Don’t Stop Believin': How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life

By BRIAN RAFTERY

Ah, my karaoke glory days. From old-man bars to private booths to a Blackfeet reservation in Montana — where my soaring rendition of Charlene’s “I’ve Never Been to Me,” including the spoken monologue, was received utterly without irony — I spent years chasing the exuberant high of the “empty orchestra” from Japan. I kept song lists in my Palm, Sundays free for recovery from sunrise duets of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” Ain’t no doubt about it: I was obsessed. So when I saw that someone else had written a — the — memoir-slash-pop-cultural chronicle of karaoke’s Stateside success, my inner K-J cued up the Gin Blossoms’ “Hey, Jealousy.” But karaoke’s goofy joy allows no room for enmity — nor does Brian Raftery’s endearing, entertaining Don’t Stop Believin': How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life. “I love karaoke. I love it without qualifiers, apologies, or actual singing talent,” Raftery writes. “When people talk about the adrenaline rush that comes with playing competitive sports or putting angel dust on their eyelids, I think, ‘Yes, fine, but have you ever performed “Bennie and the Jets” in a hot tub?’ ” Raftery weaves together his own karaoke adventures (earning, on a good night, “slippery high fives”) with nerd-tastic analysis (including a spot-on taxonomy of karaoke-friendly tunes); an interesting — and surprisingly elaborate — anatomy of background tracks; and colorful reporting on the origin, evolution, and entrenchment of the off-key phenom. He argues convincingly that, while karaoke caught on here at a particular moment (“It’s hard to imagine a time when Americans didn’t want to make public spectacles of themselves”), it also captures something profoundly, gleefully universal. “Underneath all the social barriers like headphones and iPods,” he writes, “we’re just a world of singin’ fools.” Yep. As Charlene would say, “That’s truth. That’s love.”

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