Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why I Don't Sing Springsteen Songs At Karaoke Bars

A couple months ago, Steve spotlighted a Springsteen-cinema moment in The Promised Land.  In the scene, John Krasinski fulfills the fantasy of many Springsteen fans: he leads the entire bar in a rousing sing-along to "Dancing In The Dark".  It's a dream all karaoke-ers have had: that, for one shining moment, you will be a rock star in front of a bunch of pleasant drunks.  Sure, you are reading the lyrics off a screen flashing images of scenic mountains, and the microphone can only be heard by those within 15 feet of you, but you are now a hero, creating a memorable moment those patrons will be telling their grandchildren.  Now, like the rest of you, I have had my highs and my lows throughout my karaoke career, but there is one thing I have learned:

Do.  Not.  Sing.  Springsteen.

This statement should raise some eyebrows.  "But Rory, you are a huge Springsteen fan!  Why wouldn't you want to channel your inner E Street (or, perhaps more accurately, your B Street)?  Wouldn't you be able to scoff at the lyrics on the screen, and sing the songs with all your heart?"  Excellent questions, good sir.  Believe me, I've tried forays into Springsteen karaoke, and have never succeeded.  I've had years to dissect these shortcomings, and I've put together my top five reasons why I do not karaoke to Springsteen:

5. Subject Matter: Even the happiest sounding Springsteen songs are often riddled with dark imagery.  On "Thunder Road", there are ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you've sent away; on "Born To Run", you end up singing about death traps and suicide raps.  While Springsteen's choruses can often get people singing along, many songs will contain a couple unexpected lyrics that will have your audience staring somberly into their pint glass, questioning the decisions they've made that have led them to the point in their lives where they are listening to some dope sing Springsteen.

4. He's Not Universally Loved: You might think "I'm Going Down" or "Badlands" will bring the house down, but you will probably end up with blank looks from several bar patrons.  Believe it or not, not everyone loves Springsteen, and even those ambivalent to the Boss might not know songs outside of "Born In The U.S.A.".

3. Long Songs: My rule of thumb is to try to pick karaoke songs under three minutes.  That way, a poor performance is over quickly, and a good performance leaves your audience wanting more.  This is why my usual karaoke go-tos are "Blister In The Sun", "Laid", and "Why Don't You Get A Job".  Unless you can air-saxophone like a champion, "Jungleland" is definitely out of the picture.  The only Springsteen staple that would fit that mold is "I'm On Fire", which is quite the downer.

2. Convoluted Lyrics: I call this the "Baby Got Back" syndrome.  You may think you know all the words, but after the first 30 seconds, it can turn into a giant mess.  I think they only list "Blinded By The Light" in karaoke songbooks to weed out the masochists.

1. YOU ARE NOT BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: This cannot be emphasized enough.  There's only one Bruce Springsteen: his name is Bruce Springsteen, he looks like Bruce Springsteen, and, most importantly, he is Bruce Springsteen.  Singing one of his songs will not magically give you his on-stage charisma.  You attempts at mugging to the crowd and drunken power slides will be met by looks of confusion.  It's like watching Michael Jordan dunk: you can see how he dunks, and you understand the physical mechanics behind it, but it is nearly impossible to replicate.

That being said, should you venture into the world Springsteen karaoke, I would recommend sticking with "Dancing In The Dark" or "Glory Days": these are fairly positive songs, that are well known by most people, are not too long, and have fairly simple lyrics.  (Another pro-tip: in "Glory Days", instead of singing "Think I’m going down to the well tonight", try singing "Think I’m going down to [insert bar name] tonight"; it worked for OB!)  You still won't be Bruce Springsteen, but I won't hold that against you.