Is Karaoke an Appropriate Response to a Tragedy?

Is Karaoke an Appropriate Response to a Tragedy?
Illustration by Mike Gorman

Karaoke can be a dangerous endeavor. What can you sing that won't make friends shun you? How can you go balls-out during your next performance? Each week in "Ask a Karaoke Host," RFT Music writer and professional karaoke host Allison Babka answers your burning questions about maximizing your melodious mutterings and minimizing your friends' pain. Ask her stuff by emailing [email protected] or hashtagging #rftkaraoke on Twitter.

Is it OK to karaoke when tragic events are unfolding? -- Some Weird Karaoke Girl

Surprise: I wrote that one. It's something I've asked myself repeatedly since the Newtown events went down last Friday. Is it permissible to sing some Kenny Loggins just hours after a national tragedy? Is it OK to fret over which dress you'll wear on a first date? Are you allowed to turn off the news and just go clubbing?

I have a feeling that many of us had similar questions Friday. Were we bad people if we continued with our lives? Did entertainment become trivial and off-limits? Ultimately, I don't think so. We all have our own ways of processing difficult information and events. Some of us might eschew food but consume every morsel of news. Others might momentarily tuck tragedy away in lieu of a fun distraction, only to mull things over later. Some of us might not even realize we're processing the information at all. I don't think any of this is wrong.

I was scheduled to host my weekly karaoke session last Friday, and for once, I just wasn't feeling it. I wasn't up for the setlist prep work, the video research, the theme possibilities or the inevitable drunk singers. I've mentioned before that karaoke is therapy for me, but I was in no mood to communicate my feelings through music that night. I was numb. For once, there was no song in my heart.

Oh, but there was. I just didn't realize it.

All day long, I thought about friends and family -- people quite dear to me as well as those who touch my life intermittently. I wasn't purposely recalling that pizza party in the fourth grade or wondering what time I'll get to my parents' house this weekend. Faces and memories just sort of floated in and out of my mind before popping like bubbles as I tried to go about my day.

When I finally made my first setlist just minutes before that evening's show started, I realized that the bubbles didn't fully pop. Each of the songs and artists I had queued up -- from classic rock to new wave to Irish craziness -- reflected connections to people in my life, vestiges of thoughts that were still waving around in my brain. Without intending to, I brought those lovely folks to the bar with me, and their accidental song choices gave me comfort. Fortified, my mood gradually grew brighter, and the songs brought about a personal catharsis and reprieve. And I'm so, so grateful for that.

We'll all float on, ok.

Sorry to turn this into an after-school special. Your regularly scheduled karaoke wankery returns on the next page.

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