What does the new civilisation look like?
Don't Fence Me In
by L. Neil Smith
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Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
I first heard and saw karaoke performed in the 1993 Wesley Snipes/Sean Connery movie Rising Sun (yeah, I know, I don’t get out very much) which was part of the hysterical screaming that the Japanese were taking over everything, cruelly forcing perfectly good money on us, in payment for our crappy, ramshackle old assets. Soon, Japan, Inc. would own the United States of America! I pointed out that they were on the wrong side of a “nerd gap” in innovation between us, and I predicted they would soon go belly-up trying to catch up with us. And that’s just what they did.
I predict now that if we give the Donald his head, China will do exactly the same thing. But I have already digressed.
I’m not going to assume that you know what karaoke is. The word is Japanese and means “empty orchestra”. Basically, it’s singing before an audience to recordings that have had their vocal tracks removed, while the lyrics roll by for you on a computer screen. If you want to know more than that, I warn you, Wikipedia’s explanation is horrible. Ask around, instead, or, better yet, spend an evening in a bar that has it. What you will see and hear will run the gamut from hideous to heavenly. And you may eventually find yourself up front—I won’t try to explain the drive to perform publicly to those who don’t feel it—with a microphone in your hand.
You’ve been warned.
One way or another, I’ve been involved with music, as an amateur and a professional, for fifty-seven years, since those balmy summer evenings of 1962 when I struggled to play a plastic ukulele on a Florida beach. In time, I became a part of a little sub-culture or community at my high school—it was the Great Golden Age of the Folk Revolution—went on to play solo, participate in duos, and to organize and lead bluegrass bands like The Roughriders I and II, and an aggregation I called The Original Beautiful Dreamer Marching Jug Band. Along the way I learned the guitar pretty well and a couple kinds of banjo.
That, as Heinlein said, was “a long time ago and the wench is dead.”
I suffered a stroke in 2014, lost the use of my left hand, and could no longer play the beloved 12-string hanging on my bedroom wall or my tantalizingly beautiful Martin HD-35 that hangs beside it. The loss was unspeakably hard to live with—until I had a kind of epiphany one night recently in a bar where my daughter (who has been doing karaoke for a year or two) was performing. The epiphany? My voice—I had been a powerful, room-filling counter-tenor—had always been my best instrument, and I could get it back again, just by practicing a little every day.
In one sense, it would be easy. At karaoke, I had listened to angelic sopranos, sexy altos, and the most wonderful bass voice I’ve ever heard, performances that rivaled or surpassed the original professional recordings they were made with. My own kid is an amazing contralto. There was always incredible kindness and support for these prodigies.
But amazingly, in the case of terrible performers, people who couldn’t carry a tune in a galvanized bucket, or had no sense of musical timing, there was even more kindness and support, an incredible, enveloping patience that allowed those who had it in them to gradually improve—or not. I would have a chance to get back my voice—and my ability to perform. So far I’m doing Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have To Go” and Julie London’s “Cry Me A River”, because they fit within my vocal range.
Along the way, I have made certain sociological observations. One is that karaoke bars (there are several in Fort Collins) seem to vary significantly. In some, rap (not my preferred genre) rules. In others, it’s whatever school “Let the bodies hit the floor!” belongs to. In my favorites, it’s country-western—or, as Buffy’s Xander Harris termed it, “the music of pain”. Cowboy hats blossom like poppies in a field, and “Friends in Low Places” has become a kind of anthem, the night’s final song, the theme of the Basket of Deplorables.
I asked my daughter for her own observations, and this is what she said: “I started going to karaoke because I had entered a dark place [political conspiracy research] and couldn’t remove myself from it. I had information that I wanted to share with the world but that information was met with anger and in some cases pure unadulterated hatred. But I knew that by singing to a crowd, I could foster goodwill and make people smile. Music is, as they say, the universal language—and those who share it share a little bit of themselves and their love with those lucky enough to hear them. Now, a year later, I have made friends that I would consider close enough to be family, and who are interested in the information that I have to share because they know me to be an authentic person. It pays to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve, not monetarily, but in terms of opening the hearts of those around you to a different point of view.”
People don’t generally talk politics at karaoke, it’s kind of a mini-vacation from all that. But you gradually begin to get the drift: sure, you run across the occasional sour snowflake, but in general, you’re surrounded by happy, laughing souls who voted the way you did.
My favorite bar serves my brand of beer. But the important thing is the music. If you prefer a taste in private (of music, not beer), go to Youtube.com and search for “karaoke” and whatever song or artist you’re interested in. You can sing alone, with your computer, and nobody will ever be the wiser.
Award-winning writer L. Neil Smith is Publisher and Senior Columnist of L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise and author of over thirty books. Look him up on Google, Wikipedia, and Amazon.com. He is available at professional rates, to write for your organization, event, or publication, fiercely defending your rights, as he has done since the mid-60s. His writings (and e-mail address) may be found at L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise, at JPFO.org or at Patreon. His many books and those of other pro-gun libertarians may be found (and ordered) at L. Neil Smith’s THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE “Free Radical Book Store” The preceding essay was originally prepared for and appeared in L. Neil Smith’s THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE. If you like what you’ve seen and want to see more, he says. ”Don’t applaud, throw money.“
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