Don’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life

Book Reviews | Jun 22nd, 2009

Image used with permission for review purposes.


Author: Brian Raftery
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Genre: Music
Pages: 224
Retail Price: $16
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As you can expect from a karaoke addict, this book is more about the performer than the song. Don’t Stop Believin’ is more about Brian Raftery’s love of karaoke than about karaoke itself. (A history of karaoke isn’t even covered until page 111.) But this isn’t a bad thing.

Rather than to hear perfect music, you go to karaoke for the drunken, feverish performance – to enjoy both the awkwardness and joy of losing inhibitions. And Raftery is a true performer who combines the hilarious showboating, dorkiness, and soul-bearing that only a true karaoke fan could express. His airy and jokey writing is truly amusing and fun, and in fact only stumbles when taking a more journalistic approach at the halfway point.

I thoroughly enjoyed Don’t Stop Believin’ for perhaps a superficial reason – Raftery might be my singin’ doppelganger. His nostalgia is eerily familiar. I, too, spent most of my early 20s at Village Karaoke – an East Village private booth place that went from a relatively secret enclave to a two-hour-wait frathouse due to its awesome BYOB policy.

The live-band Punk Rock Karaoke shows at Arlene’s Grocery are also fondly remembered, though I dropped out early on after it got too crowded and meatheaded. I also appreciated Raftery’s take on karaoke in Japan, as I’ve also enjoyed nomihoodai (all you can drink) service with the Roppongi salarymen. With all these shared experiences, I’m certain the author and I have crossed paths many times, probably both flailing out of a steamy private room, stumbling against each other for the bathroom or bar.

While it helps to know these haunts, Raftery’s casual and funny style would appeal to anyone. Dude is funny. The book’s only shortfall is that time has passed its subject. Karaoke is no longer the social pariah of the nightlife world or a rising star. It’s been a long time since it was the realm of sleazy lounge lizards or, later, a novelty at dive bars. It’s so far into the mainstream that to write about it as a current phenomenon seems old hat.

In fact, with American Idol and other reality TV shows inspiring nobodies to sing their fool asses off, public singing by non-professionals has been thoroughly accepted for years. And with Rock Band and Guitar Hero, the convenience and ease of drunkenly singing with friends in your living room – as well as additional instruments for the shy – make karaoke obsolete.

Rather than conquering the world, I fear karaoke is a dying activity. A book like Don’t Stop Believin’ might be late to the game, but it serves as a nice time capsule to early ‘00s karaoke in NYC and a love letter to the fine art (?) of belting out “Sweet Child O’ Mine” in a screechy falsetto.

For the record, my standbys are: Blondie’s cover of “The Tide is High”; Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me”; U2’s “Mysterious Ways”; and if a place has it, nothing beats singing the Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen In Love?”

Bottom Line: Humorous look at one dude’s karaoke journey.
Favorite Parts: I enjoyed the chapter on the obscure art of filming unintentionally hilarious karaoke videos. I love those things!
Overall Rating:


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