I like to sing in the shower, and to my own ears, it sounds pretty good. For a long time no independent judgment was available to confirm mine. My wife refused to comment on my singing. She also refrains from commenting on my fashion “nonsense” (her words, not mine), at least since what is referred to around our house as the “High Waters Incident.” With teenagers in the house, sufficient critique now exists, some of it reminiscent of Simon, that what ever my star power in the shower, it has not transferred to the Karaoke stage. (According to said critics, my volume far exceeds my talent.
Undeterred, (They don’t listen to me, why should I listen to them?) I continue to practice, sure that someday American Idol auditions will come to a city near me. I want to be ready.
The problem is, I only know three songs “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” “Nights in White Satin,” and “Barney is a Dinosaur.” For some reason, only the first one is on the song list at most Karaoke bars.
Karaoke originated in Japan and was brought to the U.S. as another cheap Japanese import that squeezed out higher-quality U.S. bar entertainment, such as that woman at the end of the bar who can tie a knot in a maraschino cherry stem with her tongue. (I’d like to see that on American Idol.)
Wikipedia (almost as unreliable a source as teenagers) says that the name comes from kara which means “empty” and okesutora, “orchestra.” But I have it on good authority that the word actually comes from the Japanese phrase, Kari oke doki, which can be translated loosely as either as “I’m too drunk to care what you think,” or “It sounded better in the shower.”
Though karaoke has been wildly popular in Japan from the '60s on, no one is really sure how karaoke went from a minor annoyance when you’re trying to actually hold a conversation in a bar to the greatest threat against the American Way of Life since disco. (According to the Tea Party, since Karaoke wasn’t born in America, it isn’t qualified to be a real American pastime. Though tying a maraschino cherry stem with your tongue is still safe.)
Personally, I blame Bob Dylan. Until Bob Dylan came along, we all thought singing in public was for those hyper-talented people like Frank Sinatra or Elvis— or at least those who had the guts to dress like Elvis, no matter how bad they sang. The almost talented were relegated to lounges in Vegas. (Thank goodness, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.) And the rest of us should sit respectfully in the audience waving our cigarette lighters at the appropriate moments — or limited ourselves to singing in the shower.
Then Bob Dylan came along.
I admit, the man has talent — though he wouldn’t last one round on American Idol. He can write songs. “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Like a Rolling Stone” are classics. He can play the guitar. Nashville Skyline is a wonderful album. Unfortunately, not content with writing songs for others, or being in the backup band, he decided he could sing. (History doesn’t tell us if anyone agreed with him, though he was booed when he performed at the Newport Folk Festival. The conventional wisdom is that the audience was incensed because he and his band played electric guitars, a horror to his folky, hippie, Earth-mother audience. I think it was because with the beefed up sound system the audience could actually hear Dylan for the first time.
Prior to the Newport Folk Festival, those sitting respectfully in the audience were too stoned to realize what a really bad a singer he was. (It was the 60s.) After he’d recorded a couple of albums and made way too much money, it was too late.
If there had been one sober person in that audience we might have never had Karaoke. It’s no mistake, for instance, that Karaoke was invented at about the same time Dylan was recording. Some Japanese wanna-be listened respectfully to Bob Dylan and thought, “I could do that.” And then there was Karaoke.
Now, we listen to someone on the Karaoke stage with few inhibitions and even less talent, and instead of reacting like we should, and throwing a few Simonesque insults, we applaud and think, “I could do that.” And we’re right. We could do that. Of course, there are lots of “thats” we could do. The question is whether we want to do them in public.