Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Are You Ready To Rock?

The first time was in the late 90s. North Carolina, vacation, drunk on Long Island Iced Teas or some such terrible drink that seems like a good idea when you're in your early 20s. I don't remember it, but the next morning I awoke to the sound of guffawing--the 7 folks I was away with crying with laughter. When I stumbled out of my cave, I saw what they had on TV: me, belting out "Billie Jean," dance moves and all.

The second time was "Total Eclipse of the Heart," sung like my very life depended on each "turn around."

I do not remember the 3rd or 4th or any other number, like losing track of how many people you've kissed in a lifetime, but I can say this: I will sing the crap out of some karaoke.

The last time was Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation." Crushed.

The joke is that karaoke means "tone deaf," which is a crock; it means "empty orchestra," as in nobody's home, as in your self-consciousness has fled the pit--the temporo-parietal junction doused in booze--which is what enables you to get up in front of a group of strangers and sing "Born To Run" so viciously you almost crap in your panties.

For five years I worked karaoke night at a filthy, South Jersey dive bar, and while soberly listening to five hours of drunk howling takes a certain Buddhist ability to tune out the physical world, I never minded it much. My argument was always the same: unlike the metal-band Friday evenings, I didn't have to worry about fights on karaoke nights. Really, it's just nerds getting together to poorly sing Meatloaf, to kill Frank Sinatra for good, to move their bedroom mirrors into the public space, close their eyes, and sing Queen into their pink hairbrush handles. That can't just be me...

But like all things in this lovely world, people screw it up with their idiocy and violence. Last week, on China's Valentine's Day, a 4-year-old "little emperor" bogarted the karaoke mic, encouraged by his parents, and the kids' two uncles started pushing and shoving and bro-ing out. That's when Mr. Hui, one of the uncle's nephews, reached his boiling point, went into the back of the noodle shop to fetch a cleaver, then promptly hacked both dudes to death. OVER KARAOKE.

Insert incredulous, Keanu-Reeves-styled whoa here.

But that's one incident, right? Surely not the fault of karaoke. Surely that bastion of feel-goodery is still safe?

In 2010, the Philippines made headlines for "The My Way Killings," a string of murders thought mostly to have stemmed from people singing Sinatra off-key. God, I hate that song. That's one of the side effects of having worked karaoke for so long; there are dozens of songs that are just ruined for me. Sinatra, as a whole, is done. I mentioned the bar was in Jersey, right? They give Ol' Blue Eyes a handy every chance they get up there. But still: a karaoke-themed crime spree? Sheesh.

There are reports all over the Webs that "in Thailand,  a man shot eight of his neighbors, including his brother-in-law, after tiring of their tuneless reprisals of John Denver's 'Country Roads,'" though I'd be damned if I can find the primary source on that. How many times could you take "Country Roads" in a row? I've got the cap at one. Actually, make that zero. And what terrible irony: isn't John Denver, the dude that sang with Kermit and looked like he was made of hemp, maybe the most peaceful dude ever?

And a few years back, a guy singing Coldplay's "Yellow" got clocked (<--see what I did there?) by a gal in the audience who'd had enough, saying that his "singing sucked" and that the song "fucking sucked." Amen, sister. I mean, anytime you sing a song and the entire cast of Grey's Anatomy magically appears out of the ether you know you've made a terrible, terrible choice.

The violence-during-karaoke is enough of a phenomenon that Slate ran an article titled "Karaoke Rage," that attempts to get to the bottom of why this kind of violent behavior keeps popping up. A few arguments are made: (1) too many combustible elements are together in a bar (alcohol, exhibitionism, humans). Okay, sure. But I've never seen Trivia Night end with 100 stitches, and in the wake of the smart phone, I know those sonsabitches are cheating. I'm smart enough to win, damnit! (2) We have such strong feelings about music because they are attached to our memories (check out another of my entries for music-memory) that we will defend them with a cleaver. And (3) because the Internet--that Playland of exhibitionism--has accustomed most of us to criticism of the anonymous (read: cowardly) variety, most are ill-equipped to handle "live-action cultural criticism."

It's the last item that I take issue with. You ever want to get me off on a rant, mention the word "bullying." Particularly cyber-bullying. I think it's unfortunate that we live in a virtual world that allows for so much anonymous, troll-y, mean-spirited criticism, but I also don't think that your inability to go on and brush your shoulder off after some asshat says something mean about you, your singing, your oddly misshapen feet, whatfuckingever, justifies violence. What happened to not fighting? To walking away, the high road, to being the bigger person? What the hell happened to not stabbing people when they rock the mic?  Seems like a fair enough thing to want in this world.

I'll say this: next time I'm at karaoke, I'll still sing. Madonna, any song from Chicago, Nancy Sinatra, whatevs, but next time I'm in Asia, I think I'll pass. After all, I'm not that good...

No comments:

Post a Comment