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Stand Under a Glacier Melting and Scream for Joy

from My Life's Work by Ben Seretan

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A friend of me asked for advice - she's about to do karaoke for the first time. This is what I wrote:

Karaoke is essentially this: an opportunity to performatively embody a cultural identity (archetype?) in the company of others in a more-or-less "safe" environment. In other words, it is much more than just singing the songs. When you accept the microphone and the shitty replica backing music begins, you essentially, almost magically, become the thing which is represented by the song. For those 3 minutes or however long, you morph into an idea which you are not. This is, perhaps, the secret appeal of karaoke, particularly as an ice breaker among coworkers or large groups of people who aren't necessarily all friends with each other. The songs - that we slip into, almost as if a suit of armor or, wait, more accurately - trout in a stream? - allow us to non-verbally project aspects of our otherwise obscured personalities. It's not proper or acceptable behavior to act the way we might when, say, Prince is being sung. And the very act of selecting a song communicates subtle but nevertheless profound truths of our cultural preferences, our taste, our ability to "read a room," our ability to cut loose, our sense of humor, occasionally our sexuality or, if you happen to choose "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Bonnie Raitt, our most profound heartbreaks. What I mean to say is that the entire act of karaoke - selecting a song, walking on stage, performing it, and then watching and encouraging others (and reacting to their choices) is an incredibly complex and meta-textual social practice that has a really wonderful defining component: it is not to be taken at all too seriously. So we can project our identities into these songs, slip into these assumed identities, really truly feel and communicate profound truths about our being, and then simultaneously shrug it off as a silly thing we do together in bars. And I suppose as a minor side note its also an opportunity to sing in front of people - if that's something you're proud of, then by all means show that off. But I think the societal and identity-related aspects are way more interesting and way more profound. Let us consider for a moment what it might mean to sing "I Can't Help Myself" by the Four Tops. Either this singer has a very "safe" taste in music and is probably a kind, considerate, and cautious person all around OR this person might have had the good fortune in life to be able to really feel the lyrical content of this song. Perhaps they have had a deep enough love, a deep enough heartbreak, to actually mean the words "sugar pie honey bun, you know that I love you." If so, you could see it in their eyes (while they read the lyrics on the monitor, are they looking through the screen into their own formative affections?) Now, is that something that would be revealed in polite conversation? Probably not. But you see how much is suggested by the very act of singing the song. And what's really beautiful is, if someone picks a song you like, in a vague but nevertheless profound way you have what I can really only call a spiritual connection.
As far as practical advice goes, all of this is to say that singing is a very small part of this activity you're about to enjoy. It's much, much more about "performance" in every sense of that word. With that in mind, find a few songs that resonate with you strongly enough to really make you want to slip them on like a comfy sweater. Listen to them ahead of time. Get the vibe, try 'em on for size, and have at least a couple of choices in your back pocket as you never know what songs are going to be available come game time. One song that I really love at karaoke is "If I Could Turn Back Time" by Cher. I think truthfully there's a part of me that wishes I could dance around a Navy battleship in fishnet stockings and the fact that I get to experience one small grain of her fabulousness while I'm singing the song just makes me so happy.

Does that help?


from My Life's Work, released August 30, 2018


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Ben Seretan Troy, New York


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