music

Becoming a Karaoke Singer

I stood in front of the computer screen with a microphone in my hand.

It was Tuesday night – karaoke night – at Mama’s Bar. The hour was late, I had had a few too many glasses of wine, and the place was almost empty. About a dozen friends sat at the table I had just left, waiting in anticipation for my karaoke debut. I had never sung in public before.  With so few people present, it felt safe. I stood there detached from myself and anaesthetized from fear.

Chris, the “karaoke DJ,” looked at me. His eyes were looking for acknowledgment to one of two questions: “Are you ready?” Or possibly, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I nodded in the affirmative.

The song I had chosen was “Fields of Gold” by Sting. The fifteen second introduction seemed to last forever. The dots at the top of the screen started their countdown. The first four lines of the song appeared on the next screen. I opened my mouth and took a deep breath…

And so began my new past-time as a karaoke singer at the age of 70.

Some people retire to Lake Chapala in central Mexico with plans to pursue a long put-off dream or continue, in earnest, a passion developed in their former life. It might be painting, writing, tennis, golf, bridge, or any number of pastimes.

Others, like me, are traveling through their retirement as a voyage of discovery and a chance to redefine themselves. Taking this path usually means trying a lot of new things, or just doing whatever you want. Since turning 70, I’ve walked the Camino de Santiago and flown in an ultra-lite for the first time. A song, “Live Like You Were Dying,” sung by country singer Tim McGraw, expresses my attitude perfectly…

…”Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying

Like tomorrow was a gift
And you’ve got eternity
To think about
What you’d do with it?
What could you do with it?
What did I do with it?
What would I do with it?”

Believe me, when I started my retirement journey, singing and singing karaoke weren’t in my plans.

My first real exposure to karaoke was at a Japanese restaurant in Massachusetts. On Thursday nights, 20 and 30 somethings would drink themselves silly, and compete to see who could butcher their chosen song the most. It was pretty pathetic.

Karaoke at Lake Chapala has been elevated to a more mature level. On any Tuesday or Friday night, Mama’s Bar entertains an eclectic clientele. Sure, there are singers worthy of the Gong Show. But there are a number of very good singers who, in their younger days, sang in bands, performed on stage, and in church choirs. And then there are those of us whose musical talents entertained the walls of a shower stall, or “sing-alongs” with the car radio. We’ve discovered that we love to sing, and karaoke lets us explore our fantasies. For several minutes, we can vicariously be a rock, Broadway, or country and western star.

When I moved down the street from Mama’s a few years ago, I started going to karaoke on Friday nights. I observed the happenings for almost two years. I sat at the bar or at a table with friends and sang to myself. The noise level was high enough that no one heard.

Secretly, I knew I could sing. But, I just needed to overcome my inhibitions.

Before I ever contemplated singing in public, I sang along with Youtube videos. Without Youtube, I don’t know where I would have found such a broad spectrum of musical genres and styles. Karaoke introduced me to country and western, a genre I had previously scorned. Kenny Chesney, George Straight, Merle Haggard, and Allen Jackson became parts of my repertoire, as well as Michael Buble, R.E.M., Radiohead, Meatloaf, and Queen.

Before karaoke, my problem was that many of the songs I wanted to sing were in the wrong key, and I had to restrain my voice when singing in my living room lest my neighbors complain. So, it was liberating to have the words in front of me, microphone in-hand, and Chris, the DJ, magically adjusting a song’s key to my voice. I could open my mouth; sing from my diaphragm; and belt out a song with the best of them.

Lo and behold, I discovered, as did the people who had known me for years, that I could sing…pretty darned well.

When I first visited Lake Chapala, I asked an expat resident of 15 years, “What do you do here?” He replied, deadpan, “Whatever I want.” And sometimes that means just having a beer, as so many expats are known to do. One day I happened on a fun song by Kenny Chesney. He appropriately captured that retired expat attitude in a song called, “Beer in Mexico,” part of which goes like this:

“…Too old to be wild and free still
Too young to be over the hill
Should I try to grow up?
But who knows where to start.

So I just
Sit right here and have another beer in Mexico.
Do my best to waste another day.
Sit right here and have another beer in Mexico.
Let the warm air melt these blues away…”

And, I’ll just sing a little karaoke once in awhile too.

Party in the Streets

Wow! Last night there was a party in Ajijic. It’s a party that happens once a year celebrating the town’s patron saint, San Andres. Raul, a waiter in a restaurant, asked me if I was going. I wasn’t planning on it, but on his suggestion, I wandered on up to the plaza to check it out.

plaza-1-2

ferris-wheel-2

The plaza was alive, teaming with people. Vendors, I had never seen before set up shop around the plaza. Almost every kind of Mexican snack food was available hot dogs hamburgers, tacos, tamales, peanuts, garbanzos, cut up fruits and cooked vegetable, cookies, cakes, ice cream, beer, soda, tequila.

The noise was deafening. Amusement rides blocked Calle Colon, and loud speakers boomed carnival music. Bands played on a big stage and on every corner, as well as in the restaurants –  mariachis, bandas, and even folk musicians. After I left, I know there would be firecrackers in the church courtyard. No Mexican fiesta would be complete without them!

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Moms and dads held their children’s hands, carried babies, and pushed strollers. Lovers also held hands and danced to the music. The restaurants and food stands were full, and hundred just sat and walked around socializing.

When I first arrived in Ajijic two years ago, I lived within walking distance of the plaza. I attended my first San Andres and wrote about it here. Although I couldn’t capture the sound, which is half the experience of being there, I took a few photos to share.

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