Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango? Karaoke bonding for work

Jeff Elder

“The only thing better than singing is more singing.” — Ella Fitzgerald

We are walking up Market Street in the drizzle, neon bar signs and street lights gleaming off the wet asphalt. We shake the rain off our jackets and duck into the cavern of The Mint Karaoke Bar. In the shadows glint Christmas lights and laughter and glasses. Regulars turn curious faces to us like owls.

On the small stage a guy with a beard sagely reminds us to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.

We have other music in mind. It is the day David Bowie died.

By ABC Television, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

“Jeff and Zack,” the DJ mumbles and we are on. Our coworkers whoop as my lanky coworker buddy and I stride to the front of the long bar. Crashing around us are the theatrical opening bars of a monster 1980s hit: “Let’s Dance.” We do not shrink from all its operatic melodrama:

Under the moonlight!
The serious moonlight!

Zack is killing it – all grooving arms and legs commanded by a bad-ass expression. We are giving it up for the thin white duke.

As we leave the stage a Bowie lookalike in an overcoat with slicked blond hair, out for a night in homage of his fallen hero, purrs “Fabulous.” He gives us each a slender high-five as we walk by.

We return to cheers in the dark alcove by the bar. Heather and Juliet and Sam and Michael are picking out a song for Katherine, our boss, who will sing anything we throw at her. (In an hour she will torture “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus with a huge smile.) Joe and Ed and Andrew, in town for a big meeting from Scotland and North Carolina and Ohio, sip their drinks basking in the actual physical presence of the good friends they chat with online every day. Greg is now up onstage. Our pack.

Karaoke means empty orchestra in Japanese. The karaoke machine was invented by Japanese musician Daisuke Inoue in 1971, most experts believe, according to the Wikipedia article on karaoke, citing Time magazine. In 2004, Daisuke Inoue was awarded the tongue-in-cheek Ig Nobel Peace Prize for inventing karaoke, “thereby providing an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other.”

Or not. In the Philippines, at least a half-dozen karaoke-related killings of people singing the Frank Sinatra song “My Way” caused newspapers there to label the phenomenon “My Way killings,” according to The New York Times.

Never fear. With us, you cannot get shot down. We will grab the mic and jump in with you. We work for a movement that believes in everyone’s voice, and in plunging in, the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that supports Wikipedia and its sister projects.

Except for our design intern, Haoting, no one sings like a professional. Solos squirm with self-consciousness. But together, we are unstoppable, especially on “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. Our song.

On the great pop anthem’s 40th birthday in October we tweeted the opening lyrics from the Wikipedia account. Our boss Katherine jumped in, and people from around the world finished it.

Someone on that Twitter thread said you should not be in a relationship with anyone who will not sing the entire song with you — including the high-pitched voices in the middle. There is no danger of that with us.

The D.J. beckons. We are all onstage now, jostling as if crowding in for a family photo, sharing four mics.

I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning!
Very, very frightening! Me!
(Galileo) Galileo.
(Galileo) Galileo,
Galileo Figaro
Magnifico-o-o-o

The regulars are singing with us. The Bowie lookalike is giving it up for Freddie Mercury. It is a La Marseillaise moment.

It is silly and amateurish and primal and good, togetherness and trust in a moment alive with the human voice, proving that, unlike the lonely narrator of Bohemian Rhapsody, something really matters, something really matters to us.

Jeff Elder

Written by

Former WSJ reporter and syndicated columnist working in the blogosphere. Once sold books to Johnny Cash. My Medium post about that was praised by Paris Review.

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