For love of karaoke 

Remember stage fright? The pathological fear of public speaking that reduces you to tears anytime you are forced to talk before a gathering of two or more?

There is an antidote to be found at your local watering hole. It's called karaoke.

Yes, of all the bar diversions invented over the years, ranging from darts to that Urban Cowboy bull rider gimmick, karaoke, which you might otherwise refer to as a singalong, has proven to be one of the most resilient, despite its embarrassment quotient.

This, however, is not your father's Sing Along With Mitch. I'm talking about you -- standing in front of a room full of total strangers, and voluntariy singing a popular song, complete with prerecorded accompaniment -- by yourself. Hardly the same as a group rendition of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" at the Golden Bee.

Submitted for your approval: individuals who would no more want to lead an open forum in meaningful social discourse than they would want to drive the wrong direction on I-25 on Friday afternoon, electing to share their questionable vocal talents with a similar throng. What strange aphrodisiac, this?

As I grew up, I coped with the gut-wrenching angst of the junior high school oral report, until I could eventually host TV and radio shows without breaking a sweat. Yet the first time the karaoke stage was suggested to me, it was back to junior high all over again; I was terrorized by the thought.

My brother and I were at Judge Baldwin's years ago, and I watched in bemusement as he slipped a piece of paper to the karaoke host, and rose at the microphone to be Neil Diamond (or maybe Neil Sedaka; it was, after all, a bar, and I'd been drinking). This is amazing, I thought. People who can't pronounce their own name without mumbling suddenly become Johnny Mathis, cloaked by an ego rush that overrides the fear of the inevitable tableside comment: "This guy really sucks!"

Two years later, appropriately prepped with several stiff drinks, I was on stage for the first time, and since that day, I've been hooked. Karaoke for a devotee of this artform is like searching for the perfect wave. (Hey, look; they've got a bunch of new Tom Jones songs!) It's an exhibitionist's dream, except with your clothes on. Look at me, look at me.

I've drifted from Paul's to Bogart's to the Erin Inn to the Polo Club. I've seen all the Sinatra clones. I've suffered through every woman who thinks she's Bonnie Raitt's lost sister; I've watched many a Generation Xer sing along to Prince, only to realize that there is no tune to any of his songs.

If you haven't yet found yourself in this more-than-compromising position, here are a few tips from a veteran of the karaoke scene:

Brevity is not merely the soul of wit, but of karaoke as well. Owing primarily to my age, I only sing songs that are three minutes or less in length, usually from the early 1960s (I always open with Johnny Tillotson's "Poetry In Motion," for example, because no one remembers the song, so you wouldn't know if I'm off key). I can hiccup those lyrics, like all Elvis wanna-bes, and never need to attempt a sustained tone. I may be bad, but I'm brief.

By contrast, most people select a whiney-ass country song, and occupy the stage for six minutes, four of which consist of a steel guitar interlude.

My recommendation: Keep it short. It will be appreciated.

If you're determined to embarrass yourself in the first place, pick a song you actually know, and be animated when you sing it. I, of course, like any other child on the 1960s, know all the lyrics to the songs I perform, and I don't need to stare at the TV monitor. If it's not important enough for you to commit your favorite song to memory, it's certainly not important enough for us to suffer through.

Don't select songs you think the audience wants to hear. We're too busy either making fun of you or picking our next song. Either way, we aren't paying attention to you. (Look; if any of us could really sing, we'd be getting paid for it.)

Above all, don't invite a group from your table to the stage, and sing:

"Love Shack" by the B-52s;

"Summer Nights" from the soundtrack of Grease; or "Friends in Low Places" by Garth Brooks

You see, even in a karaoke bar, the bar patrons have their limits.

Dan Rector is a Colorado Springs native, an attorney, who lives in Monument.


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