Wednesday, October 04, 2006


On Saturday night I went out with John B and some of his friends to celebrate his birthday the best way we knew how – with bad Chinese food and karaoke!

Like all worthwhile things that come out of the orient, karaoke has a pronounced metaphysical dimension. It embodies the Taoist philosophy of yin and yang; its lures and its revulsions are mirror images of each other. People sing because they simultaneously crave and fear the attention. The songs they sing are of a similarly dual nature; while they may be bland and forgettable when played on the radio, they are revealed in all their true horror, trite yet memory-searing, when stripped of their sophistication and belted out by a drunken quantity surveyor.

Indeed, the Lionel Richie / Diana Ross duet ‘Endless Love’ hangs over all karaoke proceedings like an ominous shadow. And if someone doesn’t sing that particular song, they’ll certainly sing something very much like it. Possibly Celine Dion will be involved. It’s all too ghastly to contemplate, and yet contemplate it we must, if we seek enlightenment.

The people at my table made around a dozen selections, but between our songs we were treated to performances by the handful of others in the restaurant.

Table 18: An old man, about 70, wearing drawstring pants (because belts are so confining, aren’t they?) teamed with mismatching casualwear from Target circa 1992. He was accompanied by his mail order bride, about half his age, and what was presumably their little girl, aged about ten. He sang dull songs, but he didn’t sing them badly. His wife’s voice was even better, but sadly her taste in music wasn’t. She didn’t actually sing Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’, but I suspect that this was only because there was a scratch on that disc or something.

Table 22: A man in his thirties, sitting by himself at a table for eight. He sang obscure ballads, if ‘singing’ is the correct word for it. It would be more accurate to say that he whined, almost inaudibly, into the microphone, with all the sadness that can only come from going out alone on a Saturday night to sing karaoke in a three-quarters empty Chinese restaurant.

Sweet merciful crap, man! Just collect stamps or something! Preserve what dignity you have left!

Table 29: A trio of Vietnamese 50-somethings, who had a whole disc of saccharine Vietnamese love songs to sing. If you want to know what saccharine Vietnamese love songs sound like, they sound exactly like saccharine Western love songs, only more nasal.

John B sang ‘Beat It’ and ‘White Wedding’, complete with bustin’ dance moves, then concluded with a duet version of ‘Let It Be’ with his wife. His friend PL yawped his way through ‘Delilah’ and ‘It’s Not Unusual’, dancing as if an invisible man was attacking him with a belt sander, and adding his own vocal reverb when he thought the backing tracks were too prosaic. I stuck with one of my urbane old skool favourites, ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You’, which basically involved molesting the memory of Sinatra like there was no tomorrow. I followed up with Elvis’ classic ‘Return To Sender’. Here’s a tip for all prospective karaokers: the chorus of ‘Return to Sender’ has, like, three notes in it. It’s perfect for the man who has everything except a good vocal range.

But gold star of the night went to the quiet and reserved JM, who resisted the lure of the microphone right up till the end. Then, goaded by our taunts and cowing to our demands, she got up and let loose with the most kickass version of ‘Born To Be Wild’ you could ever hope to hear. I will not soon forget the sight of her stomping furiously in her long black gothy dress, growling “Getcha motor runnin’…. get out on the highway!” with such intensity that you’d think she had a Harley and a tattooed fellow named Ripper waiting outside.


Blogger Jege (Jen) said...

"...dancing as though an invisible man was attacking him with a belt sander".

Oh man, that's PERFECT!!!!

9:28 PM  

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