faced a curious test.
Auditioning for the TV show X-Factor in Denver – after winning her age category at the first round of auditions in Eugene – she read the contract fine print, and found a deal breaker. Besides giving them rights to everything she did musically for five years, “basically owning me for five years,” the contract also stipulated the producers would have the option of falsifying her personal back story. She sadly decided: no deal. “My heart wasn’t in it… I just wanted to go home.” So, she did the musical equivalent of a boxer taking a dive – albeit with admirable intent – and enjoyed the plane ride home.
Hazelton grew up in Corvallis, Philomath and Springfield, among other places. “My mom tells me a story about my grandpa taking me into the Peacock tavern, when I was a baby, to show everybody his granddaughter.”
Hazelton moved back to Corvallis around the turn of the millennium, returning to the town and people she loves. She had many musical influences growing up, “Everyone on my dad’s side played something.” Her mom listened to Blues records while cleaning the house. An uncle who lived with them influenced Hazelton musically as well, playing “a lot of Blue Oyster Cult… that era of music, a lot of Classic Rock. My mom was really into New Age Rock: Bon Jovi, Cindy Lauper… The Bangles… All the new stuff, she was totally hip to it.”
Hazelton picked up a guitar for the first time in Job Corps. “I never really wanted to play guitar because I wanted to be a guitarist, I played guitar because I wanted to make music that I could sing to.” The first song she learned was Queensryche’s ‘Silent Lucidity’. Her mom taught her it’s best to learn to drive on a manual transmission, so you’ll be able to drive anything, and it’s best to learn how to fingerpick a guitar, instead of hiding behind a pick.
Hazelton aims to bring back the art of the songwriter, to help counteract the disappointing scarcity of good modern songwriters. “When I grew up, you had, you know, Joni Mitchell and all these people who are saying stuff… A lot of folk music, because I grew up around a lot of hippies… There was a story involved in the music. There was something to be said, and something to be heard, and something to talk about. Music, lately, doesn’t seem like it carries any of that.”
A local bartender who has known Hazelton for years says, “She has put together free lunches for low income kids, around her neighborhood. She has really done a lot for the community. She’s a tough bird, as far as her job goes. She’s good at controlling the party, and still letting everyone have fun. Her voice is obviously amazing, we all know that… and she has always been there for everyone, even if she doesn’t really know them. She’ll bend over backwards to try to help.”
At some point, reading this, you may’ve begun to think we here at tCA are pulling your leg – that we’ve created a musical Sidd Finch of sorts – but be assured, Hazelton is real. Quite frankly, she’s about as authentic as you can get.
By Seth Aronson