It seems like I travel to Rome every 11 years. My initial excursion to the Eternal City came in 1993. My second jaunt to Italy’s capital happened in 2004. And in November 2015, during the long weekend surrounding the American Thanksgiving, I descended upon Rome for the third time.
Due to its rich history and its abundance of artistic treasures, Rome is one of my favourite cities in the world. But this time I was jetting there on a mission unrelated to its cultural heritage. Even though I’d already been to Italy twice — including stops in Rome both times — I hadn’t yet sung karaoke within its national borders. That made Italy one of the few countries I’d visited without adding it to my World Karaoke Tour. In returning once more to Rome, I intended to change that. So while I was excited to again gaze upon such beloved sights as the Trevi Fountain and the Sistine Chapel ceiling, I was even more stoked about the opportunity to achieve my long-sought goal of singing in such a storied location.
Just to be able to make it to Rome on this latest occasion was, for me, what U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden would call a BFD. My third trip to the city was originally scheduled for November 2014, but twice I had to postpone it for medical reasons — first to February 2015 and then to November 2015. And then, in September 2015, I underwent heart surgery, and as I convalesced I didn’t know whether I would be up to the rigors of transatlantic travel less than three months after experiencing such a major medical procedure. Would my first return to Rome in over a decade have to be put off for a third time? Adding to that uncertainty, several weeks after my operation I developed a cough that lingered for weeks; and I wondered whether, even if I made it to Rome, I’d be able to sing.
Well, I did get to Rome, and I finally sang there! Achievement unlocked, at long last! Mission accomplished!
Making up for lost time: three nights of Roman karaoke
The singing went down at a karaoke pub called Vecchio Franklyn, near the Tiburtina railway station. It happened on my second night in town, a Friday, because on the first night, I was exhausted after having remained awake all night during my Wednesday night redeye flight from New York. (I’m rarely able to fall asleep on airplanes, now matter how long the flight or what time of day I’m in the skies.)
Night no. 1: Italy goes into the books
For my long-awaited Italian karaoke debut, the song I chose was “That’s Amore,” a signature song of Dean Martin that was first released in 1953. Granted, the song itself isn’t in Italian. However, this tune made famous by a man with a birth name of Dino Paul Crocetti has a clear association with Italian culture (or at least Italian-American culture), although some have regarded it as perpetuating caricatures of that culture. (Fun fact: students at the University of Colorado-Boulder can enroll in a course titled “That’s Amore: Introduction to Italian Culture.” According to the university’s official course description, the class “[i]ntroduces students to representations of Italian society that have persisted through the ages [and] [t]he course readings allow students to better understand how certain stereotypes about Italian society . . . were born and persist in the present.”). I’ll stay out of those academic controversies; I’m just here to entertain. 🙂 Watch my rendition of “That’s Amore” here:
By virtue of this performance, on November 27, 2015, Italy became the 39th country on my World Karaoke Tour.
I had a great time at Vecchio Franklyn on that Friday evening; Roberto, the host, treated me well, as did Monica, another staffer who served as videographer and also acted as an informal translator in helping me to communicate with Roberto.
In fact, I enjoyed myself so much that I returned to Vecchio Franklyn on the following two nights! This marked the first time in the history of my World Karaoke Tour that I performed at the same venue for three nights in a row; that should give you an idea of how delightful I found my karaoke experience at Vecchio Franklyn.
Night no. 2: I sing in my third different language
On my second evening at Vecchio Franklyn, a Saturday night, a different person was running the show: Giorgio, who also served as my videographer. But more importantly: I opened with an Italian-language song! The number I selected is called “50 Special,” and was originally recorded by a group called Lunapop. As soon as I heard the song for the first time last year, it became an earworm for me. Check out my performance of it in Rome:
Whereas normally I’ll test out a new song several times at home in New York before taking it “on the road,” this was my first time singing “50 Special” in public. (That’s right, it was my world premiere!) I hadn’t been able to properly “workshop” it beforehand, because there are no karaoke bars in my home city of New York (or at least none that I know of) that offer Italian-language songs. 🙂 Fortunately, I’d managed to practice by singing along, in my New York apartment and in my Roman hotel, to a YouTube karaoke video of it, with a printout of the lyrics in hand. Admittedly, that method of familiarizing myself with new material isn’t a complete substitute for singing on actual karaoke equipment in a large room in front of a live audience; but overall, I was pleased with the results. I do wish that Giorgio had set the microphone volume at a higher level, so that listeners could better hear my voice.
In any event, I’m proud that I can now say that I’ve sung in three different languages (English, Spanish, and Italian) — and I plan to continue to expand the linguistic dimension of my karaoke repertoire. In fact, I’m currently learning “99 Luftballons” (that great 1980s one-hit wonder by Nena) in the original German!
Back to the subject of my Saturday night at Vecchio Franklyn: following my initial canzone in Italian, I sauntered up to the mic one more time. For my encore, I belted out “What is Love” by Haddaway, which has lately become one of my top go-to songs. You may recall my having performed it in Rapid City, South Dakota this past summer. Here’s how it went in Rome:
You may notice that the flow of this video isn’t completely seamless; my phone stopped recording mid-song, for reasons that will be explained below, and the recording function needed to be restarted. Fortunately Giorgio did manage to capture most of the song, but I ended up with two different video segments that needed to be stitched together.
Night no. 3: in which I learn a valuable lesson about recording videos
My third night at Vecchio Franklyn, a Sunday night, featured the third different KJ in as many nights: Mitch. Like Giorgio the night before, he also filmed my singing. That singing again consisted of a pair songs; this time I opted for “Alone Again (Naturally),” a 1970s ballad by Gilbert O’Sullivan that just might be the most depressing song I’ve ever heard (but which I nevertheless like to sing), and “Just a Gigolo” (the fun David Lee Roth version of a classic originally recorded by Louis Prima).
Here’s a pro tip: if you’ve set your smartphone to save videos to the micro-SD card rather than to the internal memory, make sure there’s enough free space remaining on the micro-SD card to hold an HD video file. I failed to do that. As a result, not a single second of my rendition of “Alone Again (Naturally)” got saved to my phone; and I didn’t discover this until Mitch handed me the phone upon my conclusion of the song. So unfortunately, I don’t have a video to upload of me crooning that Gilbert O’Sullivan tear-jerker. (The fact that the memory card was running out of available room also probably explains why my phone had temporarily stopped recording in the middle of “What is Love” the night before.)
I did end up with footage of most of my interpretation of “Just a Gigolo,” because by that point I’d figured out what was going on and had changed my phone’s settings to save files to the internal memory, which had ample space available. But I flubbed some of the lyrics of “Just a Gigolo” — partly because the karaoke version that the bar had was a bad version of the song, which was replete with what are popularly known as “misheard lyrics;” and as I hadn’t done that song in a while, I failed to notice the inaccuracies and ended up singing those incorrect words that were appearing on the monitor. (Normally, when I’m performing in a foreign city, I’ll have chosen a song that I know well enough to belt out the correct lyrics regardless of the text that’s showing up on the screen.) In addition, the karaoke track that I had to work with was simply missing some of the lyrics; it contained too many instrumental sections and not enough of the whimsical words that make “Just a Gigolo” such a unique and fun song. And I didn’t remember the omitted lyrics well enough to fill them in on my own. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to such things (I hate screwing up lyrics), so I was disappointed in the aforementioned flaws, and consequently I won’t be uploading the entire footage of “Just a Gigolo” from my Sunday night at Vecchio Franklyn. 🙂 But here are a few extracts to give you a flavour for what it was like for me to channel the inimitable David Lee Roth:
For different reasons, this recap of my third night at Vecchio Franklyn lacks complete videos of either of the numbers that I performed that night. Sooner or later, though, I’ll repeat both of those songs in other cities on my World Karaoke Tour, and full videos of me singing them will end up on this blog. 🙂
Back on tour: to 40 and beyond!
Now that my World Karaoke Tour is back on track, I’ve been lining up new destinations for the coming year. Next up in my karaoke travels: I’m bound for Charleston, South Carolina at the end of this month to ring in 2016. For the first time in seven years, I won’t be overseas for New Year’s Eve. But I know that my first visit to Charleston will be a rewarding one. By all accounts, Charleston is a jewel of a city; and it also offers plenty of attractions for the history buff in me. I also have a couple of friends who live in the area, as well as a couple of additional friends who will be rolling into town to hang out with me while I’m there. Although I usually travel solo, I’m looking forward to spending quality time with these good friends. Of course, all of those other things aside, it goes without saying that a key highlight of my foray to Charleston will be my South Carolina karaoke debut. 🙂
My next international journey will take me to Nassau, Bahamas in February. The Bahamas is slated to become the 40th U.N.-recognized country in which I’ve sung. While I haven’t yet picked out a suitable song for the occasion, I’m pretty excited about hitting that milestone!