Billy Ray who?

My co-workers had another of their semiannual-or-so karaoke nights last night, and it reminded me of what happened the one time I went to one of these events, a year and a half ago. My failure to attend last night was partly 'cause I was working on a story, but mostly because of how badly things went last time.

(“Is this one of those most-embarrassing-moment stories?” Yes, it is. Maybe not my most embarrassing moment ever, but definitely my most embarrassing moment in front of my co-workers.)

It should've been clear that I was not cut out to be a participant when I refused to call it “carry-oakie,” insisting instead on the Japanese pronunciation (more or less kah-rah-oh-kay). But, egged on by various co-workers, I went along. I even thought it might be kinda fun, in a goofy sort of way. For a couple weeks ahead of time, I practiced a couple of songs I thought I could kind of do justice to (yes, I know it's entirely against the spirit of karaoke to practice ahead of time; see above about my not being cut out to be a participant): “Little Red Riding Hood” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs (well, okay, I knew it first as a Bobs song, but that version seemed unlikely to be in the karaoke guy's repertoire) and “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash. I'm a bass, and figured I could show off my low notes with those songs, and have fun. (And then there was “Chain Gang”—repetitive lyrics, but that's not so bad if you've got stage fright—and a co-worker's suggestion, “House at Pooh Corner.” Not one of my favorite songs, but I more or less know it and figured I could sing it if I had to. And I figured at least one of those four songs would be on the available-songs list.)

But it was already not a good evening even before I arrived. I'd been on a very ambiguous date the night before, and just before I left for the karaoke event I got email from the other person saying sorry, not even remotely interested. And I hadn't had any food since lunch; anyone who knows me well (you'd think that would include me, but apparently not) knows that that's a sure recipe for disaster and a grumpy Jed.

I got to the bar, a few blocks from work, and a well-meaning co-worker (one of the ones who'd been pushing me to come) immediately put my name in the hat—a request for me to sing “Achy Breaky Heart.” She didn't tell me that she'd done this until it was too late to stop her. I pointed out that I'd never heard the song, and said I'd rather sing something I knew. She said that I'd been teamed up with another co-worker who did know the song, so she was sure it would be fine.

Maybe half an hour later, the co-worker who was acting as MC called my name and announced that I would be singing “Achy Breaky Heart.” I went up to the mic and explained that I had never heard the song before.

There were general encouraging noises. “Go on, just sing it,” someone said. “You'll do fine,” someone else said. They either didn't understand or didn't believe that this was not a song I'd heard. I'm not talking “can't sing it real well,” I'm not talking “only heard it once or twice”—I mean, quite literally, I had never heard the song. (I'd heard of the song—I'm not totally culturally illiterate. Just about 90% or so.) Someone else said, “Then you can just dance to it.” (I don't dance. I enjoy waltzing; I have enjoyed English dancing once or twice; but even more than not singing in public, I just do not dance to pop music. Don't enjoy it, no interest in it, no good at it. Singing I at least do in private and among friends; not dancing.)

And then the co-worker who'd been signed up with me came up to the stage, and there was no way to back out. Okay, yes, I could have just walked away. But that would have been “being a bad sport,” which is frowned upon in your first large-scale outside-of-work social interaction with your co-workers. In retrospect, I probably should've done it anyway.

Perhaps if I were a drinker it wouldn't have been so bad. As it was, I had to face the music sober.

The music started.

My co-worker began to sing.

I stood there like an idiot.

I tried to kind of move my body in time to the music. Even I could tell it wasn't working.

I kind of said the lines of the song along with my co-worker. She more or less knew the tune.

By the last chorus, I had more or less picked up the tune, and kind of more or less sang it along with her. And then the song ended, and I slinked (slunk?) off into the darkness. There was general embarrassed silence from my co-workers. (It's possible that we got the same sort of smattering of polite applause that everyone else who did badly got, but in my memory it was dead silence.) I think everyone realized what a bad idea it had been.

A little later, I put my name in the hat again, with another song, one of the few on the playlist that I thought I could maybe sing. I figured I could at least partly redeem myself with that. But the MC had now figured out that I couldn't sing, so he “kindly” refrained from calling my name when he pulled my slip of paper, just discarded it and moved along.

The next day, I composed a couple of long ranting emails to the people who'd organized the event, explaining to them how much more fun it would be if they would let people choose a different song in the event that they really truly had not ever heard the song they'd been assigned. But eventually I refrained from sending those mails, because I realized I was being silly; the truth was, it was just not my kind of event. It took place in a bar; its goal was for people to make fools of themselves (in a certain socially acceptable way, certainly not in the way I'd managed) and to push their own boundaries; and the general musical style was so far from my tastes that I'd never even heard of somewhere around three-quarters of the songs people performed. I didn't like most of 'em either. The songs, not the people.

So, like most embarrassing experiences, it taught me a lesson. In this case the lesson was simple: don't go to karaoke nights with your co-workers.

Didn't keep me from being mildly wistful this afternoon, though, when I saw all the pictures of everyone having fun last night.

Luckily, the co-worker who'd sung with me was in charge of editing the videotape of last year's event, and she kindly edited out the part with us onstage. So no permanent record exists, and perhaps in time my co-workers will forget the awful experience.

Well, okay, I'm sure that every one of them has forgotten it already. Perhaps in time I'll forget it.

I've already forgotten the tune. Somehow I keep thinking it's the tune to the mildly obnoxious little-kids' song "Rubber Blubber Whale." "Mama got me an achy breaky heart..."

Some other time I'll tell you about my other solo public singing experience, which was only marginally less embarrassing.

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