Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I still hate karaoke (unedited)

When something is fresh, new and exciting, people want in on it.

That's why karaoke was such a big deal when it burst on the American bar scene in the early 1990s. Everybody who ever wanted to sing in a band now had a chance to perform for a crowd of disinterested alcoholics, and you didn't even have to know the lyrics to do so!

For reasons I can't figure out, the fad didn't die. It's not the rage it once was, but bars continue to cater to singers who just never caught a break, as well as singers who have no business in front of a microphone.

Years ago I was visiting a buddy in the city where I worked for 2-1/2 years during the mid-1990s. We went to one of the better local watering holes one night, only to find it was karaoke night. This city was lacking for entertainment options most of the year, unless you lived for hunting, fishing and snowmobiling, so its inevitable that dozens of people filed through the bar that night, karaoke or not. (This brings to mind a whole other blog I have to be sure and get to in the near future. Memo to self: icebox Internet.)

Surveying the crowd that night, one thing became crystal clear, people don't really enjoy karaoke unless it's a member of their group performing, good or bad.

When somebody is belting out a tune, it's hard to have a conversation with anybody else in the bar, so whatever song the forlorn songstress is crooning inevitably dominates the room. As I surveyed tables throughout the bar, you'd think you were looking at prisoners sitting in their cells, waiting for the march down death row to the electric chair. Only those sitting at the table where Donny or Marie hailed from seemed to enjoy the song. It didn't matter if the singing was spectacular or painful, it was their friend or relative singing, that made it enjoyable.

That was one depressing scene.

Fast forward 10 years or more and I'm heading out to a Twin Cities restaurant on a Wednesday night. This restaurant has the token bar area, and on Wednesday nights the establishment favors the poor saps who mysteriously find their way into the bar with a night of karaoke. So why was I there?

I have worked at a haunted attraction for the past five Halloween seasons, and several of my co-workers from said establishment find their way to this bar for karaoke on Wednesday nights. Despite my distaste for karaoke, I bit the bullet for a night in order to get together with a handful of these folks. Since my girlfriend has abandoned me for nearly two weeks in order to travel west of the central time zone, I decided I should reward my loneliness and tempt my suicidal tendencies by enduring two-plus hours of karaoke.

The ringleader of the weekly gathering is a woman who use to live walking distance from this bar, and enjoys putting on a show for the crowd on a weekly basis. I don't know if she ever tried out for American Idol, but I would bet your left arm the thought has crossed her mind more than a dozen times.

I'm not sure if Sheila sings Evanescence songs because she kind of looks like lead singer Amy Lee or if she kind of looks like Amy Lee because she sings Evanescence songs. Either way I sense the crowd is favored to a couple of such tunes every single Wednesday night. Lucky me, I got to hear "Bring Me to Life" twice tonight. It's not a bad song, I'm just not into it, and Sheila represents the karaoke divas of the world. She can sing, and when she does, she overpowers the room. I don't know why that so easily irritates me, but it does. Sometimes you can tune out somebody you don't want to listen to, to a limited extent, but the Sheilas of the world are vocal gymnasts, and when they step up to the microphone, you're going to notice the vocal equivalent of the uneven parallel bars, you don't have a choice.

Did I want to kill myself when Sheila was singing? No, and given she is somebody I know, I actually appreciated it slightly. But I don't get hot or bothered when people sing songs I'm not interested in, and when their performance doubles as a Star Search audition, I'm less than excited, because they're never singing a song I really dig.

Besides Sheila there were several others who sang during my tenure at the bar, although the bar was rather empty. I was told this was an anomaly. One dude sang a couple of songs after I arrived, and he was horrid. Was he Bob Dylan's illegitimate child?

Another dude, he was a poor man's Marvin Gaye. The dude could carry the tunes without being overbearing. I appreciated his efforts.

A couple members of my group sang, with varying degrees of success. If they weren't part of my group, I would have been totally disinterested, however, and not impressed.

Despite all the things I dislike about karaoke, I have to admit I was entertained a few times tonight. Several members of my group did a competent job of singing "Bohemian Rhapsody," and Sheila did an impromptu duet of "Summer Nights'" with a guy who seemed to favor the 70s lounge tunes when it was his turn on the mic. Those were more fun than I expected. Another duet featuring two other members of my group was better than I expected, too. At the moment, the song escapes me.

No, nobody asked me to gouge my eyes out or set my hair on fire, it wasn't really that painful of an experience. And I vowed to return some Wednesday night this winter if Sheila agreed to sing a song I requested. (She either claims not to know pop songs from the 80s or says she only knows the chorus. She's too much of a diva to attempt to sing a song if she doesn't know the lyrics and melody by heart, evidently.)

I guess you could say I softened slightly when it comes to karaoke, I still contend karaoke is the entertainment of the criminally insane.

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