Karaoke Manifesto

Walter Pater, the Victorian art and literature critic, claimed that “all art aspires to the condition of music.” I’m inclined to agree, but would also add that all music aspires to the condition of karaoke.

When I read critics or hear people talk about the DIY/punk revolution in music, they always talk about how it:

-Encourages everyone to participate
-Blurs the line between audience and performer
-Rejects instrumental virtuosity
-Emphasizes emotional expression

Sounds like karaoke to me. If the goal of music is for an artist to communicate their emotional experience to another human being, how could that circuit be complete without the other human being re-creating that music? Karaoke is the ultimate musical expression (and recreation.)

Nevertheless, some are karaophobic. Here are some helpful pointers.

1. There’s power in numbers:
If you want to sing but are a little bit too nervous, one or more of your friends will be all too happy to sing with you on duets or girl group singles.

2. Familiarity breeds content:
Choose songs that you know fairly well and that you like. There’s no point in singing a song you don’t like, and it’s fairly easy to get lost if you don’t know the song that well. Similarly, a song that everyone knows tends to (but doesn’t always) get a better response than more obscure fare.

3. Is this damned thing on?:
Singing louder makes up for inability to carry a tune or keep a rhythm.

4. I think I’ll have another pint!:
Unlike most activities, karaoke is one of the few things that people actually do better when completely shit-faced.

5. More popular than Jesus:
The Beatles are always good.

6. Everybody Is A Star:
Most rock stars do more than sing. They dance, prance, and sometimes even drop their pants. You have a talent of some sort— so WORK it. Make a funny face; show us your imitation of bacon frying; do the swim. I once saw someone eat a hamburger while singing “All Shook Up.” Hmm, hmm, mmm. Awesome. Use what you’ve got to put on a show.

7. Those who know…:
Really great singers do not judge a drunk gal warbling off her favourite song at karaoke night. They know what hard work and dedication is required to become a virtuoso, and don’t blame you for not putting yourself through that.

8. It’ll be years before they find places to hide more cheese on a pizza:
There is no such thing as being too sincere, too earnest, too enthusiastic, too emotional, or too hot when singing karaoke. You get to be cool after you blow everyone away with your impassioned karaoke performance.


I made another video.

Here is another video I made.

Rogue One is the Worst Star Wars

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is still underappreciated. It’s going to take me a couple more years to articulate all the ways I love that movie. But I think I am ready to outline why Rogue One is not only much worse than Force Awakens, but why it is the absolute worst Star Wars movie (and that contest includes the prequels and the Holiday Special).

Rolling Stone Online does a pretty typical job making a case for “Why ‘Rogue One’ is a Better Star Wars Movie than the Force Awakens.” Writer Sean T. Collins claims that both movies exploit nostalgia for the original trilogy, but Rogue One feels “fresh” and “daring,” compared to the “throwback of the Force Awakens, because the settings and set-pieces are less extreme than previous films and the characters here are not “men and women of destiny.” The criticisms of the Force Awakens always seem to hinge on “when I thought about it afterwards it was just a rehash of the original.”

That’s called genre. It’s always a rearrangement of the same basic ingredients, sometimes with different seasonings. The trick with a genre picture is how engagingly and compellingly can you put those ingredients together. If you want freshness consider that Force Awakens brings to the table the best performances, the most completely drawn characters and the wittiest dialogue of all the Star Wars films. Have you tried thinking about Rogue One afterwards? There’s lots and lots and lots of plot, but very little story. If there’s an arc, I can’t find it after three viewings. And as for character development—How is Jyn transformed? Cassein? What have they learned? The dialogue somehow manages to be at once crudely expository and arcanely cryptic (but I admit the Robot’s pretty funny). In this complete vacuum of personality, we have to be told what motivates these characters. And what we’re told is not terribly interesting or original. Jyn has no choice. Her father had no choice. Saw Gerrera had no choice. And so on.

Like the much-maligned prequels, Rogue One tries to deflect attention away from its lack of character and story with a barrage of references and cameos. It props itself up on unconvincing CGI effects, but one-ups the prequels with full-on re-animation of deceased humans. Okay, there’s no Jar-Jar, but Rogue One is something the prequels never were. It’s pretentious.

It tries to answer questions that didn’t need asking and, in the process, neuters the meaning of the original trilogy. Rogue One’s entire existence is premised on the idea that the Death Star’s vulnerability needs further explanation. I thought General Doddonna clearly explained in the first Star Wars “The Death Star doesn’t consider a small one-man fighter to be any threat, or they’d have a tighter defense.” The massive machinery of the Empire underestimates its smaller enemies. This is a major theme of the original trilogy, exemplified not only by the first Death Star battle, but by the droids’ escape, the Ewoks, and Yoda. As Luke tells the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, “your overconfidence is your weakness.” To which the Emperor responds “your faith in your friends is yours.” He is, of course, proved wrong as Luke’s faith destroys the not only the Death Star, but the Emperor and his Empire itself.

Rogue One summarily negates all of this. The Death Star isn’t vulnerable because dedication and faith can triumph over pride and hubris. The Death Star only gets destroyed because a double-agent infiltrated the Empire’s ranks and methodically and deliberately sabotaged their efforts. Conspiracy and deception are the true victors. This change is supposedly more credible but it sacrifices emotional weight and thematic gravitas for mere plot. And since when is Star Wars supposed to be credible anyway?

The message of the original trilogy was that a mixture of idealism, self-sacrifice and faith can enable people to reject the expedient order of dictatorship. Rogue One replaces inspiration with desperation and resolute fidelity with malicious manipulation. As Rolling Stone alliterates it’s “punishing rather than pulse-pounding” and “murky rather than majestic.” And it can be your Star Wars, but it will never be mine.

Footnote about the Holiday Special: When David Lynch turned down the directing job on Return of the Jedi, he inspired a certain kind of nerd (me) to begin fantasizing about what that movie would’ve looked like. It was only this holiday season, fresh off a new run of Twin Peaks and the Last Jedi that I realized the Holiday Special actually kind of fits the bill. There’s a couple of giants, a dwarf, long interludes that make absolutely no narrative sense and lots of tense periods wherein the only dialogue is indistinguishable grunts. And then there’s the interspecies age-inappropriate sexualized musical number that is as creepy as anything Lynch has ever dreamed up.

But then the Wookies cover themselves in red velvet and walk through outer space:




I’m about to embark on a series of opinion pieces I started working on just over two (or possibly forty-seven) years ago. I stalled out because I couldn’t quite decide on a title or subtitle. A lot of weird bad things have happened in the last two years that make this stuff seem even less important. But I’m doing it anyway.

Here are the titles I’m playing with:

Anachronism Now: Uncomfortably Strong Opinions About Stuff that Doesn’t Matter Anymore.

TEDious: Overbaked Thoughts on Stuff that You Used to Care About.

Medious: Stale Perspectives on Culture That Was So Over 5 Minutes Ago.

Open to more suggestions.

Birthdays, Karaoke & Videos

Soon this site will be slightly less karaokist. This will be the last karaoke-related post for a while.

Over a decade ago, my good friend Liz threw me a karaoke birthday party in her apartment in Brooklyn. I knew less than half of the attendees. We had a pretty great time, but I haven’t kept in touch with anyone I met that night.

Unbeknownst to most of us, the Karaoke machine that was attached to the TV was also recording all of the proceedings on VHS.

Later that year, I participated in a “Make a music video in 24 hours” contest thrown by Indyish, a Montreal cultural vortex. I was assigned Telefauna’s “Tombstone.” I decided to use “found” footage and a VCR and DVD recorder. I spent half the night chasing one idea that I aborted as the sun came up. I switched gears and decided to try to make an edit of the karaoke tape.

Looking back at it now, I kind of wish that, after the contest was over, I’d done a higher quality final version with a more advanced editing system than a pause button. And I really wish I’d found some way to brighten the thing.

That said, I really really like this song, and I really really really like the people in this video, whoever they are.

Original Artist Karaoke

This is a post that has been sitting in my “DRAFTS” folder for 6 years. I’m clearing it out to make room for new stuff. Just some random thoughts and info about “Original Artist” karaoke recordings. It’s not terribly focused. It kind of describes my motivations for making the “Science Fiction Double Feature” karaoke Youtube video, which has something like 150,000 views (!?). Maybe I’ll make more someday.

I took the audio from The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Sing It! The Soundtrack Minus The Lead Vocals CD and used Tuneprompter and the Double Feature font for the visuals. I think it turned out pretty good.

You can watch it here.

I really like singing on top of the actual recordings. Relatively few of these karaoke versions exist. Motown put out 18 volumes of Original Artist Karaoke CD+G, but these are long unavailable. Luckily I was able to collect most of them before collector prices skyrocketed.

Queen put out some karaoke laserdiscs, DVDs and CDs and CD+Gs in the far east, mostly titled Greatest Karaoke Flix. All are long out of print and fetching crazy money on the rare occasion they show up on ebay. Disney put out a shortened version called Artist Karaoke Series: Queen Vol. 1 that only contained 8 songs. It’s fairly easy to find. Disney has put out many karaoke CD+Gs that contain the original recordings of artists like the young Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, etc. Some of their other karaoke discs even contain the original recordings of movie songs.  Fans of High School Musical rejoice! They’re not always labeled. YMMV.

The Singing Machine company put out a series of 2 called Real Karaoke that included Dance and Love Ballads. Original recordings of Peaches & Herb’s “Shake Your Groove Thing” and Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellowbrick Road” are kinda fun.

The Best of the Monkees regular CD comes with a bonus CD+G containing 5 karaoke versions. Hey hey.

And that is it, AFAIK. The Blu Ray of Rocky Horror has a karaoke setting BUT there are no background vocals, which makes it kind of weird. Also, there’s no easy way to integrate that disc into anything resembling a typical karaoke setup. Oddly the The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Sing It! The Soundtrack Minus The Lead Vocals does have the background vocals, but sadly, no graphic lyrics.

There are quite a few instrumental versions of classic songs out there, but none of them have embedded lyrics. I wish I had the time to make good karaoke versions based on things like the Beach Boys Stack O Tracks, Beatles Anthology, and the amazing multitracks of David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Also, good people seem to be ripping “stems” off of Guitar Hero and Rock Band to create instrumental versions of the original songs.


Dana Morrigan has been uploading Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Television and other cool original artist karaoke videos to youtube. I believe he’s using the miracle of digital phasing to remove the vocals. The results are absolutely serviceable.


IMG_7531Serah-Marie McMahon set this site up for me many years ago. I really meant to “brand” myself in a very useful and calculated way. I wanted to A) figure out what I should do when I grow up B) devise an airtight plan to manifest this decision C) execute plan, including making the perfect website to accompany this new focus.

Recently, while fretting over whether or not to publish something because it might not be “on-brand” for the presence I’ve been planning to develop for 10 years or so, Serah-Marie suggested:

“Why not just publish it? And your brand will become what you are.”

So here goes. I’m going to attempt to resurrect this website.

I no longer consider karaoke host or DJ for grown-up jobs. I have nothing but respect for professional DJs and Karaoke hosts, but I can’t muster the required professionalism (at my payscale anyway) to do a good job and still have fun. I’m still interested in song sequencing and dance and background music. I still deeply believe my karaoke philosophy, but it would take a very specific kind of occasion for me to don my check jacket again.

We’ll see what happens with this site. I’m going to try to make myself post at least once a month. Future posts will be less introspective.