The Marvin Gaye Karaoke Hellscape Revenge Plot

Sometimes you’ve got to commit yourself.  Granted, there’s a time for caution and a time for introspection, when keeping a low profile is, by far, the best course of action.  But at other times, caution should be a treated like a kite, thrown to the wind. Dignity and composure be damned.  Once in a while you’ve got to rise to the occasion like a phoenix from the ashtray.  For me, that moment came last Saturday night.  And it’s all thanks to Marvin Gaye.

 I’ve never been good at parties.  When it comes to myself, I’ve generally avoided them since I turned twelve and some friends and I went to see ‘ET: The Extra Terrestrial’.  I decided that night there was no way I could possibly top it and should retire.  Fact is, there’s not been a better birthday movie since.  I’m not sure I’m that great when it comes to other people’s birthdays either.  For some reason, I struggle to let myself go and surrender to the moment.  Instead, I try to attend without drawing too much attention to myself and leave (hopefully) without incident.  Until last week.

My girlfriend Katrina has twins who recently turned eighteen.  Finding a venue proved a challenge.  This was because a lot of places refuse to host an eighteenth birthday party.  We claimed that, because they’re twins, it was technically a thirty-sixth birthday party. This was unsuccessful.  Eventually, the local pub offered up a function room. 

Ryan and Conor are as funny and interesting and entertaining as you’d hope a pair of eighteen year olds could be.  Albeit they’ve lately taken to playing the music of Nickelback at every opportunity after becoming aware of my intense and passionate hatred for them (Nickelback, that is.  Not the twins).  Suffice to say, I can’t open the fridge without copping a blast of Nickelback for my troubles.  But this aside, they’re great company and they deserved to have this momentous milestone celebrated.  But they’re not the kind of guys who seek the limelight.  Accordingly, we’d need to bring the limelight to them.

We decided on karaoke.  I’m not sure if any other options were fully considered – it was always going to end up at karaoke.  I knew sitting quietly on the sidelines wasn’t going to be an option.  Despite my better judgment and a long history of feedback from others, I would need to commit myself to karaoke, for better or for worse.  But before tackling the weighty issue of song selection, there was even weightier issue of what to wear.

In normal circumstances, ‘what to wear’ would be a minor consideration.  By far and away, my main priority is to make sure each type of clothing – pants, shirt, socks, shoes etc – are represented in some form.  But parties are a different matter.  And, beyond that, karaoke is a law unto itself.  There’s a reason why contestants in the Eurovision Song Contest don’t just turn up in tracksuit pants and a pair of Ugg boots.  Songs are all well and good.  But it’s the presentation that really sells it.  You’ve got to dress for the occasion.

There’s only one thing to do when attending a karaoke-themed eighteenth birthday party – wear a tuxedo.  Luckily, I have a tuxedo and by dent of a minor miracle that ranks somewhere above turning water into wine but a notch below helping the blind to see, it still fit.  I was dressed to impress.  Although it soon became apparent that the suit had other effects.

When the ten year old spotted me after turning a corner in the hallway, he fell to the floor, clutching his sides with laughter whilst shouting ‘you look stupid’ by way of encouragement.  When we arrived at the venue, I was surprised how often guests told me their drink order, expecting I would fetch it for them.  As people handed me their soiled plates and napkins, it became clear people had mistaken me for a waiter.  There was only way one to disabuse them of that notion – sing.

Early in the evening, my name was called.  As I strode onto stage and clutched the microphone, it suddenly dawned on me that my choice of song – ‘Let’s Get it On’ by Marvin Gaye – was probably not what a group of reasonably shy eighteen year olds wanted to hear from an adult.  The same was true of our extended families, who looked on with the kind of horror usually reserved for a car accident.  To be fair, it was a song I chose only because my preferred choice – ‘Straight Outta Compton’ by N.W.A. – wasn’t available in karaoke form.

The boys resisted the urge to heckle and, ultimately, it fell to their mother to yell things at me as I did my best to do justice to an all-time soul classic.  They got their revenge a little later.  Without my knowledge, they put my name down to perform the song ‘Photograph’ by Nickelback.  I could hardly say no.  It suddenly dawned on me that I’d never heard more than the first six seconds because that’s about how long it takes me to turn off the stereo when it comes on.  I struggled through.  The results were a complete schmozzle.  Well played, Ryan and Conor.  Happy birthday.

Out Damn Spotify!

I love music.  I listen to it when I run, when I work and when I’m rambling around the house.  Even when I’m not plugged in, music runs through my head.  It’s to the point that when I sweat, crotchets and minims fall out of me.  But as much as I enjoy music, I hate being judged.  Which is why Spotify makes me feel so… uncomfortable.

Forget the fact that they pay the artist a rate so spectacularly miserly that even Scrooge would consider it ‘extreme’.  (Between 0.003 and 0.005 cents per stream.  Really.)  Or that it’s all based on algorithms that are designed to infiltrate your mind and steal your thoughts.  Those things may be disturbing and they keep me awake at night but, when all is said and done, it’s the end of year wrap that terrifies me.

It’s as insidious as it sounds.  Towards the end of the year, Spotify sends through a presentation that purports to sum up your entire year.  In short, it’s not so much a harmless Proustian remembrance of things past so much as it is a challenge to your very sense of self.  In short, I am not who my Spotify playlist says I am.

Because I use more than one service to listen to music, the results are inevitably and irretrievably skewed.  As a result, I discovered that I’m in the top five per cent of listeners of ‘The Dubliners’.  Worldwide.  This seems unlikely, even if I’m as fond of ‘Peggy Gordon’ as much as the next person.  But being in the top five per cent makes me sound like a dead-set fanatic.  That said, if it is true, then surely I should be awarded some kind of plaque.

My partner results were even worse.  According to Katrina’s end of year wrap, she’s in the top two percent of ‘Wiggles’ listeners.  That news should not be delivered by way of a short animated video but in person, preferably by a member of the band.  One morning you’d awake to the sound of the Big Red Car pulling up before Dorothy the Dinosaur rings the doorbell and hands you a muffin basket by way of congratulations.  Nice.

These results have left me feeling immensely self-conscious.  Every time I listen to a piece of music, I worry how it might impact my end of year results.  Granted, I might have listened to ‘Aga Do’ by Black Lace because somebody dared me to, but I certainly don’t want it on my permanent record.

Surely, the day cannot be far off when prospective employers consider not only your Linked In profile but your end of year Spotify wrap.  It would be beyond disappointing to miss out on a job because you’d listened to too much Juice Newton.  The world is awash with data that we can’t longer control but it’s not just that my every move is being monitored.  It’s that I’m being sabotaged that concerns me.

Last year, I wrote a song with my partner called ‘The Metal Song’.  It was for a theme night and was intended as a bit of fun.  We figured that there were lots of songs about silver and gold and very few songs about, say, praseodymium.  The verses listed all the silver and gold songs we could think of whilst the chorus celebrated ‘lesser known metals’.  But there was a sting in the tail.

At the very end, the song declares there’s one metal we won’t mention.  The metal in question is, of course, nickel; and the reason we wanted to avoid it is so as to put as much distance between ourselves and the band ‘Nickelback’ as possible.  The audience laughed and a lovely time was had by all.  I should have known better.

Having declared in public my deep-seeded distaste for Canada’s premier purveyors of mullet-rock, this information is now used against me on an almost-daily basis.  The young people in my life think there’s nothing funnier than to take my phone and line up as many Nickelback songs as possible. 

Nickelback have a song called ‘Photograph’ and it’s one of their biggest hits.  Did you know that there are at least thirty-seven different versions of ‘Photograph’ including remixes, unplugged versions and a spoken word rendition performed by Leonard Nimoy?  I certainly didn’t.  To listen to them all back to back is not so much a test of human endurance as it is outright torture.

Last Saturday, I started my car and within moments I was subjected to Nickelback’s ‘Rockstar’.  I immediately pulled the vehicle to the curb for health and safety reasons.  I now travel everywhere on foot as a precaution.

As disturbing as this is, I’m deeply worried that it’s going to wreak merry hell with my end of year Spotify list.  If I’m not careful, come December I’ll get the unwelcome news that I’m in the top 1% of Nickelback listeners with a working set of ears who resides outside Canada.  I’ll be ridiculed by people in passing cars.  That may, indeed, be how they remind me of the terrible situation I’m in.  I’m at a complete loss. 

To prevent this from happening, I’m now listening to ‘The Metal Song’ on Spotify continuously, both to block out Nickelback but also to earn myself 0.003 cents per stream.  Which is handy.  By the end of the year, I’ll have earned almost a nickel.  Which is a whole lot better than earning a Nickelback.

To Hell and Nickelback

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s intolerance.  Whether it be intolerance for other people or even for gluten (I’ve never met a gluten I didn’t like), blind prejudice really gets my goat.  And in my goat-deprived state adrift in a sea of intolerance, I’ll admit that I get a little bit angry.  I’m not proud of it.  Hatred is often irrational and always ugly, it should be avoided at all costs.  That is, with one exception – Nickelback.

For those of you who don’t know what a ‘Nickelback’ is, I can only say that I’m incredibly jealous and I’d like to join you in the blissful state of nirvana you so obviously inhabit.  You don’t know how lucky you are.  For others who might be tempted to rush to the defence of Canada’s premier exponents of Cro-Magnon sub-metal mullet rock – save your breath.  When it comes to Nickelback, I am not for turning.  I respond to them in the way others might to peanuts or Kryptonite. 

Some people fall in love instantly.  It took me a similar amount of time to decide that Nickelback was not for me.  Put simply, I was under the impression that, as a species, we’d evolved beyond that kind of music.  I’m not sure I can even put it into words – their songs rub me the wrong way and I’m horrified by the idea that they’re making any kind of physical contact.  Imagine being yelled at by a drunk, dodgy uncle who sees himself as some kind of lothario but who, in reality, is an obnoxious, slightly overweight gutter-tramp that smells like shrimp paste.  That’s Nickelback.  I can barely say their name without feeling nauseous. 

Recently, someone I know has started playing Nickelback.  Not because she likes them (she doesn’t) but as an experiment conducted either in the name of science or, possibly, Satan.  It’s hard to say.  The objective is to see how long it takes for people to notice.  It’s insidious and strikes when you least expect it.  You can be standing in the kitchen having a perfectly lovely conversation when you’re suddenly gripped by a sense of terror as you realize the stereo has been commandeered and your ears are now being assaulted until they beg for mercy.

  I’m all for practical jokes, so long as those jokes don’t involve Nickelback.  My nephew went through a phase where he and his friends liked to install a ‘Nicholas Cage’ screen saver on any computer monitor they could get their hands on.  Step away from your laptop to get a cup of tea and you’d return to be confronted by the smouldering intensity of the greatest actor of his generation named ‘Nicholas Cage’ staring back at you.  There are computer shops in Melbourne that still have Nicholas Cage screen savers, thanks to my nephew.

But Nickelback is an entirely different proposition. Last week, I was wiping down the kitchen bench when the unmistakable aural stench that is ‘How You Remind Me’ tore the air apart.  Immediately, I began feeling queasy, losing my sense of equilibrium.  For me, the song really ought to be called ‘How You Remind Me To Cover My Ears Whenever This Awful Music Starts Playing.’  Within seconds, I was on the tiles, curled into the foetal position and begging for the madness to stop.

My hatred for this band knows no bounds, either in terms of time or depth.  Formed in Alberta in 1995, they were originally a cover band called ‘Village Idiot’.  It was one of those rare circumstances where the description on the tin perfectly matched the contents.  But then they went and spoiled everything by changing their name to ‘Nickelback’ and selling about fifty million albums.  That’s a lot of records.  To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never met anyone who owns a Nickelback album.  Either that says something about the company I keep or is proof that anyone who owns a Nickelback record is unlikely to admit it.

I blame myself.  It’s possible that I’m being subjected to drive-by Nickelbacking because I taunted them in song.  Recently, the local folk club had a ‘metals’ theme night.  We wrote a song called ‘The Metal Song’ that listed tunes mentioning either ‘silver’ or ‘gold’ before declaring there was a metal we were avoiding because no one wanted to hear Nickelback.  To date, that performance by ‘A Band of Rain’ has racked up an astonishing eight views on ‘YouTube’.  Clearly, four of the eight people were Nickelback and they’re now hell-bent on revenge.

Perhaps they’re jealous.  Whether they’re envious of the soaring melody, the biting lyrics or the fact that I now have ten monthly listeners on Spotify (meaning that I’m now only twelve million, eight hundred and seventy two thousand, six hundred and forty seven listeners behind them and closing in at a rapid pace) I simply couldn’t say.  Or maybe they resent that ‘A Band of Rain’ is a much cooler name than ‘Nickelback’.

For now, I live in terror.  At any moment, I could be walking around the house only to be hit with an unsolicited blast of ‘Rockstar’.  I am tempted to started wearing noise cancelling headphones all the time, for my own protection.  And if you think I’m being melodramatic and am making a lot of fuss about nothing, we’ll have to agree to disagree.  Let’s blame ‘musical differences.’