Top 5 Karaoke Inspired Acts of Violence

Last week we presented our list of the Top Ten Karaoke Duets of all time, and, since we are not the kind of guys you can pry away from the microphone without a giant Vaudeville-style hook, we are revisiting that world of beer nuts and butchered harmonies — the American Idol audition reject’s last venue in which to sparkle — the karaoke bar. This time though we’re not focusing too closely on the songs but rather on the psychological effects of mixing lakes of booze with people who could not carry a tune in a velcro backpack.

Karaoke DJs are like the special-ed teachers at elementary schools. No matter how hopeless the performance they are witnessing, they are duty-bound to be positive and keep morale from settling to where nature intended it to be. And for the most part audiences are similarly charitable; drunk themselves and not wanting to be booed when they work up the Molson Muscle needed to get on stage, crowds can be surprisingly forgiving as a tone-deaf woman with a lisp makes her way through Celine Dion’s back catalogue.

But there are times when that powder keg of liquored up rowdies and household favorites being executed (in the murder-y sense) is set off. We’ve plundered old news reports, paid attention to new ones, and have even attempted to incite riots by singing “Yellow Submarine” in the depths of an urban slum, to bring you our list of the Top 5 Karaoke-Inspired Acts of Violence!

5) Taking a (Holy) DiverPlace and Date: Wisconsin, November, 2008 
 Holy Diver by Dio

Leading off our karaoke violence rundown and the inspiration for this list is a Smoking Gun news brief on the exploits of one Kyle Drinkwine, a man whose surname is the anglicized version of that of one of the authors, and it is an uncommon enough name to make a check of the more diseased parts of the elm that is his family tree anything but a frightening prospect. (A few years ago another Boivin made the news for raising municipal health concerns with his lake-water-aged cheese).

Drinkwine objected to what he felt was a mocking karaoke take of 80s heavy-metal band Dio’s “Holy Diver,”. The singer later denied that his take on the song was anything other than a heartfelt tribute. “I genuinely love Ronnie James Dio,” he said, making what comes next seem almost deserved.

Drinkwine heckled the singer who, upon clocking the massive crucifix hung on the former’s neck (Drinkwine family reunions see more Catholics than a mafia movie baptism), channeled Don Rickles, suggesting that he find a better vending machine the next time he went jewelery shopping. With both the name of his rock god and Christian deity sullied, Drinkwine reportedly rushed the stage and attempted to throttle the singer before bar staff, and later police, quieted him down.

4) Taking on The Champions: Place and Date: Bulgaria, September 2005.
 We are the Champions by Queen

We were too young to go to bars when Wayne’s World came out (or at least too young to consider wasting a fake ID on a karaoke night). We are guessing though that more than one pair of karaoke-listening ears were assaulted then by people attempting to scale the heights of the Queen classic “Bohemian Rhapsody” featured prominently in that film. If you were to put both songs on a scale of karaoke complexity with 1 being Pop Goes the Weasel and 10 being Pavarotti’s lunch order sung in the original operatic Italian, then “Bohemian Rhapsody” would probably place somewhere around a 6 or 7, and another popular Queen favorite, “We are the Champions,” would be about a 2 or a 3. The latter, sung mainly by hometown hockey fans looking to psychologically offset a visiting team, has about as much musicality to it as that other popular sports taunt song “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye“.

So it’s a bit of curious thing a Brit tourist in Bulgaria singled out a local pair’s “tuneless” rendition of this not exactly tune-filled number for a karaoke step-to. The 40-year-old customer attacked the singers and tore up the bar. The man was in such a state of karaoke vigilante rage that the police required backup to restrain him.

If you think you can do better, here is your chance. A (presumably Asian judging by the dragon-boat racing) karaoke version of “We are the Champions.” As with other karaoke vids on this blog, we cannot take responsibility for any violence that may befall you should you choose to sing this one. All five of these are highly risky choices.

3) Make me Homicidal, Country RoadsPlace and Date: Thailand, March, 2008.
 Country Roads by John Denver

Shark Guy Noel lives in Thailand and as such he knows the holy trifecta of English-language karaoke songs: Hotel California, the Scorpions “Winds of Change” (substitute with the Carpenters tune of your choice) and John Denver’s “Country Roads.” These English selections can be found on any playlist of any karaoke outlet — which in Thailand means bars, malls, restaurants, buses, zoos, long-elevator rides and hearses. Karaoke is so popular in Thailand that your average citizen between the ages of 11 and 80 is likely to have a musical repertoire that eclipses Bob Dylan’s back catalogue.

Just because you can sing a karaoke song while waiting for your malaria shot in the country doesn’t mean that everyone there is partial to the noises a drunk trying to read lyrics through increasingly blurred eyes makes. People have various reasons for going on a killing spree. Some can’t cope with how the influx of postal correspondence never seems to end; others hear John Denver’s Country Roads one too many times and reach for the Remington.

A 58-year-old Thai man fell into the latter category. He shot up a karaoke party, killing eight people, because he said he couldn’t stand their caterwauling. “I warned these people about their noisy karaoke parties. I said if they carried on I would shoot them,” he said, and, like some mailmen, he delivered. A neighbor later reported that while most of the songs chosen had been Thai favorites, the group also loved “Country Roads and sang it “over and over again.” The implication in the source story being something we’ve long suspected: Guns don’t kill people, John Denver songs at irresponsibly loud levels sung incessantly on karaoke night… they kill people.

2) The Inevitable Happens with a Coldplay SongPlace and Date:Seattle, August, 2008.
Song: “Yellow” by Coldplay

Karaoke-related violence is often down to the material selected for crooning. If you pick a crowd pleaser, like say Chuck Berry’s “My Dingaling”, then you can be fairly certain that your audience will be receptive, or at least that they will not pound you to within an inch of your life. But when you take on material that’s more divisive, or enjoyed only by those who hate music, like say the music of Coldplay, then you’re taking your life into your hands along with the microphone.

A Seattle man made the unwise choice of picking Coldplay’s “Yellow” on karaoke night, but the assault he made on good taste, was not to be the only one of the night. A female patron, later described as “a small hippy chick”, took exception, both to the lousy original and the shite delivery of the man covering it. She heckled him, calling for him to stop, and when he continued, she physically attacked him. It took four bartenders and a squad of cops to subdue the “small hippy chick” who managed to headbutt a police officer for good measure. A bartender later remarked that she “was just crazy”, though we’ve yet to decide if we agree with that assessment. Please don’t sing this song. We can’t stop you though, so if you’re going to belt it out it might as well be in the comfort of your own home, office, or prison recreation room:

1) And So I Face… A Life SentencePlace and Date: Philippines, Multiple Times, though mostly reported in early 2000s.
 “My Way” by Frank Sinatra

The most trying moments on karaoke night are those when the singer drops any hint of levity or acknowledgment that this is meant for anything other than a laugh and launches into an earnest and “meaning”-filled performance of a song that they feel captures their life struggle perfectly. For women of a certain age and demographic, choices tend to swing to new country tunes commemorating a dead father or similarly cheery fare. These moments provide the ideal opportunity to sneak off to the bathroom for a quick leak or to make use of that gram that’s been burning a hole in your pocket — to each, their preference.

For men, a song that is often sung in earnestness almost as nauseating as that of the man who popularized it is Sinatra’s take on the Paul Anka-penned “My Way.” This old standard has provided the inappropriate soundtrack to more than one corporate career retrospective and can always be counted on to bring a tear to a glass eye at funerals when someone like Horshack from “Welcome Back Kotter” kicks the bucket and it gets played over a loudspeaker.

Returning to Southeast Asia — where as mentioned you can drop a nickle into a karaoke machine in the back of an ambulance and sing your way to emergency bypass surgery — particularly the Philippines, and this song takes on a deadly significance, summed up in this extract from the book “The Traveler and the Gate Checkers” by Ted Lerner:

The song “My Way” is perhaps the most preferred song when the drinks start flowing and the karaoke gets turned on. The song is so popular, and singing it is taken so seriously, that dozens have literally died because of “My Way.” Perhaps someone laughed while a buddy was singing during a drinking spree, or someone didn’t like the way the guy at the other table clapped after he tried to imitate Frank. It’s always a ridiculously stupid reason but, no matter, out comes the fan knife or the pistol and wham!-it ends in a liquored-up flash, another senseless death due to “My Way.” I wondered if Frank was aware that so many had died because of that song.

One suspects that faux-Mafia Frank would have responded to said news with macho posturing, but we digress. Most of the mentions of “My Way”-related mayhem (here, and here, for example) took place in 2001, and presumably the situation improved when bars began taking the song off their playlists to help turn back the tide of violence. Traveler’s Tip: If you’re ever out rocking in Manila and you end up in karaoke bar that still does have this on its playlist, we’d recommend  a PhD in the Vocal Arts from Juilliard at minimum before you take the mic. Paul Anka is strongly advised to avoid attempting it on holiday.