A question remains: is karaoke noble or is it not? It is foolish, yes, we grant that. Nothing good comes without some foolishness. It's impossible to conclude otherwise, when in a bar where people are doing karaoke. Generally, the rule is: without sound, how dumb does it look? We think: very. So.
The O of the mouth as the singer sings. The Vs of hands collapsing after. The sounds of the bar that you try to rise above, to quiet with your performance.
But: Do we karaoke for our own pleasure or for those of others? To what extent is it a civic act? A tragic act? A three-act play? Our only option for aping the postures of rock stars and other celebrities? I am asking: is it American to karaoke? I am asking: is it human to karaoke?
Like many American things, it did not originate in America. In America as you know that doesn't really bother us.
At The Point, my favorite karaoke bar in Grand Rapids, it feels both tragic and glorious, unfettered. The guy who runs the karaoke (T-n-T entertainment, <tntent.com>) is very good. He controls the floor. He abides by the Rules of Parliamentary Procedure. He's 45, probably. He vacillates between expressions of evident boredom with the bar, the song selection, the performances, and expressions of real pleasure. He's a good singer. There's a lot of reverb on the mic, but you can still tell. He might've been in a band himself. Most of the singers are regulars, locals, probably lovers of each other. A few are ringers who drink for free because they follow T-n-T from bar to bar, and they sing very well. A couple of them can really wail. They have go-to songs and pairings with other singers. There is a lot of smoke in the air. This is Michigan, after all, and as of this essaying they haven't yet instituted a smoking ban, so you will be reminded of your night here for weeks after as you put on the bar coat again and smell The Point, taste the smoke, hear the chain mail chiming ringlets of notes still covering your arms like battle gear.
I'm back in town and friends have come out to sign off on me singing. They don't sing. Some nights they threaten to sing, probably in order to enable my own extroversion. Most of them do not and will not and have made that apparent, but dangle the possibility that tonightmightbethenight when they give it a shot, meaning when they get drunk enough to completely let it go and take their spot in the rotation. It might happen. It could happen. It does not happen. I don't know why it does not happen. Do they not believe that they have it in them, that we all might have it in us? Do we have to believe it? Do we have to be livin' on a prayer to do this? Is it a necessary fiction, that we must all potentially be open to a real kind of participation in the experience, even if in practice we never get there? It's like watching videos, which we all used to do, and only occasionally we still do on VH1 Classic when we want to flash back to our old selves.
I tip King Karaoke at the end of the night. I don't even know his name--he calls out others as he explains who's up, who's on deck, on double-deck, on triple-deck, to the beginner's confusion; if you hear your name you're probably not up yet; you're getting the triple-deck call-out. Don't be crazy. You have a couple songs to wait. But soon, but soon. He wants to tell you you are coming up. Go to the bathroom. Get another beer. Get ready. He doesn't know my name either. I sing under the name D-Rock for an obscure reason that is probably not worth explaining. These obscurities stick with you. Every time they call my name I am reminded of them. I awkwardly give him $20. He has provided a lot of entertainment for me, for us, and I don't remember even saying thank you to him before. Usually I'm drunk and so when we leave we are drunk and not thinking about courtesy, the ways that we strengthen and reinforce social bonds, what we believe in, the relationship between emcee and performer (even when they are conflated) and audience. We always think that we'll be back, even when, as it turns out, we won't be back.
And this time, guess what, we won't be back. Not for a long time. The smoke. The lights. The songs. These are our things but they exceed us. They are tied to a place, to this place, The Point. Grand Rapids' Westside. The website is thepointgr.com I believe. But if you go, don't use my name. They don't know it. Tell them D-Rock sent you, and sends his love.