Journal entry: December 5, 2008 (age 39) – Karaoke Dokey
In July 2007, the nation of North Korea banned karaoke bars. The official statement from the Ministry of Security explained that the ban’s intent was to “crush enemy scheming and to squarely confront those who threaten the maintenance of the socialist system.” The lack of a free press in North Korea prevents us from learning what act of sung subterfuge led to such a draconian decree. Perhaps a subversive Pyongyang youth had incited a riot by singing an incendiary bastardization of a Run-D.M.C. classic: “You Be (Kim Jong) Illin’.”
With that revolutionary spirit in mind, I have spent many evenings over the last two years performing and watching karaoke with a group of friends I lovingly refer to as “theatre freaks.” Chris Nickerson is our ringleader, and he and another friend, Brett Nichols, are actually quite good singers. The group assembles most Friday nights at the Mosquito Lounge in Binghamton, where two talented ladies, Carol and Amy, alternate as the evening’s KJ (karaoke jockey). I am a passable singer on some tunes (“I Can See Clearly Now” being a specialty), and a lousy one on many others. Most of the time, I just aim to elicit a laugh or two.
That was my intent a few weeks ago, when I stepped to the microphone and informed the crowd that they were about to be “Rickrolled!” Rickrolling is a running joke on the Web that involves sending someone a hyperlink, and urging them to click on it to see something great, funny, amazing, etc. But instead, the link takes the recipient to the music video for Rick Astley’s 1988 hit, “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The song and video are perfectly matched in that they are both unequalled in their dated cheesiness. Some especially malicious hackers send unsuspecting clickers to an endlessly looping version of the video that locks up their computer, requiring a reboot. Anyone tricked into watching the video is said to have been “Rickrolled.”
But when my Rickrolling intro bounced off a wall of complete audience apathy, I realized that no one in the room was familiar with the term. Then I was faced with the fearsome task of actually singing that god-awful tune for the next 3½ minutes. It was a painful experience for all of us. Bombing on stage is an awful thing, but it doesn’t have to be. The key, it seems to me, is to actually plan to bomb. Then the silence, the boos, and the angry scowls can be interpreted as rewards. Before I attended my next karaoke night, I decided that if I can’t be really good at karaoke, then I should embrace being really bad at it. I now refer to my efforts as “North Koreaoke.”
Tonight, I was joined at Binghamton’s Mad Moose Saloon by my friends Brett, Jeff Martinez, and Ashley Hadden. They watched in horror as I introduced my song to the blasé, mostly college-age crowd with a shout of “This one’s for the LADIES!” Afterwards, the host told me this was the very first time someone had chosen to sing the karaoke version of Mister Rogers’ “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” And if I’m not stopped soon, it may not be the last.