First, they invented bison hunting. We know this because there are pictures of it painted on cave walls in France. Also on bathroom stalls in Detroit. Right after the invention of bison-hunting, though, the boys were milling around the fire, bellies full of bison steaks, when they realized that they had a problem: they had no idea what to do to unwind after a long day of chasing bison with long sticks.
That’s when they invented karaoke.
Actually, the invention of karaoke went something like this (Picture a smoky bar. Somewhere in the background someone drops a whole tray of glasses, but that’s not important to the story. What is important is that someone else has just started to sing. We join our heroes, already deep in discussion):
“Awww, man, what is that, somebody singing “Danny Boy” again?”
“Yeah, man, somebody’s always singing that song in this bar. Brings me down, man.”
It was the 70s, so you’ll have to excuse the speech patterns of our heros.
“Yeah, man, me too. If they’re going to sing, man, they should sing something different, man.”
“Yeah, man. You know what’d be cool? Man, like, some kind of tv that showed the lyrics to songs so you could sing along with ’em without having to remember the lines. Man.”
“Oh, man! Man! Yeah, man! That’s cool, man! Man, let’s do it. Let’s make that!”
Actually-actually (this time I really mean it), karaoke was a creation of the ever ingenious Japanese, who did indeed invent it back in the 70s. According to all the volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica that I’ve shoved into my computer, it all started in Kobe, Japan. Japanese businessmen, in between watching episodes of “Hello Kitty” on bar televisions and watching scantily-clad Taiwanese girls lip-synching renditions of “Purple Haze,” liked to get up on stage themselves and belt out their own interpretations of various popular songs of the day.
Eventually, the Japanese decided to make a machine so that the businessmen might at least have the option of reading along with the lyrics, even if they chose not to. Said machine would come with a little video monitor that would display the lyrics of the clientele’s mostest favoritist songs. The machine would also come with a microphone and an amplifier.
Some might argue that the amplifier was not, strictly, necessary.
Because, let’s face it, most people who get up in front of a karaoke machine to sing aren’t the ones who would win “American Idol” competitions … or even talent shows at the local high school. The word “karaoke” does, after all, mean “empty orchestra.” If you’ve cleared the orchestra out, the audience probably isn’t that far behind.
This is not to say that there aren’t a few particularly good karaoke singers. Not long ago, I went to karaoke night at a bar with a group of friends. There wasn’t a stage, but the dance floor had been cleared so that the karaoke machine and all of its attendant wiring could be set up (such a small machine; so much wiring). Pretty soon (getting the first karaokers revved up for karaoke-ing usually requires a pitcher or two of something frothy), there were a few singers. As it turned out, one of them was really good and could very easily have been on “American Idol.”
Then again, Clay Aiken won on “American Idol,” so I might not be using the most accurate means of measurement.
Anyway, during the rest of the evening, we were able to determine that most of the rest of us sucked. Had I tried my rendition of Julio Iglesias’ “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” (wherein I replace the word “girls” with “sheep” — just for fun, mind you, not because I was born in sheep country … though I was), I’m pretty sure that windows would have shattered and someone would have had to dial 911.
Despite this, and surprisingly, we had a great deal of fun.
Also surprisingly, no one sang “Danny Boy.” Thanks to the Japanese, we now finally have something to do after a hard day of hunting bison.
The author would like to note that the singers in the photos accompanying this column did not cause serious harm to any of the other patrons with their singing skills. Everyone survived and there was only minor hearing loss.