Sunday, December 21, 2008

Brian Raftery

Salon's Sarah Hepola interviewed Brian Raftery about his new book, Don't Stop Believin': How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life, which "delves into the tangled history of the art form (and yes, it is an art form), from its rocky start in 1970s Japan to its embrace by everyone from trendy indie rock bands to Midwestern bridal parties."

Two exchanges from the Q & A:

Where did karaoke come from?

It started with a guy in Japan in the early '70s named Daisuke Inoue, who was a musician and not a very good one. But he was very good at what I would call being a middleman. He noticed that in bars there would be a musician playing and people singing along. If you were to streamline this process -- add more songs by having a machine, charging a flat rate -- there was money to be made.

He invented something called the Juke-8. It looks like a little speaker box with an eight-track machine. He would hire musicians and get people to write out these lyric books, and he leased these out. He hired these hostesses to walk into the bar and kind of discover the machine. Then they would hand the microphone over to these drunken Japanese businessmen.

It spread through parts of Asia in the '70s and came to America in the early '80s. Bar owners in New York and Orlando were hustling people to sing, but it didn't catch on at first, for a lot of cultural reasons.

* * *

So why was karaoke popular in Japan but proved such a hard sell in America?

You would think the reverse would be true, right? America is an exhibitionist culture. But in Japan, a certain part of that country's history is discipline and an attention to form. People practiced and honed one song, which they could sing perfectly, and it was almost like a piano recital. Also, even though it wasn't an extroverted culture, Japan always had these private rooms for performance [known as k-boxes].

But our country had this clear mark between professionals and amateurs: If you had a contract, and you were touring, you were a professional; otherwise, you were a wannabe. Americans aren't always forgiving to wannabes, and people were aghast at the idea of watching non-professionals sing. Part of the American culture is: Don't look like a fool. Don't be a chump.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue