In a multi-page article in the coming weekend’s New York Times Magazine, Slate senior editor Dan Kois visits Portland, spurred by a series of “Facebook status updates and tweets from acquaintances in Portland that suggested the city was some kind of karaoke paradise—a place in which you could sing every night in a different bar, and where the song choices were so outlandishly awesome that you might never run out of songs to sing.”
After taking the mic at Baby Ketten at Mississippi Pizza (“At the center of Portland’s amazingly creative karaoke scene, it’s something close to a genuine artistic movement”), puppet karaoke at Chopsticks III (where he sings John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Cherry Bomb”), and Dante’s Karaoke from Hell (“Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”), he goes on to give Portland karaoke a seat in the board room of the rock and roll hall of fame:
"Every so often, a city becomes a crucible of innovation for a particular musical form: a place where circumstances conspire to create a very special creative flowering; where mad geniuses push one another to innovate further and further beyond where anyone thought they could go. Seattle, 1990. The Bronx, 1979. Memphis, 1954. These moments changed American entertainment.
"But what if a musical revolution wasn’t in grunge, or hip-hop, or rock ’n’ roll? What if it was in karaoke? Is it possible that one of the most exciting music scenes in America is happening right now in Portland, and it doesn’t feature a single person playing an actual instrument?"
Which would all be charmingly laughable (if outlandish), another case of the Times scrambling to choose its next song before it takes the mic and prints its papers, if it stopped there. But, and the article’s name of “Karaokia” gives away the absurdity into which we’ll descend, Kios then goes on to weave in Portlandia and attempt some sociological psychoanalysis to get to the heart of what makes Portland Portland:
"Portland isn’t just the capital of karaoke, I was realizing. The Japanese influence, the small-business climate and the abundance of bands don’t really matter. Portland is the capital of America’s small ponds. It’s a city devoted to chasing that feeling — the feeling of doing something you love, just for a moment, and being recognized for it, no matter how obscure or unnecessary or ludicrous it might seem to the straight world. It is the capital of taking frivolity seriously, of being silly as if it’s your job."
Which is some deep, sweeping thought to arrive at after a few beers at a few karaoke nights and the exhaustive research of your Facebook stream.
Don’t get us wrong; we’ve belted out late-night songs at Chopsticks with the best of ‘em. And VJs like Baby Ketten’s John Brophy are doing amazing things deserving of attention. But this is taking the paper’s Portland fixation to rock bottom. Unless...it's satire. Carrie, Fred, please tell us you've wrested control of the Grey Lady's typewriters and are working on a new show: The New York Timesia.
Then again, who are we to say it ain't so. Hit us with your best shot: what's your most epic PDX karaoke adventure? And your favorite karaoke night?