Posts Tagged With: World Karaoke Tour

Country no. 25 on my World Karaoke Tour: I sang like an Egyptian

Greetings, readers. I’m currently in Egypt. Earlier this week, this storied Land of the Pharaohs became country no. 25 on my World Karaoke Tour! And I’m here now to tell you how it all went down. I’ve been taking plenty of photos on this 2-week trip that I’m now in the middle of; in upcoming articles I’ll post many of those pictures, and I’ll talk about the stunning historical sights that I’ve been seeing. But the focus today, in my initial dispatch from Egypt, is on my experience of the Egyptian karaoke scene. Priorities! 🙂

Night no. 1: Giza

I’ve actually sung in Egypt on two different evenings so far. My Egyptian karaoke debut occurred on Monday, September 17, 2012 at the Laguna Lounge Cafe & Restaurant in Mohandessin, a neighbourhood in Giza (Giza being internationally renowned as the city in which you’ll find the Great Pyramid and Great Sphinx). Continue reading

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In Westchester

One increasingly popular variant of karaoke is “live band” karaoke. As its name suggests, the instrumental accompaniment in this version is supplied by actual band members rather than CD’s or MP3’s. (A scene from a typical night of live band karaoke, at some random bar in North Carolina that I’ve never been to, is shown in the photo on the left.) I’m not generally a fan of live band karaoke, for a couple of reasons. First, the song list is limited to the repertoire of the band. Typically this results in a choice from among a mere several hundred tunes, rather than the tens of thousands of song offerings at the best venues for “traditional” karaoke. Second, because the song isn’t coming from a pre-recorded medium, there’s no source of data to feed the lyrics to a video monitor. Thus, in the live-band karaoke format, you either must have the words memorized, or must supply your own copy of them. (To meet that need, you might end up referring to the lyrics in the form of a printout you made from the internet, or on the screen of your smartphone. This creates an additional drawback: reading from an elevated screen, as you would do at an ordinary karaoke venue, can be like reading a speech from a teleprompter, in that it allows you to still engage with the audience. In contrast, repeatedly staring down at a cheat-sheet that you’re holding in your hands is much more likely to get in the way of your making eye contact with the crowd.) Relatedly, you’re largely on your own for synchronizing the vocals with the instrumental backing. While the band will provide you with some cues, you can’t rely on every single word of the song changing colour at the appropriate time to prompt you throughout the song.

For some people, these disadvantages of live-band karaoke are outweighed by the benefits of an experience that simulates fronting for a rock band. I have to say, I have an enormous amount of respect for lead singers of real bands, who are required to memorize the words to dozens of songs at any given time, and who need to have perfect timing as well as superior vocal abilities.

Despite my general disdain for live-band karaoke, one night each year I participate in an activity that closely resembles it. Continue reading

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Why Barry Manilow is dead to me

This Thursday, I’m flying to Las Vegas. Naturally, I’ll be doing some singing while in town. My upcoming trip to Sin City will be my fifth time there; and as it approaches I’m reminded of some of the great times I’ve enjoyed in Las Vegas in the past. But I’m also reminded of a colossal disappointment that I suffered at the hands of Barry Manilow during a Vegas vacation in 2009. I’m going to reprint here, verbatim, the text of a heartfelt letter that I sent to Mr. Manilow (with a copy to his agent) in the aftermath of that incident; the letter speaks for itself regarding how Barry wronged me. Then I’ll share some parting thoughts.

Before I get to the letter, I also want to apologize to you, my readers, for the long interval between blog posts. In my previous article, I promised that the subject of my next posting would be my September 2010 trip to Easter Island. I’m still working on that essay; it’s a wide-ranging account of my experiences on the island also known as Rapa Nui, and it’s taken longer than anticipated to edit my recollections and photos into a coherent form that’s ready for publishing. (Also, in all candor, it can be tough sticking to a regular schedule when you’re writing for your own blog and don’t have an editor pushing you to meet deadlines.) However, I’ve reached the point where I no longer want my entire blog to be on hold just because of delays in completing one post. So while my Easter Island memoir will soon appear in this space, I’ll publish articles on other subjects in the interim — including some dispatches live from Las Vegas later this week! And now, without further delay, here’s the letter that explains my antipathy towards Barry Manilow.

Dear Mr. Manilow:

I am writing to express how upset I am about your last-minute cancellation of your Las Vegas concert on Friday, March, 20, 2009, which my friend David and I had tickets to attend. Enclosed is a copy of my ticket order confirmation. Continue reading

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Country no. 8 on my World Karaoke Tour: Vive la France!

Generations of Americans have been drawn to Paris for its culture. I came for karaoke.

Not long after returning from my 2 1/2 week Eurotrip in 2004, I tendered my notice of resignation to my horrible boss. I was finally extricating myself from an untenable work situation. My last day at the office was in early November. I left without having a new job in hand; that’s an indication of just how much I felt the need to get out.

It took me nearly a year to find a new position, partly because a headhunter who’d promised to help me seemed more interested in having me perform cut-rate legal work for his company than in placing me with a law firm (I referred to him as the “laissez-faire headhunter” when mentioning him to my friends). Only when I initiated my own networking efforts the following summer did my job search finally acquire momentum. One of my contacts referred me to an elite recruiter, who hooked me up with the law firm where I still practice today. I arranged to start that new gig in early October, 2005.

Before embarking on the next phase of my career, I decided to visit London and Paris for a little over a week. Paris was to be a weekend excursion from London. Continue reading

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Countries no. 6 and 7 on my World Karaoke Tour: the Netherlands and Belgium

After my World Karaoke Tour was shut out in Italy, I headed north and hoped that things would go differently in the Netherlands and Belgium. Three train rides later, and some 16 hours after my departure from Venice, I rolled into the Dutch capital.

Dutch courage in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is well-known for its Red Light District, where one can indulge in certain activities that are unlawful in most of the world. To gain a full flavor of the city in which I now found myself, I made sure to check out the Red Light District (strictly out of curiosity, of course). 🙂 Actually, I didn’t have to wait long after my arrival in Amsterdam to observe one of the city’s legalized vices: as soon as I disembarked from the train, I witnessed people smoking joints on the platform.

I probably could have gotten high myself from the secondhand smoke that was wafting up from all of that cannabis. But doing the Cheech & Chong thing was unnecessary for me. As this blog reflects, singing karaoke provides a natural high for me. So, although many tourists in Amsterdam end up in that city’s “coffee shops”, I set out in search of a venue where I could indulge my addiction to song. Happily, that quest proved much more successful in Amsterdam than it had in Rome; and on Tuesday night, August 31, 2004, the Netherlands became country no. 6 on my World Karaoke Tour.

I opened with “Footloose,” perhaps a risky choice because most of my audience in the bar that night consisted of first-year university students (They were in the midst of their orientation week). Those whippersnappers hadn’t even born yet when Footloose: the movie was released in 1984, and they’d probably never heard its title song, originally recorded by Kenny Loggins. (An atrocious remake of the movie — a “reboot,” in current Hollywood parlance — would be foisted upon filmgoers in 2011; but on that magical night when I strode onto the stage in Amsterdam, the release of the Footloose remake was still seven years in the future.) One thing that I had going for me: the Footloose theme song is an outstanding dance anthem that invariably gets a crowd fired up. Have a look at the closing scene from the movie, in which the full potential of the song is realized:


My concerns about my song selection proved unjustified; the young scholars responded with enthusiasm to my rendition of “Footloose.” If this was their introduction to the song, it had made a favorable first impression on them. My trademark H-Bomb leg kick at the end of the song didn’t hurt. And my Amsterdam karaoke appearance marked the first time that I uttered what would become a signature line for me at my appearances in foreign venues: “New York City is in the house!” This too helped endear me to the audience.

In addition to “Footloose,” I performed four other songs over the course of the evening. I couldn’t tell you what those other songs were, as I neglected to document that information (The name of the bar where my singing took place has also long since been erased from my memory banks). Keep reading to learn more about my experiences in Amsterdam and Brussels

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H-Bomb on TV overseas

The World Karaoke Tour is premised on me bringing my karaoke performances to the world in person. But lately I’ve gained exposure in some farwaway lands without having to leave the United States.

Taiwan

As you may know, back in January I was interviewed by a Taiwanese television station, TVBS, while riding (and singing) in the karaoke cab in northern Virginia (And if you didn’t know about this, well, shame on you for not keeping up with my blog). 🙂 It seems that the news story for which I was interviewed was televised at some point. Here you can find a written story that the station’s website posted about the karaoke cab, which apparently accompanied the broadcast of the story. You may not get very far in that article if you don’t read Mandarin Chinese; but on the left is a screen shot from the article, in which you can see me singing in the karaoke taxi. I don’t know what the text in the article says about me, but I assume it’s something good. 🙂 Anyway, I’m still following up to try to obtain a video of the televised news story.

UPDATE (July 13, 2012): I spoke today with the Washington bureau chief of TVBS. She advised that it’s not possible for me to obtain a copy of the video. She did not provide an explanation (she also said that the video is not viewable online). Oh well, I tried . . .

The Philippines

The karaoke cabbie, Joel Laguidao, hails from the Philippines — no surprise, as karaoke is huge in that archipelagic nation. Recently, a Filipino news program interviewed Mr. Laguidao. Here’s a segment that includes that interview. From 1:17 to 1:28, you can see stock footage of a familiar person singing in the back seat of that taxi. 🙂


You may feel like you’ve seen that stock footage somewhere before; if so, that’s because it came from my first appearance in Mr. Laguidao’s karaoke cab, back in November 2011.

The Philippines and Taiwan are both on my radar screen as future checkpoints on the World Karaoke Tour; and when I get to those places, my reputation will have preceded me!

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My Italian odyssey

Italy belongs to a select list of countries to which I’ve traveled without singing karaoke within their borders. Here’s the story of how that happened — and how I occupied myself in the absence of singing opportunities.

In one of the excavated villas in the volcanically-buried city of Pompeii, a floor mosaic bears the words “Cave canem” — Latin for “Beware of dog.” During my 2004 visit to Italy (a tour that did include a stop in Pompeii), I had my own “Cave Canem” experience. The scene for that encounter was the island of Murano, near Venice. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Rome: Veni, vidi, vici? Not quite . . .

My Italian hijinks commenced in Rome. I’d been to the Eternal City once before, in 1993. I was excited to return because in the ensuing 11 years I’d read extensively on Roman history; and so I looked forward to appreciating the relics of the Roman empire in their historical context as I gazed upon them in the 21st century.

And the Roman landmarks that I toured did not disappoint: the Colosseum (also known as the Flavian amphitheater); the Forum; the Pantheon; St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums (including the Sistine Chapel); Trevi Fountain; and the Spanish steps. One of the less clichéd attractions that I was privileged to behold was the Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth), which was the subject of a famous scene in the Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn film, Roman Holiday. This image of a river god has hung in its present location in the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin since 1632 (see photo at right). A legend holds that if you insert your arm in its maw and tell a lie, the Mouth of Truth will swallow your arm. I did not put that legend to the test. 🙂

The history buff in me enjoyed taking in so many iconic sights during my sojourn in the Italian capital. But I was in town for another reason as well. Having just added Greece to my World Karaoke Tour a few days earlier, I wanted Italy to join its Mediterranean neighbor on my list of karaoke conquests. Unfortunately, that mission was not fated to be accomplished in Rome. Nick, an Italian-American karaoke buddy in New York, had suggested that I would be likely to find a karaoke venue in the Trastevere, a bohemian quarter on the west bank of the River Tiber. Pubs and restaurants abound along the cobbled medieval streets of the Trastevere; and as I meandered through its narrow pathways, I hoped that at least one of those establishments would offer me the chance to sing.

My search was doomed to failure by an aspect of Italian culture of which I’d previously been unaware. I actually did come across one bar in the Trastevere region in which karaoke nights were held — only to learn that the karaoke was suspended for the month of August (the month during which I’d walked into that watering hole). The reason: during each and every August, many Italians (including, apparently, the karaoke host at this particular pub) go on vacation for the entire month. So I was out of luck.

That was as close as I would come to adding the nation of Italy to my World Karaoke Tour. My Italian itinerary also included Pompeii and Venice, but I was not fated to find karaoke in either of those locations. However, I did see some cool stuff in those cities.

Pompeii and Vesuvius: H-Bomb versus the volcano

The prosperous Roman city of Pompeii was interred under volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 — perhaps the most celebrated volcanic outburst in world history. Pompeii’s ruins (unearthed by archaeologists in the 18th century) make for poignant viewing when one contemplates the tragic and sudden end that befell its residents. You can walk into well-preserved buildings that were constructed over two thousand years ago, and thereby gain a unique insight into the way people lived in antiquity. The surviving structures that line the Pompeiian streets include not only residential villas, but a bakery and even a house of ill repute (tangible proof that the trade that was practiced inside its walls is truly the world’s oldest profession).

And you can even see (sort of) some of the people who lived and worked in those buildings; one of the most unusual series of items on display in Pompeii is the plaster casts of some of the Vesuvian victims (see photo at right). When Pompeii was excavated, found in the volcanic ash were indentations in the shape of some of the human casualties. Those impressions preserved for centuries the poses that the victims had been in when nature’s wrath overtook them. The archaeologists made plaster casts from the indentations. However, the presentation of many of the casts leaves something to be desired. For example, the one seen here is just lying on a wooden table in a storage room.

During my Pompeiian visit, I also took a day-trip to the ruins at Herculaneum (see photo at left), another outpost of the Roman empire that was destroyed in the same Vesuvian eruption that wiped out Pompeii.

And I made an excursion into the bustling metropolis of nearby Naples, where I visited the National Archaeological Museum. Among the highlights of that museum are a wealth of artworks found among the excavations in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Its most famous gallery is the Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Cabinet), a chamber that features erotically themed art from those ancient cities (Additional examples of the treasures of the Gabinetto Segreto can be glimpsed here and here. But be warned: the images from the Gabinetto Segreto to which I’ve linked here are NSFW). Until relatively recently, the contents of the Gabinetto Segreto were deemed too explicit for public display, and could only be viewed by “persons of mature age, known to be possessed of a strong morality.” My guidebook had indicated that even today, upon entry into the museum, you need to sign up for a timed appointment if you wish to gain access to the Gabinetto Segreto (although the museum staff no longer evaluates your morality when you do that); but even though I forgot to register for an appointment, there were no guards stationed at the door and I had no trouble accessing the forbidden chamber.

Perhaps the highlight of my visit to Pompeii was my ascent of the volcano that was responsible for all the carnage. Continue reading

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Kiwi karaoke chaos

According to this article in the New Zealand Herald — the newspaper of record in its country’s largest city, Auckland — karaoke bars in Auckland aren’t really about the singing; they’re places where people go to engage in far more sinister activities. The Herald compares the typical karaoke pub in that fair city to “an opium den of the 19th century,” and states that in such a venue, “privacy, alcohol and more than a touch of criminality combine to shape one of the city’s new dens of iniquity. Police aren’t concerned about the terrible singing of businessmen – they are worried about drug-dealing, money-laundering, gross intoxication and prostitution.” Well, at least it’s a relief that the local constables aren’t policing the vocal quality of karaoke singers.

I have to say, I’ve been to Auckland, and I’ve sung karaoke there (This occurred in January 2010, when New Zealand became country no. 17 on my World Karaoke Tour; my report on that particular H-Bomb appearance will be the subject of an upcoming blog post). But I didn’t witness any of the depraved pursuits that the Herald depicts as commonplace in its jurisdiction’s karaoke bars. I didn’t feel that I’d wandered into a modern-day opium den. Continue reading

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Country no. 5 on my World Karaoke Tour: Greece

As previously discussed in this blog, through August 1993, I’d sung karaoke in four countries. As the calendar flipped to August 2004, I’d still sung karaoke in a total of . . . four countries. The biggest reason for this stagnation in my World Karaoke Tour was that for much of the intervening period I’d been trapped in a horrible job in which I was severely underpaid relative to my qualifications as an attorney and the work I was doing, and which therefore did not enable me to afford vacations to foreign lands (That job also sucked for additional reasons beyond the paltry compensation, but those reasons are beyond the scope of this blog). In the summer of 2004 I was still languishing in that dismal job, although I was only a few months away from finally quitting it. But I’d accumulated enough American Express Membership Rewards miles to qualify for a free round-trip flight to Europe; and by staying in cheap hotels I was able to cobble together my first overseas trip since 1996.

The itinerary for my new voyage included the Greek island of Crete; Rome; Pompeii; Venice; Amsterdam; and Brussels. The focus in the present article will be on the initial stop of Crete; the next installment of this series continues the narrative of my late-summer 2004 romp through Europe, during which the concept of my World Karaoke Tour finally began to reach critical mass.

Prologue: Terror on the high seas in 1996

I’d been to Greece once before — during the aforementioned 1996 journey that had marked my most recent foray outside the United States. On that trip, taken at the end of the summer, my law school friend Dave and I visited Athens and Delphi on the Greek mainland, as well as the Aegean islands of Ios and Santorini. Although Greece boasts a musical tradition dating back to ancient times, I didn’t find any karaoke during my 1996 visit. To be honest, I didn’t really seek it out; while I’d been singing karaoke Stateside for nearly five years at that point, karaoke had not yet become one of the defining activities of my life.

Despite the lack of any H-Bomb performances, my 1996 Greek holiday was memorable for a certain boat ride that occurred towards the end. Dave and I were on a ferry, returning from Santorini to Athens before flying back to New York. The ferry made an unscheduled stop at some random island. An announcement came over the public address system in Greek, and about two-thirds of the people on the boat immediately disembarked. Dave and I wondered why. Continue reading

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Rogue taxi drivers and “La Bamba”: my weekend in Mexico City, 2011

The Pyramid of the Sun is located along Calle de los Muertos (the Avenue of the Dead), at Teotihuacan outside Mexico City.Several nights before I flew to Mexico City, I was shaken up by a disturbing nightmare. In the dream, there was a cloud on the ground and I stepped onto it; the cloud was then magically transformed into a glacier. Walking on the glacier, I fell into a hidden crevasse and started plummeting for what would certainly be hundreds of feet. Even if I survived the fall, I knew I would end up too far below the surface to ever climb out or be found by rescuers. And I thought to myself, “This is what it feels like to know I’m about to die.” Then I woke up.

One year ago this weekend — Memorial Day weekend in the United States — I flew to Mexico City because I’d never been to Mexico, and that city was geographically close enough (roughly a four hour flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to Benito Juarez International Airport near Mexico City) that it would be easy to jet down there for a long weekend and check off another country on my World Karaoke Tour. The concept here was similar to the reasoning I’d employed when I added Canada to the tour via a weekend jaunt to Montreal in August 2010. I’m constantly looking to increase the tally of countries in which I’ve sung; and while I understandably get enthused over exotic locales like Easter Island, there’s no reason for me to overlook the “easy” destinations (especially those that are immediately adjacent to my home country). Still, as I headed to the airport, my excitement was tempered by a sense of disquiet. Mexico City's newest museum, El Museo Soumaya, opened to the public in March 2011. I wondered whether my nightmare portended a tragic outcome for this journey. My initial reaction was to associate the dream with my fear of flying, and to interpret it as a premonition of a plane crash (This speculation was heightened as a result of bad weather in New York on the day of my departure; I become especially nervous when there’s a predicted risk of thunderstorms around the time of takeoff). But did the dream serve as a more generalized warning regarding my impending travel? In the dream, stepping onto the cloud seemed innocuous enough at the time; but it became the type of fateful and irreversible decision that would inexorably lead to my demise.

Saturday morning and afternoon: sightseeing

Things started out innocently enough. I arrived in Mexico’s capital city on a Friday night. On Saturday morning, I headed out to Mexico City’s newest museum: El Museo Soumaya (see photo, above right), which had just opened about two months prior to my visit. The interior of El Museo Soumaya is more than a little reminiscent of the Guggenheim.

This museum displays the art collection of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú, who according to Forbes is the wealthiest man in the world. The emphasis of the Soumaya’s holdings is on European and Mexican art. Among the highlights is a large trove of Rodin sculptures, including a copy of “Le Penseur” (“The Thinker”). Also included are works by such artists as Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Renoir, Van Gogh, Dali, Miró, El Greco, Tintoretto, and (as you would expect in a Mexican museum) Diego Rivera. Moreover, the Soumaya is one of those museums whose architecture is as notable as the treasures it houses. As shown here, the interior of the Soumaya is evocative of New York City’s Guggenheim, with the focal point a gently sloping ramp that curves upward and gradually ascends to the top level. The concept may not be original, but it’s well-executed.

After getting some culture in the museum, I explored Mexican history at the Palacio Nacional (National Palace). One of the signature attractions of the palace is its murals by Diego Rivera that vividly dramatize his country’s past.

Then I had a stop to make outside the city. I made an excursion to the suburb of Naucalpan, to experience a very distinctive-looking house. That home is known unofficially as the “Nautilus house,” due to its resemblance to the sea creature of that name. I’d come across a photo of the Nautilus house on the internet, while perusing a website that showed examples of unusual architecture from around the world. The Nautilus house in the suburb of Naucalpan.When I realized that this unique home was located in the vicinity of Mexico City, and that I would be visiting that very metropolis, I knew I had to see such an architectural gem in person. Only one problem: despite my formidable googling skills, I couldn’t find an address for the Nautilus house. What to do?

I took a chance and emailed the architect who had designed the Nautilus house. I didn’t even expect to hear back. But his firm responded and contacted the house’s owners (yes, there’s a family that enjoys the enviable distinction of living in this remarkable abode!). The result: I was invited to visit the Nautilus house as a special guest of the owners.

So on the Saturday afternoon of my weekend in Mexico, I ventured out to Naucalpan (my mode of transportation was a private car service arranged by my hotel, and that was a good choice because even with detailed directions, the house was hard to find. My driver, however, was able to telephone the house and converse with the residents in Spanish to obtain the necessary navigational assistance).Inside the Nautilus house. The Nautilus house is situated in a gated enclave that abounds with elegant homes, but those other residences are attractive in a much more conventional way. I could only imagine what the neighbors think of this bizarre habitation in their midst.

Upon my arrival at the Nautilus house, I was treated to outstanding hospitality by the occupants. They welcomed me inside and gave me a full tour. As you can see in the photo on the left, the interior was just as spectacular as the exterior. (More photos taken inside the Nautilus house can be seen in the full album of photos from my Mexico City weekend, which you can view here.) The patriarch of the household and his son then took me for a walk around the neighborhood. By the way, it turned out that conversing with the family was not a problem, as its members spoke English fluently.

Saturday night: karaoke

I’d already had a full day and seen some cool stuff; but after I circled back to Mexico City, it was time for the activity that supplied the principal purpose of my trip. I was off to sing karaoke! Continue reading

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Country no. 14 on my World Karaoke Tour: Japan

Almost from the time that I began singing karaoke regularly, taking the H-Bomb show to Japan had been a prized objective for me. The Land of the Rising Sun was, of course, the place where karaoke originated. How could I not want to experience karaoke in the land of its birth?

I finally made it happen in April 2008. After singing in 13 other countries, I prepared to make my long-sought pilgrimage. That journey to Japan — my first foray into Asia, and my first time crossing the International Date Line — proved to be an outstanding vacation in many respects. Surprisingly, however, as you’ll see, I found the Japanese karaoke scene a letdown in comparison to my soaring expectations.

Like most visitors from overseas, my point of entry to Japan was Narita International Airport. That airport is located in the city of Narita, about 35 miles east of Tokyo’s city center.

Disaster almost struck before I even made it out of the airport. Right after I cleared customs, my passport fell out of my backpack without my noticing. But just a few minutes later, a young American man ran up to me in the ground transportation area and asked if I’d lost my passport. “That’s impossible,” I confidently replied, adding that I had just placed it in my bag. But then I noticed that the zipper was partially open on my backpack, and the passport was missing from the compartment in which I’d inserted it. The young man then ran back to where he’d come from; and shortly thereafter, he returned with my passport. Disaster averted.

This wasn’t the first time that I lost my passport while on the road. But this blog isn’t about my irresponsibility; it’s about my love of karaoke and travel. So, onward!

Anyway, once I recovered my passport, I didn’t immediately board a train to Tokyo. Instead I headed to a nearby hotel in Narita. Why did I do that? you may wonder. Continue reading

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Countries no. 2, 3, and 4 on my World Karaoke Tour: United Kingdom, Austria, and Iceland

As of June 1993, I’d been singing karaoke sporadically for about two years. That month, having just completed my first year as a student at Georgetown University Law Center, I flew to London to commence a summer law study program. My summer was to divide into three segments, each three weeks long: First, in London, I was taking a course on “Comparative Litigation.” Next, in Salzburg, Austria, I was taking a course on “Fundamental Rights in Europe and the U.S.,” which was co-taught by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Both the London and Salzburg sessions were under the auspices of a program that was operated not by Georgetown but by the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific in Sacramento, California. Following my six weeks of academics, I would spend the final three weeks on a sort of abbreviated version of the Grand Tour, passing through various Western European cities. By this time I had come to regret not having spent a semester abroad during my undergraduate years at Johns Hopkins; and I viewed my summer excursion as a way of partially compensating for what I’d missed out on. (This was at a time when study abroad programs were far more likely than today to take place in Western Europe; naturally, I assumed that if I had gone abroad for my junior year, my destination would have been somewhere in that region.)

The entries on my law school transcript from the summer of ’93 are not particularly important to this blog (although it was pretty cool hanging out in an Austrian beer garden with a Supreme Court justice, and asking him about a case that I had just seen one of my professors argue before him and his fellow jurists a few months earlier). But that summer in Europe had another, unexpected impact on my life. It saw the genesis of my World Karaoke Tour.

London, United Kingdom
I’d been in London for no more than a few days when I decided that I needed to find a British pub in which to sing. So one afternoon after my classes let out, I walked around from bar to bar, asking the bartenders if they knew of any pubs that offered karaoke. In one response that was seared into my brain, a bartender not only stated that he knew of no such pubs, but gratuitously added that “karaoke is old hat.” He said this all the way back in 1993! Talk about being on the wrong side of history. 🙂 Of course, in 2012, karaoke is ubiquitous almost everywhere on the planet — an outcome that would not have surprised the 23-year-old me in ’93. So anyway, when that bloke made his smug comment, I wanted to respond, “Hey man, your whole country is old hat!” But I held my tongue. (Note: I’m a huge Anglophile; so when I call England “old hat,” I say that term with nothing but affection. But there was something ironic about a denizen of such an ancient land deriding as antiquated an invention of the 1970s.)

Naturally, I did find a place to sing in London. Continue reading

Categories: Europe, Europe, travel, World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Karaoke in Brooklyn? Fuhgeddaboutit!

When most people from other parts of the world think about New York City, they visualize Manhattan. But the Big Apple’s most populous borough, and one whose grittiness perhaps better represents the real spirit of New York, is Brooklyn. Indeed, if Brooklyn had not been consolidated into New York City in 1898 but had instead remained independent, it would, even today, remain the fourth largest city in the United States — just as depicted on the sign featured in the opening credits to Welcome Back Kotter. I enjoy spending time in Brooklyn; visiting Brooklyn Bridge Park, and strolling the boardwalk at Coney Island, are two of my very favorite things to do in this city.

One thing that my forays into Brooklyn had never included, prior to Sunday night, was karaoke singing. In the over 16 years that I’ve been a New York City resident, I’ve sung in Manhattan on hundreds of different occasions; and I’ve also made multiple karaoke appearances in the borough of Queens. But Brooklyn had never witnessed an H-Bomb performance. Until now. Continue reading

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Country no. 1: the United States

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

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Hello, Taiwan!

I’m in Washington, DC right now. Back in November, I took a ride in Joel Laguidao’s karaoke cab in Northern Virginia. That went pretty well and I had a great time. So this week, Joel called me and told me that a TV news crew from a Taiwanese station, TVBS, would be filming a segment in his cab; and he invited me to go for another ride with him, this time in the presence of the Taiwanese TV people. I took Joel up on his offer and rode the train down to D.C. on Saturday afternoon. On Saturday night, the TVBS cameraman filmed me while I was singing in Joel’s cab (I sang “La Bamba” and “New York State of Mind”); and then a reporter from the station interviewed me. There’s no guarantee that any of this raw H-Bomb footage will make it on the air; and even if it does, I may not like the way I look. 🙂 But if there turn out to be any videos worth sharing, you’ll see them here. And hopefully, this will be just the first of many opportunities for me to gain international media exposure for my World Karaoke Tour.

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