Who Is Okie, and Why Must We Carry Him?
As printed in Proteus, the Journal of the Delaware Valley Mensa  (Apr 2012)


                Today, I salute one of the few safe spaces for exposing one’s true musical tastes, however eclectic. Here, you are free to admit in public that, yes, you know and love this song. And what of it, when the person next to you knows and loves that song? Here, grown men concede that, yes, they know the choreography to that NSYNC video, and it goes like this. Here, my friend – a Korean woman in her 30s, who listens to hip hop 23 hours a day – acknowledges what she calls her “secret shame” (her undying love of the Miley Cyrus song, “Party in the USA”). But here, there is no shame.

                This is your neighborhood karaoke bar. Who doesn’t love some song? Any song? Despite whatever boundaries or differences may lie between us, we can all at least agree that music is awesome. No song choice ever surprises you anymore. And you will learn very quickly to make no assumptions based on age, race, gender or appearance as to what genre of song a person might perform. So come on in. Sing “Maniac” from Flashdance, and see if anyone does the jogging-in-place-while-rubbing-own-hips thing. I bet someone will.

                Not your song? Find a different one in The Book. It may be sticky, it may be missing pages, but The Book has something for everyone among the hundreds of songs sorted by artist, by title, and sometimes even by language. With selections from Marvin Gaye to Madonna, from Patsy Cline to Pat Benatar, from Shaggy to Shakira, from Def Leppard to Debbie Gibson, from Billy Idol to Beyoncé to The Beatles to The Bangles, The Book is possibility.

                A group of guys will choose “I Want It That Way” by The Backstreet Boys, and will soon see big, tough men in the crowd join them on the chorus because they are here, where they don’t have to pretend not to know the words. A group of ladies will choose “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper or Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and will get every woman in the place singing along. This communal singing is part of the beauty of karaoke as, the more popular the song, the less pressure there is to sound good. Who can hear you?

                There will be melodies the songwriter never intended. But it’s karaoke. It doesn’t matter. If you sound even halfway decent, BONUS! There will be varying levels of vocal talent, but those who lose points for pitch gain them back for enthusiasm. Passion, commitment and knowing the song always get the crowd on your side. There will be people who are up there because they are drunk, or because their friends physically put them there, or because it’s just something fun to try, or – in the case of many regulars – because they enjoy having a musical outlet with background music and a microphone. Anything goes. (That’s a song, too, of course. Kate Capshaw sang a Mandarin version in the second installment of Indiana Jones. I suddenly wonder if that version is in the Mandarin section of The Book.)

                Never tried karaoke? Just do it. Don’t know the words to any songs? P-shaw. They will be displayed on a screen just for you. Shy? Go up with a group. Advanced technique: pick a song that crowds tend sing at high volume (two words: Bohemian Rhapsody). Nervous but intrigued? Find a place where you can rent your own room with friends. Birthdays, bachelorette parties, etc. are great excuses. If you’re not ready to embarrass yourself in front of total strangers, why not embarrass yourself in front of the people you love? For kicks, you can greet your guests with, “Nobody leaves this place without singin’ the blues.”

                Be warned: karaoke is highly addictive. After you get started on the circuit, check this handy list from time to time to determine whether you are developing a problem. An asterisk means you definitely have a problem. More asterisks mean put down the microphone, close The Book, drop Okie, and immediately call 911.

                Well, maybe not immediately. You can always do that after just one more song. Say it with me: “I can quit any time I want. I can quit any time I want....”

You may have a karaoke problem if:

•  The greeters/waitstaff/karaoke hosts recognize you. *If you are alone, they ask about your usual karaoke partners in crime. **By name.

• The place is empty when you show up, but you don’t mind. *You and your friends smile and say, “More songs for us!” **You are still there at closing time.

• Upon arrival, the first thing you do is get a copy of The Book. *You curse out loud when the song you were all excited to find isn’t in The Book. **Everyone in your party requires his/her own copy of The Book. ***You give strangers the glare of death when they ask, “Are you done with that book?” because you are NEVER done with The Book.

• When you see other regulars, you hope they’ll sing certain songs from their karaoke song repertoires, which you know. *You have your own karaoke song repertoire. **You keep it on a list. ***You keep it in an audio playlist. ****Your list includes code numbers so you no longer need to look them up in The Book.

• You realize that you only know the chorus of the song you picked, and get angry with yourself because now you’re “that guy.” *You are more angry that you’ve wasted a song. **You vow that this will NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN.

• You grow to detest long musical interludes. *You start doing choreography during long musical interludes.

• You are annoyed when the karaoke host or bartender sings a song, because that’s one more song lost to the customers for the evening. *You secretly covet the job of karaoke host or singing bartender.

• You hear a song on the radio and think, “This would be great for karaoke.” *Right away, you add the song to your list....

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