What I’ve Learned in the Karaoke Box
I’ve been to karaoke dozens of times now. When I first heard the word, I imagined standing on a stage and serenading hundreds of strangers. But that’s only happened once twice three times: at the city hall party, where the ALTs and a couple hundred bureaucrats joined shoulders to sing “We Are the World”; on a ferryboat in Nagasu, when we teachers sang “Let It Be” to the students as we pulled into shore; and at my neighborhood festival, when a guy I’d never met asked me to sing “Hotel California” with him. I sang at the Orange Garden with the small children sometimes. A college student was there once, and he loved Oasis and The Beatles, so we sang snatches of a dozen tunes together. He exclaimed, “NO MUSIC, NO LIFE!”
I went in Hong Kong with a friend’s family and realized they were all accomplished singers. It was like a free concert. Others use instrumentals to drink and say “Those were the good old days!” but they were rushing to work out three-part harmony before the chorus repeated. I went in Kyoto with my own family. We had a good time! (I could have sworn we sounded better in person than we do in the recording, though.) I went with my classmates in Taipei last Friday. (By the way, the karaoke box we visited here had a buffet in the lobby, and you got 4 hours of music for $10 a person!)
Most of my trips were with Japanese teachers or other foreign teachers after dinner, in a private room seating between a dozen and two dozen people. Snack bars have machines, too, and the waitresses there seem to know all the songs so they can help out someone who needs a lift or a duet partner. The best deal in Tamana was all-you-can-drink for 2 hours with the option of ordering snacks on the side, and the second-best pizza I had in Japan was at Karaoke 55 (“Go-Go“), the 4-story box with shining neon lights that’s visible from anywhere in Tamana. 55 also had a tall Surprise Birthday Sundae; sometimes we’d order it and then figure out whose birthday was closest before it was brought in with the candle sparking.
I taught elementary school. I can burst into song at any time. I’ve already done it three or four times here, as a student. So I love karaoke. Whenever I go dancing I end up talking too much, but when I go to karaoke I sometimes melt into song after song after song. I learn about people by what they choose to sing. I’ve had marathons where teachers requested every English song they knew and expected me to follow along. I’ve seen hilarious performances and had disturbing conversations. I’ve had many uplifting moments, where we realized that different as we were, we loved the same song and had had the same emotion before, or a song reminded us of something beautiful we’d experienced together. Here are some things I keep in mind when I go:
I can’t drink and sing. I don’t like getting drunk in general, because unlike most other people, I lose my edge and get quieter when I go under, but my voice also goes flat, as if my throat’s a guitar and I just loosened the strings.
I support everyone who’s singing. If you think someone’s goofy or a bad singer, going quiet or negative will kill the mood more than the culprit would have himself. Let live, and the moment will pass with everyone still in good spirits. So I clap or chat or sing along instead of hating, and soon I’m enjoying how individual the other person is.
When selecting songs, I try to pick things everyone knows. I know I’m not going to change anyone’s life with my voice. It’s better if we all relive a moment or a performer together.
I make an exception to sing one song in a language that no one else knows, to shake it up and let people revel in my strangeness an exotic foreign culture for a few minutes. I redeemed myself at the Partridge Family Karaoke Night I mentioned before by singing in Japanese. Specifically this song, which is better known in Hong Kong as this song.
I think if you’re keeping it cool at karaoke you’re missing the point. Dancing, interpretive or otherwise, is welcome. I like to sing along and Santa-laugh the whole time, and to chat with people who are sitting alone.
However, people want to fly solo sometimes. I knew a father who could sing in falsetto, and when he ordered up The Lion Sleeps Tonight, people asked me to keep it down because he was so good, even though I was the person who introduced that song to him the year before! I had another friend who brought down the house with “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” every single time, so we let him spread his wings and fly.
Finally, if you don’t have an embarrassing photo of yourself at karaoke, you haven’t been there enough. Guess what song this was?
Let’s go there some time! I promise I won’t bite.