From: Peter Rivard
Subject: Karaoke Every Day!!!
Sometimes you're so immersed in something that you don't even know it's there. Culture can be that way. Just today, a thought that had flown through my head a hundred times finally stopped long enough to leave a mark: what I do every day is karaoke! Since I began teaching here almost two years ago, Mrs. Sugimoto and I have opened almost every English class with a song for the kids to sing along to. Of course, a lot of the kids can't keep up with most of a typical pop song, so they just sort of hum, chiming in at different points for the lyrics they've mastered, with everyone joining in the chorus. Takako and I, being responsible teachers and role models, sing the whole thing. Now, Ms. Nagata, my new boss at Manyo, has adopted the same program. There's a standard songbook somebody in Takefu schools put together many years ago, filled with English hits that have become popular in Japan, largely reflecting the English-language songs that adult Japanese would know, heavy with the Beatles' greatest hits, 60s and 70s soft rock, and, God help the heathen populace of this earthquake-sifted chain of volcanos, the Carpenters. I actually enjoy this, since I generally ham it up to make up for my terrible singing voice, alternately encouraging and embarrassing my students, and on a few occasions I've been able to bring in some "off the book" music more to entertain than edify the kids, once successfully scaring the hell out of most of a class with a thoroughly overperformed "Anarchy in the UK" (I'd also attempted to horrify the PTA with this one night, but they were far too well lubricated to be frightened). For each moment of glory (think Risky Business, but with pants) though, I've suffered ten of "Sing, sing a song/ Make it simple" and "Just like me/They long to be/Close to you." The occasional Carpenters video, with Karen Carpenter's death written so obviously over her face and body, elevates the merely banal to the genuinely creepy.
However, more good has come of this karaoke routine lately, as it has caused progressive improvements in my mental soundtrack, and thus possibly in my mental health. For the longest time, the tune stuck in my head was an inanely simple and implausibly peppy tune with the lyrics (translated from the Japanese) "Fish, fish, fish, fish/Fish, oh Fish/Fish, fish, fish, delicious fish/Wonderful fish, fish fish fish/Let's eat fish." It's the inescapeable theme of my local supermarket--and to my horror I've discovered a much more lushly orchestrated version playing in the fish section of the far more upscale market across town. Worse yet, it's become a hit in its own right and can even be heard on the radio and TV. All hours of the day and night, in my head, over and over, "Fish, fish, fish." After far too long, that was supplanted by a song from the daily karaoke rotation, a song I'd once liked as a foolish child (it was one of the first records--and I'm old enough to mean real records, in this case a 45--I'd bought): "Country Roads." Not one of my favorites anymore, but it sure beats "The Fish Song." Lately, that's been supplanted by one of my least favorite popular Beatles' songs, "Hey, Jude," which is a vast improvement. Ah, the ever-upward road of Progress!
Aside: On hearing "Country Roads" again, and learning it by heart, as an adult, I was struck with horror by one line, describing West Virginia as a "Miner's lady." What kind of terrifying misogynist pervert would liken the mining industry's treatment of West Virginia to a romantic attachment?