Regrets, I've Had a Few ...

Years ago I lived near a drinking establishment on the boundary of Quezon City and Manila where people essentially killed each other over nothing. The place in question was a really a roofed parking lot that had been converted to a beer garden. It was frequented by off duty policemen, enlisted men and petty criminals. The clientele, plus the combination of strong waters and waitresses ensured that every now and again a shooting broke out essentially for no reason at all. One drunken man might look across the room and lock glances with a similar stare from a similarly unlovely face. Dagger looks would be exchanged and guns would flare in the dark. Another day, another corpse at the beer garden.

But now things have gotten out of hand. The New York Times reports that karaoke has been added to the deadly mix. A series of murders in General Santos City has been attributed to customer rage at hearing yet another cracked rendition of  Frank Sinatra's "My Way". The NYT quotes a karaoke bar patron who says, “I used to like ‘My Way,’ but after all the trouble, I stopped singing it,” he said. “You can get killed.”  That's right boys. It's a One Way Ticket to the Blues. The Times describes the travails of a Mindanao barber.

After a day of barbering, Rodolfo Gregorio went to his neighborhood karaoke bar still smelling of talcum powder. Putting aside his glass of Red Horse Extra Strong beer, he grasped a microphone with a habitué’s self-assuredness and briefly stilled the room with the Platters’ “My Prayer.”

Gregorio has successfully essayed the Platters, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck. But bar operators have apparently removed "My Way" from the playlists because it's like asking for Twilight Time. The NYT tries to fathom the reason for the unreasoning antipathy to Sinatra's tune.

The authorities do not know exactly how many people have been killed warbling “My Way” in karaoke bars over the years in the Philippines, or how many fatal fights it has fueled. But the news media have recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade and includes them in a subcategory of crime dubbed the “My Way Killings.”

The killings have produced urban legends about the song and left Filipinos groping for answers. Are the killings the natural byproduct of the country’s culture of violence, drinking and machismo? Or is there something inherently sinister in the song?

Whatever the reason, many karaoke bars have removed the song from their playbooks. And the country’s many Sinatra lovers, like Mr. Gregorio here in this city in the southernmost Philippines, are practicing self-censorship out of perceived self-preservation.

Karaoke-related killings are not limited to the Philippines. In the past two years alone, a Malaysian man was fatally stabbed for hogging the microphone at a bar and a Thai man killed eight of his neighbors in a rage after they sang John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Karaoke-related assaults have also occurred in the United States, including at a Seattle bar where a woman punched a man for singing Coldplay’s “Yellow” after criticizing his version.

One contributory cause to the mayhem is probably the presence of Red Horse beer, a beverage mentioned in the NYT article as a favorite of Mr. Gregorio's. Though not quite as bad as Marca Demonyo gin, it definitely contributes to the atmosphere. But it was only contributory. What is it about guys, gals, guns, guitars and gin that draw people of a certain kind to together like moths to a flame? It's an ancient and explosive brew which Robert Service described well. If a picture paints a thousand words.

A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;

The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune;

Back at the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,

And watching his luck was his light-o'-love, the lady that's known as Lou.

When out of the night, which was fifty below, and into the din and the glare,

There stumbled a miner fresh from the creeks, dog dirty, and loaded for bear.

He looked like a man with a foot in the grave, and scarcely the strength of a louse,

Yet he tilted a poke of dust on the bar, and he called for drinks on the house.

There was none could place the stranger's face, though we searched ourselves for a clue;

But we drank his health, and the last to drink was Dangerous Dan McGrew. ....

Then I ducked my head, and the lights went out, and two guns blazed in the dark;

And a woman screamed, and the lights went up, and two men lay stiff and stark;

Pitched on his head, and pumped full of lead, was Dangerous Dan McGrew,

While the man from the creeks lay clutched to the breast of the Lady that's known as Lou.

These are the simple facts of the case, and I guess I ought to know;

They say that the stranger was crazed with "hooch," and I'm not denying it's so.

I'm not so wise as the lawyer guys, but strictly between us two --

The woman that kissed him -- and pinched his poke -- was the lady that's known as Lou.

The Malamute Saloon, Rick's Cafe, the Mos Eisley Cantina or that joint I used to live close to fill a "hunger not of the belly kind, that's banished with bacon and beans". It fills a deeper longing that is met only by Red Horse Beer and a the smile from a waitress in a patched, starched uniform with a dozen bobby pins in her hair, where she is the eternal waitress and you the eternal fool. Only the Lonely. Whatever happens next you had better be ready with My Prayer after Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.


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