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Compulsive Karaoke: Environmental Ailment or Genetic Predisposition?

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This past weekend, we hosted our company holiday party. Yes, I realize that January 8th is long past any wintertime holiday, but there are good reasons for waiting until the odometer spins past New Year’s Day. For one thing, everyone is busy in December. You might be able to get some people to attend on any random Saturday night, but there will be others with family commitments. It’s hard to beg off an invitation for free food and drink when the party is in January.

The other big reason in waiting until the New Year is…well, how can I put this? Things are cheaper then. The hospitality industry suffers a bit of a slump during January and February, especially in these parts. Who wants to go to Detroit even in the summer? Not many will make a detour for fun in the winter. Thus, food was extra-specially marked down, hotel room fees were slashed, and even the karaoke DJ reduced his fee to get the work.

I have to say, I had a wonderful time, but I always do when there is a karaoke machine nearby. I’m not a good singer; I’m not even a fair singer. My husband characterizes my singing as terrible. I would acknowledge that my range is somewhere between there and fair. Either way, I like to sing. I don’t care what I sound like, and I don’t need an alcoholic fix before I take the stage. Just don’t get in the way of me and the microphone.

I tried to get the crowd involved in the festivities. We offer prizes: one for the best singer, one for the worst singer. Being management, I am unable to claim a prize. Past winners were disqualified and we had a room full of newbies. The reactions were mixed. Some of our guests were frozen in fear. Others were seasoned singers (I used to ask new hires if they could sing); a couple are professionals.

Upon later reflection, I wondered why some people will get up on stage in front of 80+ people and belt out Elvis or “Tainted Love” perfectly or off key, while others shy away.

Is the urge to karaoke a result of an environmental ailment? Or is it a result of years of genetics?

This is the classic story of nature versus nurture. I believe if one grows up with plenty of music in the house—and singing—raising your voice in song comes naturally.

In my case, it’s a little of both. As we know, the wonders of karaoke were born in Japan. It’s an export I love almost as much as my Prius. Being half Japanese, I feel an ancestral longing to sing, and not just the blues. At least I inherited something; I am less than a hard-worker (let’s just say lazy), I have absolutely no sense of decorum, and surely cannot cipher complicated math problems.

It started with my mother. She was the loudest singer in church, and often credited her pipes to singing on Japanese radio during her teenage years. The former, I know to be true—not so much for the latter. In later years, she karaoked everywhere—cruise ships, bars, wherever there was a machine and a microphone.

My mother’s family owned what would be considered a restaurant/bar in Kumamoto, where karaoke was a main draw. Famous Japanese karaoke personalities often stopped by to visit, and I have the photos to prove it. Of my six siblings, all but one will karaoke. I’m pretty sure the lone holdout can sing, too, she just doesn’t want to. When the kids flock home to Colorado Springs, we try to make an attempt to karaoke. We’ve done it in Korean bars, where the sparse English music selections are accompanied by slide shows of cows grazing in pastoral landscapes. We didn’t mind, but the vision of cows in a field of flowers did cause much hysterical giggling. We have nearly caused a riot in a biker bar while in the throes of karaoke madness, probably because I lean toward country and my brother does alternative music.

I’ve been singing since I can remember. Singing to birds when I was four or five, singing to Captain Kangaroo, singing in church. My mother stopped singing in church when I joined the guitar group. She couldn’t wrap her head around The Youngbloods’ “Come On People.” In my college years, I sang at bus stops during harsh Minnesota winters, mostly Fleetwood Mac. Don’t laugh—it kept me from freezing to death.

I am a somewhat annoying singer. For one thing, unlike operatically trained singers, I can’t sing without a microphone. Since I have to be aided, the sound system must be nothing less than incredible. One that allows minor adjustments to speed is preferred. My range is limited, although I have tried duplicating Minnie Ripperton’s four octave screaming “Loving You”—with less than stellar results. I tend to stick with the standbys of the ’60s and ’70s or country tunes. Even though I could be described as enthusiastic, karaoke DJs in bars have conveniently “lost” my request slips, thus cutting me out of the line-up and reducing my stage time, dammit.

It’s been years since I had been in the close proximity of a karaoke machine. The last blow-out Christmas party we had was in 2004, when the economy was healthier and the bank account flush. I couldn’t tell you where the nearest karaoke bar is. It doesn’t matter; with my 8 p.m. bedtime, I don’t hang out in bars. I don’t really listen to radio and don’t know the latest, and my music of choice these days leans toward Beethoven and Rachmaninoff. So it was with very little practice that I took the stage on Saturday night.

To karaoke after a long absence is much like getting on a bicycle after you’ve been driving for 10 years. Once the microphone is comfortably cradled in your hand, it’s like the last time you sang was last weekend. Nature becomes reacquainted with nurture, and the embers of compulsion are fanned to flame.

Sing. Sing out loud.

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About Joanne Huspek

I write. I read. I garden. I cook. I eat. And I love to talk about all of the above.
  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    And what about the urge to use “karaoke” as a verb? As someone who’s only “karaoke’d” once in my life, that’s a new verb to me… but I’m all for it.

  • http://www.joannehuspek.wordpress.com Joanne Huspek

    I don’t know, Jon. It’s probably incorrect grammar but it’s what I grew up with. Singing without a screen flashing the words is singing. Singing with is doing the karaoke. :-)

  • http://insomniacentertainment.com Luigi Bastardo

    I frequently use the term “karaoke-ing.” I also confuse people by pronouncing “karaoke” correctly.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3XvIt2PV90 AudreyMusic

    Here you have a great singer! cover your ears!

    Cheers, Audrey