Have you lived?

Have you taken down Metallica in a room the side of your bedroom, on a microphone stuck on ‘echo’?

Have you pillaged the field of 1950’s oldies, sacrificing accuracy of notes on the altar of ROCK AND ROLL?

Have you taken on The Rainbow Connection and sang it with every fiber of your being?

Have you ever done more to accelerate your already rapidly fading hearing in a single three hour session in a closed, neon-lit room?

My friends, if the answer to any of these questions is “no,” you have not experienced the Vietnamese variety of Karaoke.

Picture it, if you will: a sunny Saturday afternoon, noon. Two friends and co-workers about to leave work/the city for good, and all they want to do is karaoke. You agree. You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into…

Fresh from a game of paintball with your roommates (which your team dominated), you change and motor down the street to the karaoke building.

You step inside the building after parking your bike, and discover that it is a series of rooms rented out to small groups, as opposed to the typical bar scene with a central mic. You open the door.

It’s hot. It’s neon. It’s almost too much for your visual cortex to process – it jerks and stutters as you reconcile your senses, and, slowly, begins to make sense. Your friends are here. Some people are drinking beer. Some are drinking juice.

It sounds and feels like you have just stepped inside a speaker at a Spinal Tap concert – echoes and vibrations ripple across and through your body, bouncing off the inside of your skull and joggling loose hangovers from months ago, hangovers you thought were gone for good. You were wrong – they were lying in wait for this day, this moment. Sitting down helps.

After checking on the ‘broken status’ of the microphone – for the love of god, WHY IS IT STUCK ON ECHO?!? – you are dismayed to discover that this is apparently ‘desirable’ and a ‘good effect.’ You are not convinced… but you’re here for a celebration. Time to buckle in and buck up!

A few drinks make the situation less awkward, and prevent the crashing reverberations in your skull from assaulting the sides of your brain with quite so much force. Reading the song books are a trip down memory lane, with high school, college, and last week represented in a book the size of Chicago’s phone book. You go through it twice.

And soon… soon, you think “yeah, ok, this is a pretty good song, maybe just one…”

And you’re hooked.

So get a group together. Go today. I hated it, and then I didn’t. In the course of a few hours, the irritating and vulgar (I mean, just look at those walls) became a ringing (literally!) endorsement of what it means to be young and free on a Saturday afternoon in Saigon. That’s a solid recco, from me to you – step off the deep end and embrace it, if only for one evening. You’re not a professional. None of your friends are professional (although some of them are pretty amazing!). You’re just here to sing it loud and proud, and join the wide earthly chorus celebrating our mutual existence.

So, for all my Vietnamese friends who love karaoke: now I know. Here’s a few lyrics from The Carpenter’s ‘Sing’, just for you – but I think most of you already know it, in your hearts:

Sing. Sing a song. Sing out loud. Sing out strong.
Sing of good things, not bad. Sing of happy, not sad.
Sing. Sing a song. Make it simple to last your whole life long.
Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear.
Just sing. Sing a song