I’d like to talk about my karaoke career since I’ve been in Japan. The Japanese have a saying: “Kono uta wa watashino ju-hachi-ban desu.” This literally translates to “This song is my number 18,” but it means that the song currently being sung is the singer’s specialty, that they feel they’re pretty damn good at singing it, everybody cheers when the singer announces his/her ju-hachi-ban, and it’s all very good and fun, and I’ve had many a ju-hachi-ban since I’ve been in Japan.
I feel that my ju-hachi-ban somehow reflects where I’m at in terms of my cultural understanding/progression and basic condition at any given time here. Toto’s “Africa” was a long-standing ju-hachi-ban, mostly during my period of transition to a different lifestyle in a different country. After I acclimatized, I moved on to “Private Eyes,” by Hall and Oates, then eventually graduated to “Stray Cat Strut,” by the Stray Cats. Thereafter, I spent a short career experimenting with Starship’s “We Built This City.” To compensate for the bumble-gumminess of that song, I supplemented it with “Bulls on Parade,” by Rage Against the Machine. That didn’t last long, though, mostly due to the looks of complete disgust I received when I would rap it. So I then tried A-Ha’s “Take on Me,” but this was a short-spanned effort as well, as I can’t hit those crazy high notes that go: “I’ll … be … gone … in … a … DAYYYYYYY OR TWOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
So, for the next three months, I settled for Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” a decent compromise.
Life flows like a river at large, but my ju-hachi-ban is my rock island, my everlasting bank. It is my rubber raft in tumultuous, unpredictable rapids.
I must admit, however, my recent ju-hachi-ban has me somewhat perplexed. On the one hand, it excites me to sing it. My heart starts beating rapidly when I see the first line of the song—"CHAAA!"—scroll across the screen in pink writing. It’s as though my heart’s palpitations were in the writer’s mind when he first scribbled down the lyrics. But, on the other hand, I can’t quite ignore the metaphysical implications contained in the fact that I can’t go to a single karaoke session without singing “Welcome to the Jungle,” by Guns N’ Roses. At first, I felt like a G N’ R junkie with a sad, shameful addiction to butt-rock.
And, furthermore, I found it odd that this song remained my ju-hachi-ban for the entire past two years. It’s been proven that the average ju-hachi-ban’s life span is two to six months, at which point it’s appropriate to move on. But why oh why oh why could I not stop singing this song? Now I know why: because it rules! Sure, I sing other songs, but when I really want to impress someone, or make them feel uncomfortable, or I just want to be really obnoxious, I throw in G N’ R’s song about … well, I’m really not sure what the song is about, but I scream in my Axliest of voices: “YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE?! YOU’RE IN THE JUNGLE, BABY! AND YOU’RE GONNA DIIIIEEEEE!”
At first, people would cheer when I’d announce my Guns N’ Roses ju-hachi-ban. They’d chime in when I’d screech “sha-na-na-na-knees knees!,” but now they just rest their heads on the wall and avert their eyes to the ceiling to avoid seeing the spectacle I’m making of myself … many a click of the tongue.
At my school’s Christmas party last year, the other teachers asked me to sing an American Christmas song. I sang “Welcome to the Jungle.” Unfortunately, I fear it did not put them in the “Christmas spirit.” Too bad for them. Then, at a session with some friends, one girl actually cut my song off halfway through. Can you believe that? I hadn’t even reached the part that’s like:
“When you’re high you never … ever wanna come down / SO DOWN! / SOOOO DOWWWWNN!! / SOOOOOOOOO DOOOOWWWWNNNNNNNNN … KKKKKKKKYYYYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAAA!!!”
She and I are no longer on speaking terms.
Also, from the very start, it has been impossible to sit while singing “Welcome to the Jungle.” Actually, it is impossible not to stand up on the karaoke-booth couches and do the Axl Snake Slither Dance, the one I know you know.
Perhaps it is a reflection of my growing maturity (or whatever), but I have become comfortable in my relationship with “Welcome to the Jungle.” That is to say, I have become comfortable with worshipping it. I no longer sing it with the half-embarrassed, half-joking demeanor I once feigned in order to hide my abiding love for the song. No, now I sing it in complete seriousness. In short, I am confident that I am able to evoke the same kind of pride in the rock-and-roll spirit that Axl, Slash, Izzy, Dizzy, and Duff displayed during their reign as the greatest rock-and-roll band ever. In the words of Axl himself:
“We are the people who can find / whatever you may need. / If you got the money, honey, we’ve got your disease!”
I have no idea what that means, but, dude, it sure sounds cool.