The Pleasures of Karaoke

I had always looked down on karaoke as a frivolity not worthy of a serious person’s attention. It was a perversion of the spirit of originality, a chastening spectacle of wannabes expressing not only their infatuation with certain kinds of music—often mawkish country & western—but also their failed ambitions or their deep-seated mediocrity. Political columnist and musicologist David Goldman’s abrasive denunciation of karaoke in an article that appears to have been scrubbed and de-archived—good luck to anyone searching for it—would at one time have resonated with me. Put bluntly, karaoke was the pits, musical culture at its lowest ebb.

Until, that is, my wife and I began frequenting Dale Donnelly’s Mallorytown’s Landing Trattoria, a local watering hole featuring a Kentucky-born, cowboy-hatted KJ affectionately known as “the Colonel.” He had fought in Desert Storm; later, he met and married a woman from our area in small-town Ontario and set up shop as a karaoke impresario with an encyclopedic command of his craft. He knows every song in the book—or books, as there are four thick tomes for neophytes to choose from. The Colonel sings from time to time in the rotation—more often when the crowd is on the sparser side—to keep the pace moving, and he is a master at client interaction. One learns to appreciate the hosting sensitivity needed for the job, which helps to create the feeling of an intimate and unselfconscious gathering of epigone communicants.

Which is what initially struck me about the place, namely, the patronage of township farmers, small businessmen, trades people, clerical workers and retirees—women as well as men—who would get together on a Saturday evening in a spirit of camaraderie, taking turns behind the mic diverting one another—and themselves—with monogrammed renditions of their favorite songs, most of which they had by heart. True, an unprepossessing singer might send one outside for a smoke—the nic-fit excuse—but offense is never given or taken. There were good nights and bad nights, but the sense of community among a small cadre of regulars was palpable. Karaoke exerts a binding influence, which has nothing to do with poaching or derivativeness. Unpretentious people singing their favorite songs, no matter how poorly, are performing an act of homage to the artists they admire.