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Peng to the Point

Ode to Karaoke

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Every Sunday at Peng to the Point, we talk about the world away from the San Jose Sharks.

I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for karaoke.

That thought occurred to me on my birthday, which was yesterday.

Because of COVID-19, this was the first time in 15 years that I didn’t karaoke for my birthday.

There’s good reason for that, as Thrillist put: “Basically, bars in any form are dangerous right now. Encouraging everyone to shout ‘Mr. Brightside’ at the tops of their lungs inside these confined indoor spaces is like pouring Everclear on a dumpster fire.”

Karaoke, of course, isn’t the most important loss during this third wave of the coronavirus in the United States. According to John Hopkins, over 11 million Americans have tested positive with and about 250,000 have died from COVID-19.

But here’s what karaoke has meant to me: It’s a place where I can be me.

I’m loud. I demand to be seen. I want to put myself out there, in all honesty.

Heart on my sleeve, your ears will bleed, that’s me.

I wasn’t always brave enough to step up and sing badly in front of a hundred or so people, just like I wasn’t always brave enough to chat up a Hall of Famer or approach an NHL scout at a game.

That’s what I meant when I said I wouldn’t be here, covering the San Jose Sharks and writing for San Jose Hockey Now, if it weren’t for karaoke: Growing up, I was often painfully shy. In high school, I’d literally go into the sweats when I was talking to a popular kid. I didn’t go on a date in high school. I could be charming and gregarious on one day, then clam up for the rest of the month.

But the first time I belted out “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in public — I was 22 years old and it was karaoke night on a cruise ship — it helped me realize who I am.

It doesn’t matter that my singing has been compared favorably to the last cries of a dying animal. That’s me, living.

So here’s to you, karaoke. Karaoke bars and their patrons might not miss me, but I sure miss them.

***

I performed this poem at my grad school thesis reading:

“I Karaoke”

And I need you now tonight
And I need you more than ever
And if you’ll only hold me tight
We’ll be holding on forever

Someone vomits.

And we’ll only be making it right
Cause we’ll never be wrong
Together we can take it to the end of the line
Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time
I don’t know what to do and I’m always in the dark
We’re living in a powder keg and giving off sparks

The blind guy at the bar
douses his ears
with 151,
and lights.

I really need you tonight
Forever’s gonna start tonight
Forever’s gonna start tonight

Geysers of blood burst
sideways.

Once upon a time I was falling in love
But now I’m only falling apart
Nothing I can do
A total eclipse of the heart

Blood and earwax coagulate
with spilt beer.

Once upon a time there was light in my life
But now there’s only love in the dark
Nothing I can say
A total eclipse of the heart
A total eclipse of the heart

But you stand
and clap.
There were casualties.
You laugh.
Many need medical attention.
You smile.
The bartender’s last words:
“Banshee…”
You French kiss me.

(“Total Eclipse of the Heart” was written by Jim Steinman)

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Alicia

Happy Birthday Sheng! Keep living your best life and sing at the top of your lungs!

timorous me

That was pretty awesome, Sheng–and happy birthday! I’ve spent a little time in karaoke bars (though I only sang once–“My Generation”–on my last night before moving away), so I definitely get where you’re coming from even if I was never so bold to put myself out there in the same way. I just really enjoyed the vibe of those places (enough that I wrote a short story later on that brought to life some of those memories in fictionalized form). On that note, I didn’t know you were a poet! That was good. Interesting career trajectory, btw (speaking as someone… Read more »

timorous me

Haha, I like that idea. Sort of the equivalent (non-sexual edition) of the slump-buster in baseball lore.

I was in fiction and now teach freshmen how to write, so a bit of a more typical path. (Best thing about my MFA was meeting my wife in the program.) But I was pretty serious about doing sports journalism until I finished college and was like, Screw that awful lifestyle! I love the way you’ve made it work, though–shows that it can be done, and done well, sort of on your own terms.

Gary To

I can totally relate to this cause I was a super shy boy once, being one of three asian students in my class of 500 living in a small town in Saskatchewan, I never speak up except when around my handful of friends. But I karaoked, I karaoked at home listening to my favorite chinese pop singers, and we had this small multi-cultural event in our city every year, I would go on stage and sing a chinese pop song year after year. I couldn’t speak on stage, but I could sing. A few years later I attended a competition… Read more »

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