When I lived in Macau and Hong Kong, I had a few opportunities to participate in karaoke jams. We would sometimes rent a private room in Macau, and my fellow Fulbright teaching assistants and I would let loose. The catalog was a mix of songs in English and Cantonese. My go-to at the time was the song “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins, from the soundtrack from the Jeff Bridges film of the same name.
Toward the end of my stay in Macau, I sang a duet with my supervisor during a celebration with some of the faculty. We covered “Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana.” To give you some background, my supervisor is from New Zealand and is also the lead singer and a guitarist in a local Macanese metal band who has headlined a show at The Hardrock Hotel and Casino in Hong Kong. The band would also be in the lineup of one or more of the local Macanese music festivals.
Nirvana will always have a special place for me as Nevermind was released when I was twelve going on thirteen. It was the first time I felt the music had been written solely for me. My supervisor and I tore through the song, and I believe we got a standing ovation, though, I might be making that up. Regardless, both of us would suffer from a stroke and a ruptured brain aneurysm within the following decade, but we have both bounced back.
When I lived in Hong Kong, I went to the bar where Arnel Pineda had been discovered. When guitarist Neal Schon, of the band Journey, was looking for a replacement for Steve Perry, the previous lead singer, Schon saw a video on Youtube of Pineda covering some songs from Journey’s catalog, and the rest as they say is history.
Another time, in Hong Kong, I sang “Creep” by Radiohead. Since this was a “hostess club,” women who worked at the bar kept us company. While I sang, a scantily clad woman danced next to me. It was similar to a scene in History of the World Part 1, when, to discover which of the eunuchs is faking being a eunuch, the Roman guard has Caldonia perform her highly erotic temple dance in praise of Eros. Needless to say, Gregory Hines’ character, who is not a eunuch, but hiding among them, is “discovered.”
I also remember being struck by the meta quality of singing the lyric “I don’t belong here” while at the hostess bar.
Later, I would write a short story inspired by this experience coupled with a phenomenon in the Philippines I had read about referred to as “The My Way Killings.” Apparently, people had been killed in karaoke clubs in the Philipines for singing the Frank Sinatra version of “My Way,” and doing a less than stellar job. In my story, the protagonist wants to sing the Black Flag song “My War,” but his companion mishears him and thinks he wants to sing “My Way.” Everyone at the bar tries to stop him from singing, and a riot breaks out.
My fondest memory involving karaoke occurred when I still lived in New York. One night, I was with my then-girlfriend (the same one whose father’s car I crashed in a previous essay) and a group of her friends. I was singing “Without You” by Motley Crue; not the easiest song to cover since Vince Neil has a high register. I remember a waitress walked by with a tray of shots, and I reached out, took one, drank the shot, and went back to singing without missing a beat. Later, my friends would tell me they had ordered the shots, which slightly took away from the mystique of the moment, but only slightly.
Andrew Davie has worked in theater, finance, and education. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant and has survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. He has published short stories at various places, a chapbook with The Daily Drunk, crime fiction novellas with All Due Respect and Close to the Bone, and an upcoming memoir. His other work can be found in links on his website https://andrew-davie.com/