Jon de Vos – Light beer, then run for cover
April 15, 2010
OMG, It’s already April and National Karaoke Week starts this Sunday! Must Practice.
Music accompanying entertainment has been around since the first man crawled into the first cave but it was a million years in the making for NBC TV to come up with Sing Along with Mitch in 1961. Millions of ersatz Sinatras and Garlands belted out popular tunes in thousands of homes across America with Mitch Miller’s Band, live on new 21-inch big-screens as the lyrics flashed on the bottom and tempo was kept by “following the bouncing ball.” It is, therefore, sad but true, unlike Pearl Harbor, we cannot blame the Japanese for Karaoke, its roots are planted firmly on U.S. soil.
Speaking of Sinatra, Karaoke singers in the Philippines fixated on the Frank Sinatra song, “My Way,” putting their own spin on the aggressive lyrics. In fact, so many singers have been shot while singing this chestnut that it is banned in most Philippine bars. In the 1970s, Karaoke gathered momentum in the Philippines but quickly roared into Japan where it was given full-throated approval by every nightclub owner with a set of Ginsu Knives which, of course, was all of them.
Karaoke is a Japanese word that is tightly tied to breathtaking levels of alcohol consumption. The word itself means “ugly jail-intake photo.” It somehow appealed to Japan’s tightly packed society and crammed cubicle workplace. The Salaryman, taking the stage in a nearly empty bar and belting out “Woe-a-woe-a-woe-owe” like an off-key Tom Jones on two quarts of rice wine, became a stereotype. If he struck any chord with the last woman standing, it’s likely the only chord he hit that night.
Even today, Karaoke bars in Japan are as common as runaway Toyotas. They’re touted as a societal cure-all. Devotees claim improvement in self-esteem and stress reduction, taking one away from their daily lives and substituting a new self-image of an out-of-tune, obnoxious loser.
Doubtless you’re aware of the internet legend of the Karaoke Singer and the Exploding Beer, or correctly stated as the Exploding Beer in the Karaoke Singer. Let me hasten to assure you the legend is completely false but entertaining.
The story takes place in a run-down, Yokohama waterfront bar, the Tiki-Taki Lounge. The lounge is featuring “Suiso” brand beer made by the Asaka Corporation. “Suiso” is one of the new hydrogen beers where the Carbon Dioxide, injected to keep beer bubbly, has been replaced by lighter-than-air, hydrogen. Hydrogen, you will recall, caused the abrupt end to the German dirigible, Hindenburg. Hydrogen, like helium, is lighter than air. Sound waves travel faster in hydrogen as well as helium, allowing crooners in high-pitched Donald Duck voices, to hit the high notes. Not only that but as the singer exhaled, the hydrogen could be lit with a cigarette producing a vivid blue flame.
According to the legend, which remember is fiction, a certain Mr. Otoma, vitalized by the weekly Karaoke contest, consumed fifteen “Suisos” and accidentally belched a huge fireball at one of the bouncers. The bouncer, understandably startled by the instant loss of what little facial hair he previously had, tackled Mr. Otoma, causing him to inadvertently swallow his cigarette. The ensuing explosion left Mr. Otoma posthumously spread quite thin.
A good story? No, actually, a great story, completely false, but nonetheless periodically seized upon by some hapless editor who should really know better. The story was run by Britain’s Private Eye magazine as well as a credulous mention in the Great Lakes Brewing News. Both instances erroneously attributed the story to the Associated Press.
So sometime next week, do not hesitate to climb up on the bar at your favorite watering hole and burst into song, after all, it’s National Karaoke Week. Just don’t burst into flame.
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