| This place is filled
with lessons and discovery for a guy like me. The
latest came on the morning side of a long evening
when I learned the Armenian word for karaoke:
Gna korir. Run away. Run for your life, etc.
As if the Japanese hadn't done enough damage
with their indoor ski slopes and golfing ranges
built like condominiums, their international affliction,
karaoke, is festering in Yerevan.
Next week there's even a city-wide competition.
As if such a thing should be encouraged.
I've been invited to go karaokying (does it have
a verb?), routinely as long as I've been here.
In my home country such an invitation is the equivalent
of saying: "Are you as desperate for entertainment
as I think you are?"
Here, though, the event comes shame-free and
with no hesitation and no lack of participants,
as I learned on my virgin venture to Armenian
karaoke. A friend's birthday was the cause of
my trip into the torture chamber. Believe me,
everybody came out older.
The only other time I'd seen karaoke was in a
Florida hotel with some American professional
baseball players. The discovery that night was
that the ability to hit or throw a 90-mile per
hour pitch apparently makes a man tone-deaf (though,
regrettably, not self-conscious of that fact).
There, participants got up on a stage. In Yerevan
Tuesday night, the scene was more like walking
into Elvis' recreation room at Graceland (if the
King of Rock 'n Roll had settled in Moscow, rather
than Memphis). It was wall-to-wall lounging. Large
men and loud women were spread across couches
as if waiting to pass a bong in a Hollywood representation
of the 1960s drug culture.
Instead they passed a microphone, and there are
not enough drugs in the world to take the result
to any level of "high". People in my
party participated. They are no longer people
in my party - not if the party involves amplified
voices that should instead have a volume switch
glued on "zero".
Every Armenian thinks he or she is a singer.
The spread of karaoke does little to dissuade
that unfortunate misrepresentation of the truth.
The evening was profitable for learning that
some words have the same definition in any language.
In this case: "Karaoke - A noise made by
people too drunk to recognize the unfathomable
difference between how they think they sound and
in how they in fact do."
In the club we visited, the misled selected songs
from a Bible-thick book. Most, mercifully, were
in Russian, so I was unable to measure the degree
of offense against art. And, so popular is the
cultural travesty that a person who ordered, say,
"Lady in Red", at 11 p.m. had to wait
til around midnight to destroy the song with his
I regret to inform you that people I love were
themselves so enthralled that the club owners
finally asked them to leave, long past the normal
Like many of my days and nights in Armenia, karaoke
in Yerevan proved a cultural education.
But I left with a question I've asked many times
Hasn't this country suffered enough?