The first time I performed karaoke was at an Austin club called Common Interest in or around 1999. My friend and editor Kate was something of a marvel; she blew my mind with a performance of David Cassidy's “I Think I Love You” in the voice of a vampire (she later told me it was Marlene Dietrich but, you know, same thing). And what's funny about that night is that I can remember with clarity what everyone else in our group sang — Kim sang “Sister Christian,” Greg sang “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Kevin sang “White Wedding” — but I cannot tell you, cannot even guess what lyrics came out of my mouth onstage. I only remember the nervousness of anticipation, and then the not-nervousness that followed, after I realized that karaoke wasn't really a big deal. That is was, in fact, kind of fun.
All that year, we went back to Common Interest. A lot. We started having karaoke at our office holiday parties; friends started having karaoke parties at their houses; it became the fabric of our lives in some way, some extension of our identity. Yes, I was a writer and editor at an alt-weekly, but I also killed on “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and knew every single word to “Paradise City” without looking at the monitor. For years, even into adulthood, I had been crushingly self-conscious, and years at the alt-weekly had made me so uncertain and flinchy about my artistic opinions that it was enormously liberating to just get up in front of strangers and not really give a rip. That's right, mothafuckas: I love “Flashdance.”
Since then, I have sung karaoke up and down the West Coast and up and down the East Coast and many places in between. I have sung karaoke in South America (where they love Frank Sinatra, by the way). One night, my friend Lisa and I rented a private karaoke room in the city for an hour — just popped in, sang a dozen songs each at the top of our lungs, and moved along.
I think if you've never sung karaoke — or if you hate karaoke (which may, come to think of it, be the same thing) — then this sort of mad impulse probably sounds bizarre. I can't really explain it. Any more than someone can explain to me why they love “World of Warcraft” or fantasy football. But I know that when I find people who share that passion, I immediately like them.
Today in Salon, I have an interview with Brian Raftery, a music writer who has just penned a book about karaoke called “Don't Stop Believin'.” You can read it here.