Country no. 39 on my World Karaoke Tour: living la dolce vita in Rome

TreviIt 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!

I'm back in the saddle! In November 2015, for the first time since my surgery, I boarded an airplane. Destination: Rome, where I had some unfinished business.

I’m back in the saddle! In late November, 2015, for the first time since my surgery, I boarded an airplane. This Airbus A330 conveyed me to Rome, where I had some unfinished business.

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.)

The exterior of Vecchio Franklyn, the karaoke bar where I performed for three nights in a row in Rome.

The exterior of Vecchio Franklyn, the Roman karaoke bar where I performed for three consecutive nights.

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. πŸ™‚ 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.

Me with Roberto, the KJ on my first evening at Vecchio Franklyn; and Monica, another staff member who was very helpful to me.

Me with Roberto, the KJ on my first evening at Vecchio Franklyn; and Monica, another staff member who was very helpful to me.

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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚

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. πŸ™‚

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!

Looking towards the Roman Colosseum from the Arch of Constantine.

Looking towards the Roman Colosseum from the Arch of Constantine.

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Categories: Europe, travel, World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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28 thoughts on “Country no. 39 on my World Karaoke Tour: living la dolce vita in Rome

  1. Ha! I totally love this! Great niche. Awesome you had so much fun.

    Crystal recently posted… How To Cross The Thailand Cambodia Border Without Being Scammed

    Liked by 1 person

    • @Crystal: Thank you! Vecchio Franklyn definitely provided me with some fun evenings and enhanced my enjoyment of my time in Rome.


  2. Looks like you had a good time!!


  3. Looks like you had a lot of fun! that’s great! and the World Karaoke Tour is a nice idea!
    I’ve never had the courage to sing karaoke … it’s on my bucket list πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • @Lucy: Thanks, I did have fun. And I’m glad you like the concept of my World Karaoke Tour. As for your courage problem, you should step outside your comfort zone. πŸ˜€


  4. Looks like you had a lot of fun on those nights! Shamefully I have actually never been to Rome

    Liked by 1 person

    • @McGooie: There’s nothing shameful about not having been to Rome. Most of us have places that it’s shocking that we haven’t gotten to yet in light of all the traveling we’ve already done. For example, despite living in the U.S., I’ve only been to one Caribbean country (the Dominican Republic) and haven’t been to Caribbean locales that millions of my fellow Americans have visited, such as Jamaica and the Bahamas (although I’m finally making it to the Bahamas in February). But you should go to Rome! And I did have fun there — but karaoke aside, there’s a lot to appreciate about that city.


  5. WarrenU

    How about “Sloop John B” for the Bahamas? “out of Nassau town we did roam” is a line early in the song.

    Liked by 1 person

    • @Warren: I appreciate your suggestion. However, (a) that song is kind of obscure — heck, the Beach Boys in general are likely to be obscure to the youngish crowds that often predominate at karaoke joints, and “Sloop John B” is one of their lesser-known songs (I personally had never heard of it before you mentioned it); and (b) I watched a video of it, and it’s not the kind of up-tempo tune that will rock the house, which is what I usually look for when making a first impression with the crowd. The mere fact that one of its lyrics mentions the city I’ll be singing in isn’t enough for me to go with that song.


  6. The.Restless.Worker

    This is hilarious! I love the concept of your blog, gave me a great chuckle. Rome isn’t necessarily one of my favourite cities but definitely really cool to see!

    Liked by 1 person

    • @The.Restless.Worker: Thanks for the compliment about my website! As for Rome, you know it’s one of my fave cities, but each to their own!


  7. This is awesome! Good for you to have the courage to not only do karaoke but in other countries!! You won’t catch me singing up there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • @fittwotravel: Thank you, I don’t think of it as courageous; it’s just something I enjoy doing. It’s fun to sing my favourite songs, and to get a crowd fired up. And try it, you might enjoy it too!


  8. Love the karaoke tour. What a unique way to avoid just checking countries off the list. Also, if you havE time to karaoke in a place, you’ve probably been there at least long enough to get a legit understanding of what the place is like.

    Liked by 1 person

    • @Trevor: Surprisingly, your last sentence isn’t necessarily true. For example, when I went to Egypt in 2012, I had an overnight layover in Frankfurt on my way back to New York. I planned for the layover to be overnight (instead of just a few hours) so that I would have a chance to sing in Germany for the first time. This almost backfired, as my flight from Cairo to Frankfurt was delayed for hours, and by the time I got out of the Frankfurt airport, checked into my hotel, and then got to the karaoke pub (which fortunately was a quick walk from my hotel), it was about midnight. But I did sing that night. But the thing is, I didn’t get to see anything of Frankfurt during my brief overnight stay (let alone get an understanding of what Frankfurt was like), as I had to go to the airport in the morning to continue on to New York. I do like to learn as much about a place as I can when I’m there, but that wasn’t possible that time in Frankfurt.


      • David C.

        But singing in a place is enough that you can legitimately check off the country as “been there” and not just “passed through”. Even if all you did was go to a pub for an hour and then sleep in a hotel room.

        Liked by 1 person

      • @David C. I agree and I do count those countries on my running tally. But I was making the point that you don’t really get to know very much about the locale when your visit is so abbreviated.


  9. This is effing awesome! Good for you for having such a unique way of tackling the globe πŸ™‚ Karaoke makes me nervous (tone deaf..haha); I admire your bravery and look forward to your future trip to Toronto!

    Liked by 1 person

    • @travellingchingrita: Thank you! Karaoke is nothing in the bravery department when you’ve had to go through heart surgery. Anyway, bad news about Toronto: I already sang there in 2013. πŸ™‚ So it could be a while until I get back there again, since I always prioritize going to destinations where I haven’t yet sung.


    • David C.

      I hear this a lot (nervous about singing in public, etc.) and I can give the same advice I give friends and neighbors. If you present confidence (even if you’re quaking inside) and energy, the audience will like you, even if you don’t give the best performance.

      If you’re worried about staying on key, the important thing is to learn to listen to yourself while singing. Most people who lose the key do so because they’re focusing on the recording and are not paying attention to themselves. It also helps to suck in your gut and smile while singing – I’m not sure why, but I’m sure a real singer/voice coach could explain it.

      Finally, just remember that it’s all in fun. Nobody is expecting a performance that could sell out Yankee Stadium. It’s far easier to get applause from a small bar full of drunk strangers. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This is the first I have come across your site and I would have to agree that it is a great niche. Also “That’s Amore” is one of my favorite song, nailed it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • @Natsha: Thank you, and I hope it won’t be the last time you come across my site. πŸ™‚ And I appreciate your kind words about my rendition of “That’s Amore.”


  11. Stefan

    Loving the H Bomb! Nice one for singing in Italian. I agree with Natasha – always raises my hairs when I hear “That’s Amore” πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Melody Pittman

    I hate your journeys were postponed due to your heart issue but so glad you are back on the road and making your dream come true. I found myself bobbing my head along to your “What Is Love”. πŸ˜‰ Keep it up and can’t wait for the big 4-0! πŸ˜‰ P.S. Congrats on singing in another language- impressive!

    Liked by 1 person

    • @Melody: Thanks for all your kind and supportive words. It was tough not being able to travel for a while (heck, when I got out of the hospital I had a hard enough time walking around my block), but health comes first. The heart issue is fully resolved and my journeys have resumed and hopefully I have many years ahead of me to continue singing in more countries!

      And I wish the Italian crowd had known the head-bobbing move for “What is Love.” πŸ™‚

      I also hope I’ll get another chance to sing “50 Special” (the Italian-language song), because I feel that under the circumstances, I didn’t fully do it justice. I do look forward to singing in German in early 2016 once I’ve learned “99 Luftballons” (I even have arranged for a friend who’s fluent in German to run through the song with me via Skype to help instruct me on how to pronounce the various lyrics, etc,) That will take place in the U.S., though, and not in Germany.


  13. just got a chance to check this out Harvey–for the amount of times i have lived/traveled Italy I have never done karaoke! Bravissimo!!! awesome job!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, @Cassandra! Since you’ll be back in Italy many times, you’ll still have plenty of chances to rectify that glaring omission and finally do karaoke there. πŸ™‚


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