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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

That’s College Rhythm: New Religion

Loud music, obscene ego gratification, and drunken excess. It’s not a rock n’ roll show, but it’ll do.

I speak of that most noble of pursuits, that most holy of hobbies, my love, my drug, my new religion. Karaoke.

Okay, hear me out on this one. I know what you’re saying, “Karaoke? That is so 80s.” You would suggest we leave it in the dark closet of the Me Generation along with tapered jeans, Carrot Top, and that weird Australian dude who used to do the Energizer commercials. Granted, the 80s had some mixed-up ideas of what was cool, but Karaoke actually is cool. It really is. Trust me. Besides we cannot simply throw away our entire heritage, can we? Certainly not.

I will assume that my readers, well cultured as you are, know what Karaoke is. If you don’t, ask your friend, the one who blushes whenever he hears the phrase “Piano Key Tie”. But knowing what Karaoke is is not the same as knowing what Karaoke does.

I first came to Karaoke on what then seemed like a whim, and now feels like fate. One night early this summer, some friends and I, having exhausted our options, decided to pop down to the Jeanie Johnston, a pub in Jamaica Plain, to check out their weekly Karaoke night, which occurs every Saturday from 9:00 to close. I will admit I was cynical at first. Imagine my surprise when several hours and several more drinks later, I found myself standing before a crowd of smiling customers, belting out “My Way” and loving every minute of it. By the time the night ended, I had fallen in love. I was a Karaoke Konvert.

I’ve seen it happen to others several times since. The usual conversion scene takes place something like this.

Disciple: Oh man, you have got to try this!

Initiate: I can’t sing.

Disciple: Have another beer.

Initiate: I wouldn’t know what to sing.

Disciple: Have another beer.

(Several beers later)

Disciple: Hey man, where are you?

Initiate: (onstage) Fill me up/Buttercup…(returning to seat) Oh my GOD! I feel so ALIVE!

To say that listening to karaoke is at least more entertaining than listening to the radio wouldn’t even be coming close.

The effect is magical, even spiritual. The combination of intense adrenalin rush and spontaneous ego swelling is damn near addictive. It’s impossible to describe, but those who have done it know that the feeling one gets from channeling the words of dead legends like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra through the medium of the big blue T.V. prompter and out across the bar via a pair of reverb-drenched speakers is one not incomparable, I would venture, to that of the mystical experience of speaking in tongues.

Karaoke satisfies something that is fundamental to being human-the desire to be a rock star. Each of us has a little Neil Diamond inside, begging to be let out. Karaoke allows that little Neil a chance to strut his stuff. Be good to him, and he will be good to you. Think about it.

For those who still labor under the misconception that Karaoke is a tame beast, practiced only by those who still own leisure suits, or as a sad and somewhat creepy antidote to mid-life crisis, let me assure that you are as wrong as a cocktail umbrella in a martini. I too was once lost in the shadows of ignorance but I have seen the light: at one memorable gathering, I witnessed a zealous ingénue, taken by the sheer exuberance of it all, perform a rather lurid dance and proceed to lift a chair above her head and swing it around. Enough, I would say, said.

Though I should also mention that the Karaoke of today is not unawares of changes in fashion. In addition to the (primarily hokey) standards with which it is usually associated, Karaoke songbooks now include many current favorites, as well as a few unexpected cult hits.

The kids who gather at the Milky Way on Tuesday Nights for Mary’s All-Star Karaoke know how hip it can be. With its crowd of twenty-something retro-mods in dark jeans and shaggy hair, Karaoke night here often looks like a meeting of The Strokes Fan Club.

Mary’s All-Star Karaoke, or Maryoke as it is sometimes called, has its perks.

The sound system is impressive and the act of performing on a real stage enhances the illusion of being a rock star. The song list is quite extensive as well, though the probability of getting a chance to perform is slim unless one arrives prepared and ridiculously early. The show begins between 9:30 and 10; I would suggest getting there around eight if you want to be in it. Part of the reason for the popularity of Maryoke is the high profile of some of its performers, many of who are regulars. Once, I had the honor of watching Joey McIntyre (yes, the New Kid) perform “Tiny Dancer”. Joy of joys.

While it is dependably a good time, The Milky Way can be a little intimidating for beginners, plus they charge a (small) cover. Personally, I prefer Saturdays at the Jeanie Johnston. There is a more relaxed vibe there, less trendy posing, and it’s run by the coolest man ever to don an oxygen mask. And there is no cover. Just bring enough to buy as much “liquid confidence” as you need. If you ask me, it’s the best Saturday night that money can buy.

In summation, I will quote a wise patron who one night advised me, “Karaoke is not here (pointing to his head), but here (pointing to his heart). One must become one with the spirit that is Karaoke.”

Thank you, Sensei. Truer words were never spoken.