Dear friend I know you sit and nurse your wounded ears at home. I have rung your door bell several times, but you have not answered and it is probably because of the intense damage I have caused to your ears. They say music is the elixir of the soul but it also appears that the over-consumption of this elixir can cause soul-poisoning. Music strikes a chord in my heart, and it that chord is not in key. I am sorry for being terrible at Karaoke.
You probably did not notice, but I have avoided coming to Karaoke with you or anyone else. Anytime a plan entailing the singing of lyrics on a screen was made, I was unavailable. This was not a coincidence, but rather a meticulously planned absence. I went to great length to plan cover stories for said absence, in case anyone ever looked into them. Even though you never did, if you had come to my house when I claimed that I was unwell, you would have discovered that I was indeed unwell. A red running nose, a hacking cough and copious amounts of phlegm displayed convincingly in bedside jars stood testament to the illness that I claimed to have. This was made possible by Andre and Mandakini.
Andre is my acting coach and has spent several years with me covering the convincing act of sickness. I first met him at a conservatory for the arts where people learn to achieve artistic excellence and I was getting a coffee. He noticed me immediately, citing the illness he saw in my face as unique and God given. I thanked him profusely and have spent many moons working with him on the construction of the perfect sniffle and an immaculate rumbling cough. Mandakini on the other hand, handles prosthetic and visual effects design for several blockbusters. She excels in splatters of blood and dismembered limbs and thus several jars of phlegm are an easy feat for her. This is my excuse team, two reliable and extremely expensive individuals that give wings to my excuses and snot to my illnesses.
When you called me for the office party, my first reaction was intense alarm. I texted Andre and Mandy and told them to prepare. That I had had too many bouts of the common cold and it was now time to execute the sickness we had been preparing for for many years -smallpox. Imagine my shock when they both texted me and told me they were unavailable. I demanded that they fulfilled their obligation to me, because we stood connected by a blood pact, in fake sickness and actual health, to provide excuses for when they were necessary. Did they not understand? This was an office party. An office Karaoke party. I only had six months to prepare, there was not enough time!
“How about you just don’t sing” said Mandakini on our group chat. I always hated her, and the effect she had on Andre. First convincing him to drop the ‘w’ from his name, and now asking him to apply his talents to ‘films’ and ‘other things that were not making a guy pretend to be sick because he doesn’t want to sing’. I would have my revenge, but for now, I needed a different plan. I needed to study Karaoke, and to do that I needed to go to the place from where it all began. I needed to go where Karaoke was taken most seriously.
Tokyo, Japan. I arrived in the city by first light. I had found a guide to take me on my journey to Karaoke excellence. A man whose name is legendary in the annals of Karaoke history. A man so revered that people have forgotten him out of honour. Mr. Ichiro Sato, Karaoke expert. I found him outside the airport, wearing dark glasses, leaning on a pillar and smoking a cigarette. My wide smile and waving and jumping was met with no response. Instead, he looked at me and shook his head.
“You will not be ready” he said and began to walk away. “Wait! I exclaimed. I am willing to learn!”, but he did not stop walking. He did not look back. Determined, I continued to follow him. Down the streets, into the train, into a taxi (where I got the feeling that he knew I was following him because we were in the same taxi) and then finally to a bar.
“Please stop following me” he said in his thick Spanish accent. “But I have come a long way!” I pleaded. “Plus I have already wire transferred you the money, so it’s the least you could-“
I was interrupted by the sound of glass shattering. Mr. Sato had sighed, but with artful and precise pitch and volume. It took me a second to realise that he had broken the glass with merely the sound of his rather high pitched sigh. My mind was blown. “I will teach you. But you need to have-“
“-Honour?” I have honour!
“Money” he corrected. “You must have money”. I knew our training was soon to be underway.
We awoke at the crack of dawn every morning and began drinking before our eyes were even fully open. There were many days that I could not even wake up, but Mr. Sato motivated me and kept me sane. He was my guiding light. We drank for several hours in patient silence and perfect posture until bars would admit us. It is then that the real training began.
Every day as we walked into Karaoke bars, tired business men in crumpled collars would regard us with sneers. They doubted me. Doubted that I had what it takes. Doubted that this commoner could pull of the holy grail of Karaoke –Highway Star by Deep purple. But that is what I was training for. To wipe the condescension off of the faces, to erase the doubt of doubters, leaving them as just sad “ers”, and to absolutely crush Karaoke at the office party. I would fear Karaoke no longer.
Our training was simple but brutal. Every day Mr. Sato would put on Highway Star, but not permit me to look at the screen. Every time I tried, I was met with a cold stinging slap from his beer holding hand.
“It is not yet time” he would say as I writhed on the floor.
Every day I would try, and every day I would fail.
After five months of this happening I was tired. Every day I tried to turn back and every day I would end up in pain on the floor. Mr Sato offered me no other guidance. Eventually I was fed up. On one fateful day as he slapped me I finally lashed out at him.
“I don’t even know the lyrics!” I yelled, trying to get at my feet. “I need to turn back!”
For the first time since I met him, Mr Sato broke into a smile. He extended his hand and whispered. “No one knows the lyrics”.
Of course! Finally it all made sense to me. Karaoke was not about reading the lyrics, it was about confidence in performance. It was about yodelling drunkenly into microphones with garbled words and being somewhere close to the pitch. Karaoke was about having a good time.
I grabbed the mic and began to yodel into it with boisterous confidence. I made no effort to maintain rhythm or timing or stay true to the basic tents of language. I rocked out.
The bar fell silent. Slowly, I saw the expression of the tired business men change. They rose to their feet and clapped their hands, some weeping copiously. I was approached by one who put his arm around me and called me ‘brother’.
Mr Sato turned to me with tears in his eyes. “You are ready” he said. We spent the rest of the night drinking.
I returned to India filled with confidence and swollen feet. I was ready for any challenge, let alone something as silly as Karaoke. When I finally came to the party, I felt no nerves. I heard not the thumping music or the swell of scattered conversation. I heard only the beat of my own heart and the cold feeling of my own microphone in my hand. Yes, I brought my own microphone to the party, there was no chance I was going to screw this up.
Half way through the party as everything was going okay, some people began to sing. But they were missing the point. These were great signers with perfect voices, reciting songs off the top of their heads. People nodded pleasantly, some even danced. “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND THE POINT” I thought to myself, and also accidentally screamed very loudly. Seizing the opportunity cause by my screaming, I rushed to the stage and bumped the singer off. The whole party was staring at me, but I knew I was ready. I closed my eyes to hear the Japanese business man’s voice in my ear once again. “Brother” it said.
I connected my microphone and turned to the DJ. “Highway star” I said and turned away from the screen. Ready to blow minds, ready to set this party right.
“I don’t have that” said the DJ. And my world came crumbling down. I could not fathom a universe where a Karaoke DJ did not have highway star. It’s Highway Star. “HOW CAN YOU NOT HAVE HIGHWAY STAR!?” I hissed at him. “I have like…current songs” said the stupid man. The stupid foolish man. The clueless, infantile man. But already too much time had passed. You were looking at me, expectation and hope in your face. I could not let you down. I cleared my throat and remembered Mr. Sato.
I sang it without music.
The passage of time is busy with scattered realisations. Somehow the things that seem most obvious are always in retrospect. I suppose you can tolerate a song with approximate lyrics, if the music is present. But it appears that a song with indeterminable lyrics and no music, is not enjoyable. I tried very hard to make up for the lack of music with strategic pelvic thrusts and jumps. I tried to make pronounced vowel sounds to disguise my lack of lyrical knowledge. But everything I tried only made it worse. When I opened my eyes, I saw an empty room. The DJ told me that your ears had began to bleed and you had to be rushed to the emergency room. I am so sorry, this was not my intention.
I promise you, the next time we go out, we will go to a place that has Highway Star. I will do reconnaissance of several Karaoke spots early, so that this mistake does not happen again. I am sorry.
I informed Mr. Sato about the events of the night and he mailed me a very sharp knife. He said that I will know what to do.