Sitting in the auditorium talking to the music director while the high school musical cast took a break from rehearsal, I remarked that I couldn't imagine how anyone had the nerve to perform on that huge stage. I had auditioned for a part in the annual musical the year prior, and I still hadn't gotten over how awful it was to sing, albeit briefly, in front of 90+ people. The director replied with something about other people having the confidence or the drive to perform, but at the time, that concept was utterly foreign to me.
Fast-forward 15 years, and now it's not uncommon to find me standing on a stage in a smokey bar, holding a microphone and waiting for the monitor to cue me with the words to whatever song I chose for that night's bit of karaoke fun. It's still a nerve-wracking experience, but somehow addictive. Maybe it's that drive to perform that Mrs. Hall referred to, or maybe it's something else entirely.
Author Brian Raftery had a similar experience with his introduction to karaoke. Growing up, he loved to sing the songs he learned from the radio, but he wasn't a very good singer, so he limited his venues to the car or other relatively solitary locations. His first experience with karaoke began to change that, and soon he and his friends were regularly visiting karaoke bars. As they grew older, they began to spend less time in karaoke bars and more time raising children or not going to work hungover. For his last hurrah, Raftery has spent a year exploring karaoke bars around the world, interviewing influential members of the karaoke industry, and gathering the material that would eventually become the book Don't Stop Believin' – How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life.
I enjoyed reading more about Raftery than about the history of karaoke or the people who are responsible for making it what it is today, although those sections were interesting and informative. I connected more with his story, and I think other karaoke fans will feel similarly when they read it. He manages to distill much of what it is that draws us to the microphone time and time again. He describes his friend Mike's introduction to karaoke thusly: "At that point in his life, Mike was most interested in singing, drinking, and behaving clownishly in public, but until karaoke, he'd had to pursue all those interests separately. "Karaoke was the union," he told me several years later. "These three things put together.""
Raftery's writing is engaging and accessible. Scattered throughout the book are references to song lyrics, inside jokes, and humorous re-telling of his karaoke adventures. There are also more serious an poignant moments, which provide more depth than what one might expect from the book's title and cover. Even if you never feel compelled to pick up the microphone and sing to a room full of strangers (or your friends), this book will draw you in and give you a glimpse of the people and culture that drive karaoke today.