Ka-ra-o-ke (kar’e o’ke), n. the act of singing along to a music video, esp. one from which the original vocals have been eliminated. [Japn, = kara empty + oke orchestra] -Webster’s dictionary
The faltering voices of young men blowing a popular song from the Sixties to smithereens assailed our ears as we walked up the dark stairway leading to Beepers. One of Montreal’s many karaoke bars. “Great,” I could almost hear Richard thinking. “Now I’ll have to suffer through a couple of hours of having to listen to lousy intoxicated singers singing equally bad songs.” He couldn’t have been more mistaken.
The happy trio was just bringing the song to its agonizing conclusion as we were led to our seats at the bar by our hostess. Once we were settled in our places a long-haired man who looked like he had kept the same haircut he’d had in the Seventies, walked to the front of the room, picked up the mike and stood facing the audience at the dance floor, which doubled as a stage. Leaning over, I whispered in Josh’s ear, “This guy looks like a singer.” He certainly sounded like it once he started. He sang Englebert Humperdinck’s “Release Me” and did so professionally. He would be a hard act to follow for anybody. Or so I thought.
The next person to go up was a tall and bald (follicly challenged) man who appeared to be in his late forties. The intro to Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” blasted out of the speakers. The man opened his mouth and the voice that came out sounded like Elvis Presley’s after a hard night and a depressed Roy Orbison. I thought I felt a shiver go down my spine but I turned
around and saw it was only a woman bumping softly into me as she swayed to the music and beamed at the singer. I think it was her husband the way she was looking at him. Her reaction was just priceless when he got to the part where he had to growl. Grrrrrrh. He was an even harder act to follow.
A young man who had been sitting in the corner with his date perusing the song list wanted to impress her so he did the dumbest thing he could think of. He went up to sing. What song he did slips my mind, but his girlfriend’s expression begged him to sit back down and shut up. Of course he didn’t pay attention and kept on screeching. Give the man points for effort and bravery. Next up was a blond spectacled girl who did a stirring rendition of Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning.” If only she had worn an evening gown, long gloves and contact lenses she would have passed for Barbra Streisand easily.
AFTER “BABS”‘ sizzling performance, two girls and this chubby guy went up and attempted Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.” They were more than pathetic and quit before they finished the song. They still received a polite smattering of applause for their effort. After this more than pathetic threesome’s “performance,” two very enthusiastic older ladies braved the crowd and did “I’m So Excited” by the Pointer Sisters. It was painfully obvious from the opening bars that they hadn’t rehearsed their moves before coming out and failed to excite anybody but themselves. They did, however, give the audience some helpful pointers on how not to perform. Our agony was prolonged even more an older gentleman had the bright idea of doing a very lame version of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire.” Everybody was in agreement that he should have stayed home and sung lullabies to his grandchildren instead. But even that would have been construed as cruelty to children.
The three of us couldn’t summon up the courage to sing that night but I’m sure we all had entertained fantasies of being rock stars. This is probably what compelled me, Josh and Mike to get up in front of a packed house and sing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Midnight Special” about a year ago. Mike, our self-proclaimed lead singer, felt it necessary to start the show with some pre-performance stage patter and ruined the intro for us. Fortunately we managed to get our rhythm back and finish the song. Mike pulled a star trip and exited as soon as we finished. I’m sure he did this just so they could say, “MIKE HAS LEFT THE BUILDING.” We didn’t do too bad and received a resounding sitting ovation. A standing ovation would have inflated our egos even more but, hey, in this thing they call “show bid ness” you take what you can get.
As we were walking out the door, at the ungodly hour of 11:30 p.m., some guy was crooning Frank Sinatra’s “Witchcraft” in the very unusual key of W. Thank Elvis up in in Rock ‘n’ Roll heaven (may he rest in peace) we didn’t stay or I would have gone up and sung a duet with him in the key of X sharp.