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Sing Along with Mitch

It may surprise Gentle Readers to know that YHB has never done karaoke. What I find more surprising is that I have never refused to do karaoke; I simply have never been in a place where karaoke is happening. The closest I have come was once where we were bowling whilst karaoke was going on in the bar, but we were there to bowl. I have wondered whether the folk that participated were there for karaoke night, or were just killing time whilst waiting for a free alley. Anyway, that was the only time I have been where it was taking place.

I should mention that my days of drinking in bars ended, more or less, in the mid to late nineties; my recollection is that karaoke was around but not ubiquitous. And I didn’t do much drinking in bars anyway. I am cheap, and alcohol purchased by the glass is expensive. And one of my character traits, probably more accurately termed a flaw, is that I would rather stick with people I know than meet new friends, so when I did go to a bar it was for a place to sit and chat between the end of the movie and the end of the night. We wouldn’t have gone out of our way to a trivia night or a karaoke night or any other sort of mixer.

And my employment history has not been such to let me in for a lot of team-building events. It just hasn’t worked out that way. I suppose as a faculty spouse (and as a faculty-spouse-in-training) I could have wound up at a department party where art historians and other academics warbled the hits of the seventies. Spared that.

Anyway, the reason I mention it is that I was very nearly involved in a karaoke incident recently. On of YHB’s castmates brought the machine to the theater for hanging around after the show, and if (a) I did not have friends in town I wanted to talk to, and (2) it were not Passover which prevented me from eating much of anything, I would likely have stayed and, it seems reasonable to suggest, sung.

As part of the general backstage camaraderie, I perused the list of available sides. There were, oh, two hundred and fifty or so, not unreasonably tilted to the last few years. Actually, the list was pretty well spread out over the last five or six decades, and although of course there were a bunch of songs and performers I didn’t know at all, and a bunch that I detested, there were probably a dozen or so that I know quite well.

I should add that in the late 70s and early 80s, not coincidentally my preteen and teenage years, I was one of those people who obsessively learn lyrics and sing along with the vocalist on my favorite album. I would often put an lp on the stereo and focus entirely on it for 45 minutes or so, performing it, concocting stories that connected the songs, catching the way that the singer hesitates a beat before the line on the third time through the chorus. We had a lip-synch/air guitar contest in my high school, to which my buddies and I performed Dire Straits’ “Twisting by the Pool”; we didn’t win, but my fidelity to the soundtrack was commented on. I assume that was in part a function of having too much spare time and not enough internet; while I still enjoy listening to music, I don’t know that there is any song I have picked up in the last ten years that I know that well. Still, I do enjoy singing along with whatever I am listening to.

Which is something different from Karaoke. While I was looking through the list of available tunes, I realized that while I felt perfectly confident that I could produce the vocals for, say, “Gloria” or “Love Shack”, I didn’t feel any particular interest in doing so. I mean, I would enjoy singing along with the track, but if I am going to be actually performing them, with people compelled to take a turn listening and watching, I have to say, not so much. I don’t have any ideas for performing those songs at all, other than attempting to imitate the original, which is only amusing if I fail (which I probably would, but that entertainment doesn’t appeal to me much).

So as I was looking through the list, I was wondering what was missing from the list that would really appeal to me. I have come up with five:

  • Jack, You’re Dead”, by Louis Jordan. Most likely in Joe Jackson’s arrangement off Jumpin’ Jive, although there are other versions. It’s a funny song, and one I think I could sell. And it can be done with some interaction with my buddies, while not being a dire call-and-response number.
  • Chantilly Lace”, the Big Bopper. This one really should be on those packages of fifties tunes, shouldn’t it? Although you have to not only know the lyrics but have something to do during the telephone call bits—I feel pretty sure I could come up with something.
  • Don't You Feel My Leg”, recorded by everyone from Blue Lu Barker to the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. I saw it done at Preservation Hall to perfection, which may be why I think it’s better done by a male singer than a female.
  • Soldier’s Things”, by Tom Waits. I know, I know, nobody’s going to put a Tom Waits song on karaoke (except possibly “Temptation”, but I have thought for years that other people should try singing his songs, to see what would happen.
  • Watching the Detectives”, by Elvis Costello. Mostly because when I sing this one whilst washing dishes, I mess around with the rhythm, and I am curious to know how it would sound to people.

I’ll give two bonus tracks: the “St. James Infirmary”, off of which to riff and scat, and “Titwillow”, to load up with physical comedy. Although that latter would be better with lip-synching, now that I think of it.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I could have wound up at a department party where art historians and other academics warbled the hits of the seventies. Spared that.

I have never known any scholars in the humanities, in any aggregation, to engage voluntarily in the practice of karaoke. I believe that most would feel that their street cred, if not their dignity, would be permanently damaged by such an exercise, were it ever witnessed by any other member of the profession.

1. It's funny to me to hear the term "street cred" associated with humanities scholars. Few things are further removed from the street.

2. I have done karaoke. I don't much like it.

3. Tons of people cover Tom Waits songs, but the populace doesn't realize it. The trick to "Soldier's Things" karaoke would be to convince someone else to cover it, and then warble along with them. Sting would probably be a good candidate. Maybe Bono.

4. That is all.


I have encountered karaoke only once, and there were way too many of us in the audience for me to feel at all pressured to sing. (This was the occasion on which I witnessed a tattooed female librarian do a rousing interpretation of AC/DC's "Big Balls.") I have, however, had a fleeting desire to do "Faraway Cookies" from Sandra Boynton's Philadelphia Chickens, should it ever turn up on a karaoke playlist in my vicinity.

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