With a song in our hearts (and it should stay there)


Joyce Wagner is a freelance writer and author of the book, “Random Overthoughts: The Best (Give or Take) of the Humor Column ‘Overthinking.’” She resides in West Tisbury and is currently at work on two historical novels. Once a week, she will ponder certain Island truths and institutions in “Overthinking.”

Raise your hand if you remember Karaoke at the Atlantic Connection. Hmmm. How about at Season’s? Anyone?

About twenty years ago, I used to meet three of my women friends weekly for Bad Singingstock at Seasons. Not regular churchgoers, and needing a uvular outlet, we carpooled, two and two, every Wednesday night. One would scurry in to secure a table and snatch a handful of the Xeroxed and third-cut slips of paper where we’d write our names and our choice of song. A plastic-enclosed song list already sat on each table. The first in got first choice.

Right around eight, the lights dimmed and we’d pull out reading glasses, pens and a flashlight. The list was in mice type, it was dark, and they only supplied one pencil per table. We knew each other’s preferences, as well as the other regulars’ and seldom chose a tune that we considered “reserved.” If, however, a regular didn’t show up, his or her song was fair game. We’d time our drinking, sipping more quickly at the beginning of the evening to fortify our courage, then carefully rationing to maintain our false bravery without becoming too drunk to read the lyrics.

Our favorite was “Copacabana” by Barry Manilow. One of us sang the lead, while the other three squeezed behind her on the tiny platform for back-up. We had the moves. We didn’t have the voices.

Some of the regulars were five or six special needs people and they usually performed as a group. Because their reading skills were usually not follow-along worthy, it was purely accidental if one sang a word or note at the same time as another. One of us would frequently join them, singing loudly in an attempt to corral the dissonance into a cohesive whole. Although that didn’t often work, the attending year-rounders would applaud as if it were John Denver himself performing “Country Roads.” The tourists turned to each other with confounded expressions. “It wasn’t that good,” they’d whisper to each other.

A guy named Mike, now long gone from the Island, presided over the proceedings. I don’t know what they paid him, but it wasn’t enough. There were many participants who might be referred to as “Perpetually Displeased.” He didn’t call them up soon enough. He called them too soon. He let someone else sing their song even though their slip was in first. He supplied the first note, even though they knew it or he didn’t help them get on key when he should have. When there was a contest, it was never fair. “I was much better than her,” someone would complain. “I think he’s dating her,” someone else would snipe. Please. We were all bad. The contest frequently came down to who wasn’t too drunk or awful.

I won – once. It was a total surprise because I know I am not a good singer. “Oh, you’re just being modest,” you pooh-pooh. No. Although I have my days, it’s pretty much agreed upon that I will never be a famous warbler unless bad singing suddenly becomes a trend. I have a half-octave range and I don’t know how to use it.

I won because I was funny. When I mounted the stage to sing, I said something like, “That’s a hard act to follow. I guess the best I can hope for is Miss Congeniality.” (And now you heard that line and I can’t use it again.) Also, it was a slow night, and the only other person who came close to qualifying had won the last three weeks in a row. But I agreed to believe I won for singing talent.

The prize was, get this, dinner for one at Seasons. Of course you’re going to bring someone else. Clever, these Americans.