Revised and reprinted by permission of the author and the High Plains Reader.
“What is too silly to be said may be sung — well yes; but what is too subtle to be said, or too deeply felt, or too revealing or too mysterious — these things can also be sung and ONLY be sung.”
– Kenneth Clark, Civilization
“Karaoke is, without doubt, the definitive social equalizer. Regardless of your walk of life, no one is immune to the fear and nervousness of stepping up to a microphone to sing in front of a captive audience. Whether performing for friends, family, work colleagues or complete strangers, the fear of making a complete “ass” of yourself can haunt us all.”
– Wikipedia [twitter] simond3877
If you want to know what North Dakotans and other Americans are really thinking and feeling, I suggest you take in a karaoke night at your local tavern. They now exist in non-smoking facilities as well as the traditional ones which suck the life out of your lungs, so there is no longer the excuse of avoiding them for health reasons.
In my opinion, there is far more honesty in karaoke than in network news and it’s much less painful. Only sports demands as much honesty as music, which is why it is so natural for people of all tastes to turn to one or the other, as a kind of refuge from dishonesties borne in the struggle for ones daily bread.
As for karaoke, a stab at defining this compelling culture was made in the delightful movie, “Duets,” starring Huey Lewis and the amazing Gwyneth Paltrow.
While people lie to themselves and their representatives about taxes and crime, they “face the music” when they do karaoke. You either know and love the song you are doing or you are as dead as a door nail. I have “crashed and burned” many a time.
I have been a singer all of my life, first as a Soprano [Treble] in my church choir in Evanston, Illinois and then as a 2nd Tenor in various mediums from church choirs to folk singing and barbershop. I have sung professionally [ie. been paid for gigs in Spanish Light Opera, supper clubs, and private parties], and have fronted bands as diverse as swing, country, dixieland and rock ‘n roll, but I never have considered myself a professional musician. I am not classically trained, and was always far too lazy about practicing the craft. I also have too many friends and family who are the real deal, including my daughter.
My fellow tenors in the Chancel Choir of the 1st Presbyterian Church in Bismarck all read music far better than I do. I “read” music by ear. That is enough to sing with other good singers, and to front a band, but no where’s near enough to sing karaoke.
In choral and band singing, flexibility is possible, because you are singing with people. Karaoke singing is driven by a machine, and there is neither mercy nor flexibility in the process. The keys to success are memorization and mimicry.
Fortunately, human beings make excellent mimics, and have been so since we emerged from the ooze. With karaoke, however, it is not “monkey see monkey do,” but “monkey hear, monkey do.” That doesn’t sound very exciting, but when we monkeys are doing Sinatra, Elvis, Johnny Cash and June Carter, Bobby Darin, George Strait, Neil Diamond, Bob Seger, Janis Joplin and Patsy Cline, it can be pretty cool. Doo Wop, Funk, Country, Blues, Rap, Raggae — you name it. There are people all over who can do this stuff and do it well. If you close your eyes and open your ears and imaginations, the magic of the great ones will embrace you for a few short moments.
There are more good singers out there taking up the microphone before the scripted screen than folks who are unsophisticated about karaoke might imagine. Besides, orchestrations of familiar songs cover up for mediocre singers, and if a bad singer begins, all you have to do is order up another stiff drink and enjoy the show. That is the democratic part of karaoke, and certainly no worse than putting up with kids with little or no talent in Grade School and High School productions, that every parent of an actually talented kid is familiar with.
Bad singing usually doesn’t happen until one to two hours before closing time, when “liquid courage” has fortified good and bad singers alike, unless there has been an all day excursion that lands revelers at the bar well lubricated and tone deaf. Earlier in the evening, only the ones who dare to let others hear the sound of their voice usually step to the microphone.
Change in social attitudes is as noticeable in karaoke music as it has been in other athletic and artistic forms, like the universal popularity of black music among white folks, long before segregation by law and custom ended in this country.
A case in point is the increasing intolerance of young women of today towards the historic and habitual violence of men against their sex. The popularity of the Dixie Chicks in our conservative western portions of a Red State like North Dakota is instructive. Though vilified in a disgusting campaign against their careers orchestrated by the George W. Bush White House, this Texas trio’s celebration of two women who killed a wife beater, “Good Bye Earl,” has been well and raucously rendered by women in karaoke bars I have noted from Wisconsin to Montana over the past ten years.
Since karaoke is so much more honest than the political dialogue that FOX News and the Fargo Forum set for us, I suggest a few songs for 2012 that politicians and followers of politics in Washington and Bismarck might want to work up, in case they have the urge for a moment of truth about themselves or a political adversary in a karaoke setting, and are safely in an environment where no one either knows their name, or really cares. A brief sampling of my favorites would include:
- President Barack Obama: “Black and Blue” by Louis Armstrong and “Daddy Cool” by The Rays
- First Lady Michelle Obama: “Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady” by The Commodores
- House Speaker, John Boehner : “Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
- Former House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi:“Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room” by Brownsville Station
- Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney: “Do You Love Me?” by The Contours
- North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple: Theme from “Bonanza” by David Rose
- U.S. Senator John Hoeven [R-ND]: “Coward of the County” by Kenny Rogers
- Elizabeth Warren, Candidate for the U.S. Senate [D-MA]: “I Feel Lucky” by Mary Chapin Carpenter
- Congresswoman and Presidential Candidate Michelle Bachmann (R-MN): “You Cheated, You Lied, [You Said That you loved Me],” by The Shangri-Las
- Congressman Rick Berg [R-ND] – “Mac the Knife” by Bobby Darin
- North Dakota State Representative Betty Grande [R-Fargo]: “Poison Ivy” by The Coasters
I’m sure followers of the Prairie Independent all have their own pet songs of yesteryear which most aptly fit newsmakers of today and tomorrow, but I will leave such thoughts and quotes to their imaginations and in the more competent hands of the PI’s entertainment writers and editors.