I came across this NPR story while I was on vacation this last week. It was an interview with Rob Sheffield, the author of Love Is A Mix Tape and Talking To Girls About Duran Duran, two books that I thoroughly enjoyed. The minute I heard the title and gist of his new book, Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love & Karaoke, I purchased it from Amazon without reading a single word of it.
You can listen to the interview here – it’s only 5+ minutes long.
The book addresses the untimely death of Sheffield’s wife from a pulmonary embolism – the events surrounding it are documented in Love Is A Mix Tape – and how singing karaoke helped him to heal the wounds that were inflicted on him by his wife’s passing. Sheffield admits to not being particularly good at karaoke, in fact, he sings quite badly. And how in the world could one expect to heal from such a devastating loss by going out to a karaoke bar and being surrounded by people singing bad versions of popular songs and even contributing to the badness yourself? Well, I’ll let Sheffield’s first sentence from the interview speak for itself.
“Karaoke starts when you conquer that primal fear of singing and just putting yourself up there and opening up.”
That statement really hit home for me. I’ve written a couple of posts about karaoke. My first attempt was at my cousin’s wedding last summer right around this time. I saw video of it and I vowed “never again!” But my friend Jess is a karaoke fiend and she talked me into going out to a karaoke place for her birthday with a bunch of friends and I ended up singing Madonna’s “Borderline” which I was told afterward by a complete stranger that I nailed. His comments were something to the effect that not many men could pull that song off, but I managed to do it. Earlier this summer, I went out for my birthday with Jess to A.J.’s on East Court in Des Moines and I did two songs – Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” and Cher’s “Dark Lady.” I went down in burning flames when trying to do “Dark Lady” but I think it had more to do with the fact that I don’t sing like that very often, and my voice was trashed after one song. At least that’s the story I’m going with.
I think that many of us do have a primal fear of singing. I sing all the time around the house, in the car and, as cliched as it may be, in the shower. However, I will not sing in front of friends in general. When I am riding in the car with a friend, I have to suppress the urge to sing. Maybe I shouldn’t do this – who the hell knows. Anyway, my point is that there is a fear of singing that exists among so many people. Perhaps it’s because we think we’re no good at it. I would say that a vast majority are at least passable enough to make it through a song at karaoke. Alcohol helps, but is not essential. But even more than a fear of singing is a fear of just letting it all hang out there. I am certainly guilty of this. I have spent the vast majority of my 41 years wondering what “other people think.” But as Wil Wheaton says, “one of the keys to happiness is not having a fuck to give about popularity contests or worry about what THEY will think.” Which is why I finally bit the karaoke bullet and just did it and why I will do it again and again and again. I can understand people that don’t want to do it – for some people, that’s not how they choose to push their envelope and put themselves out there. Different strokes, etc., etc. But there is something so liberating about going out and singing one of your favorite songs in front of strangers, even if you suck. Because whether or not you suck is really beside the point. It’s that you tried and that you were brave and that you were ripe for public ridicule and you did it anyway. If you’re like Jess and sing amazingly well, it’s easy, but even she branches out and tries new songs and has the potential to fail spectacularly.
I have songs that I would love to try at karaoke, but one thing I think I need to do is practice. That sounds dumb, right? But actually, it makes sense. You would be surprised how hard it is to sing a song you’ve sung all your life when the person that made it famous is no longer singing along with you. The thing I’ve found out about myself is that I flip between my regular voice and a head voice more than I thought. You kind of have to pick one when you’re singing by yourself – and that’s where practice can really come in handy. Fortunately, on Spotify, they have tons of different karaoke versions of songs so you can try them out in the comfort of your own home before you go out and put yourself up for public evisceration.
Inspired by Jess, I made a Spotify playlist of songs I want to do at karaoke sometime before I shuffle off this mortal coil. I add to it as I think of songs, and some of them I know are completely beyond my ability. But you have to have goals in life. And one of my goals in life is to be who I am, even if it doesn’t fit with the world’s idea of what I should be. There’s a good chance that I’m half way through my life and there’s no time to waste. I will never be famous or super important, but I feel music so deeply and it resonates so profoundly within me that I can’t help but want to sing. It’s one of the things that I really want my daughter to remember about me after I’m gone – “Dad was always singing. He was such a weirdo.”
As Karen Carpenter once sang (much better than just about anyone else I might add) – “Just sing – sing a song.” I think I need another night at karaoke pronto.