How Karaoke Has Taken Community Singing to Frightening Heights
by Manuel L. Quezon III
When I was a wee tot, my father once resigned in disgust from a private club to which his father had belonged, because, as he said angrily, “It’s been reduced to something like the goddamned Rotary.”
“What do you mean,” I asked dear old dad. I didn’t know what the Rotary was, but it sounded like an evil, evil thing.
He snorted and finally spat out, “they…they…do community singing! I refuse to belong to a club where the chief activity consists of singing ‘The Beer Barrel Polka’ in unison!” He cursed some more and stomped out of the room.
He never did tell me what the Rotary was, or why anything remotely resembling that fine association of merchants (as I later on discovered the Rotary to be) should be a cause for horror, but I did get the distinct impression that “community singing” was something for geriatric imbeciles. Now my father was many things, including geriatric, but an imbecile he was not.
I discovered a few years later that “community singing” was an activity not restricted to the ‘We Remember Pearl Harbor’ crowd. In fact, I must confess with a bit of embarrassment, in my pubescent years I did my share of community singing.
Before you pelt me with tomatoes, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, allow me to plead extenuating circumstances. One has little else to do in a school bus full of fellow teenagers. But beyond learning “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” and every lewd variation possible of “Hey Teacher” by Pink Floyd, I remain firmly of the opinion that community singing is best left to bored, pimply kids, and should never be considered an activity fit for adults. Unless you are a pro, a performer in, say, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Then community singing is really performance and not communal bleating.
It was only in my mid-twenties that I came to discover a phenomenon that began in Japan, the name of which I can only utter with a shudder: Karaoke. Our poor planet, already melting at the poles due to the unbridled flatulence of cows, now seems populated by people who find inflicting their singing on others, fun.
My friends and I used to go to a little fish grill place in the middle of nowhere, because they served delicious tuna.
Across from the place was what we in the Philippines call a beer garden. A sort of bar with a thatched roof and tables arranged around a large television. Beneath the television was a stool. Inebriated, potbellied men would teeter on the stool, clutching a microphone for dear life, and proceed to sing.
Have you ever heard “Unchained Melody” belted out, off-key, by a beer-soaked singer? The distress it causes to the listener should be considered a crime against humanity.
Karaoke, like all truly diabolical schemes, is an activity that feeds on man’s worst characteristics. In the case of karaoke, the lemming-like nature of man, and man’s insufferable vanity, and the sort of drinking that leads to fatal accidents, are what makes karaoke so irresistible. One need only make goo-goo eyes at a screen, on which appear words and a helpful little ball (and why a ball? would it be too obvious to demand an investigation into whether or not the first bouncing karaoke balls were red, like the red circle in the Japanese flag?), and croak along, while a flock of similarly-minded boobies nod appreciatively, knowing full well that soon they will be able to inflict their warblings on their fellow boobie now belting out songs. Madness, I tell you.
Eventually the cacophony emanating from that beer house from hell led us to discontinuing our eating at the fish grill (that, and a frightening episode concerning the frightening effect of cod and it’s oil on one’s plumbing, but that’s another story). We never saw that beer garden again. Karaoke, on the other hand, kept following me everywhere I went.
“Karaoke joints” sprouted everywhere. Where I’m from, more often than not, a karaoke bar can be identified by three sinister letters, in lurid, glowing neon colors, on its sign: KTV. Karaoke TV. KTV places usually sport signs in Japanese, too, and are staffed by bargirls in skimpy little dresses, waiting to hop on the laps of first, Japanese, then eventually, Korean tourists, and in more recent years, my fellow Filipinos. Karaoke may have begun in Japan, but it took over all of Asia faster than the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy could ever have accomplished. And now, from what I am told, it has even conquered the United States.
So from Tokyo to Manila, Shanghai to Saigon, Singapore to San Francisco, after work, supposedly sane people gallop from their places of work into karaoke bars, and proceed to indulge in communal sound pollution. They practically eat microphones; they damage the eardrums of their peers; they do injustices to songs as to want me to cry out to Heaven for musical vengeance: and they find it fun.
I tell you, the phenomenon frightens me. What frightens me even more, is that fellow Filipinos solemnly assure me, that Karaoke was really invented by a Filipino.