Two weeks ago, Portugal became country no. 24 on my World Karaoke Tour. This is the first in a series of posts that will review the first 23 countries on that tour. Today our topic is the place where it all began — the U.S. of A. In this, my most personal post yet, I discuss how I was first exposed to karaoke nearly 21 years ago, and how that hobby gradually came to assume a position of pre-eminence in my life.
It started with a nursery rhyme. Although I’ve sung hundreds of different songs over the years, the very first time that I grabbed a karaoke mic the song I belted out was “The Farmer In The Dell.”
The first ten years: 1991-2001
On the night of March 4, 1991, I was celebrating my 21st birthday. I was living with my parents in my hometown of West Orange, New Jersey; the previous year I’d graduated from Johns Hopkins University, and I was in the midst of a two year stint as a paralegal at a small law firm in Newark. My enrollment in law school was still nearly a year and a half away.
This was the milestone birthday on which I became “legal” to purchase alcoholic beverages in the United States. Of course, it was not as if I’d never imbibed (or never become intoxicated); but reaching the magic age of 21 still carried a certain symbolism.
To honor the occasion, I was hanging out with my high school friends Jon and Andrew, who had also returned to West Orange after their university studies. During the course of our evening wanderings, we entered a bar in West Orange that happened to be holding a karaoke night. Karaoke was relatively new to the United States at that point. The first karaoke bar in the country had opened in Burbank, California in 1982; nine years later, karaoke was still relatively unknown in the U.S. I’d first become acquainted with the concept while watching an episode of The Simpsons that aired on January 24, 1991. In that episode, Bart and Lisa Simpson had sung the theme song from Shaft at a Springfield-area sushi restaurant.
Now, less than six weeks later, I found myself in the presence of karaoke for the first time. I flipped through the song book, in search of a song title and number to submit to the KJ. Continue reading →