Beth Mann's Blog

Beth's Urban Tales of Wonder and Decay

Beth Mann

Beth Mann
Long Beach Island, New Jersey, USA
November 11
Hot Buttered Media
I'm a writer and creative consultant. I have years of experimental comedy and strange theater under my belt. I surf. I cook. I love wine, men and song. And puppies. I effin' love puppies.

JULY 4, 2010 6:59PM

Karaoke as Cheap Therapy

Rate: 36 Flag


Karaoke as Cheap Therapy (Part 1)


"I think it heals the soul," she whispers, as if a secret.

"I think it does too, Aunt." I reply.

My Aunt Mary Lou and I are on the phone. We're talking about singing instead of addressing her daughter, who is dying of cancer. My aunt needs a break.

"Do you still sing, Bethy?"

(Hearing "Bethy" always warms my heart. It's my child name.)

"Yes, Aunt. I do. I sang with a choir for the last few years. I even sang a solo once."

[Me singing with a small group ensemble in Brooklyn's Bella Voce.]

"Really!" my Aunt Mary Lou exclaims. "Well, isn't that wonderful. How about now?"

"Well, it's kind of...stupid. It's...I just sing karaoke sometimes at the local bar on Long Beach Island."

"That's not stupid, Bethy. That's practice."

I smile, wiping away a wandering tear. My cousin is my age. She had a routine gall bladder surgery and they found cancer. Lots of it. Suddenly, she has weeks to live.

"It is practice, Aunt. I'm not sure for what but..."

"Life. It's practice for life."

Back in the day, my mother and father, my aunts and uncles, would sing all night long, if you let them. That's when people were more full of goodness, it seemed; content with sitting around a kitchen table until the wee hours, connecting, conversing, debating, joking, laughing, singing songs - just being simpler and happier. Before computers. Before cell phones. Before a million TV channels. Before the great disconnect.

[My family sitting around singing in 1971. That's me at 4 singing in the background.]

Occasionally the gang would go out to a local piano bar, sipping the same drink all night and singing until their voices became hoarse whispers the next day. I loved watching the women prepare for their big night out - coral lipstick, bright floral patterns, hairspray...layers and layers of  hairspray.

(My Aunt Mary Lou on the left.)

Years later, after many of the old crew had died, I would visit my aunt in Pittsburgh and she would insist on us singing. She'd sit down at her organ - those crazy organs with a million buttons - and start playing at full volume. And I was expected to sing...loudly.

"I am sixteen, going on seventeen," I'd sing. (Although I was 34 going on 35.)

"I enjoy being a girl!" I'd meekly proclaim.

"Louder, with feeling. Sing it out, Bethy!" she'd demand, a Kool cigarette dangling out of her mouth.

"Come on, Aunt, please. I'm not very good."

"What the hell does that matter? Just sing! You're too damn shy."


It doesn't matter, Aunt.

I was going to make sure it never mattered again. 

Karaoke as Cheap Therapy (Part 2)

I read a quote once, from Kurt Vonnegut: 

Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

Hail to that, Mr. Vonnegut. If there would be one guiding ethos during my years in New Jersey, it was learning to express myself in spite of the end result.

I'm not a great singer. But I love to sing. I've studied voice and music theory and sung in choirs for years. And I’ve always practiced hard. Yet I only felt like an intermediate at best. Blessed with a good ear, I could hear when I sang something wrong…but I couldn’t always change it.

That used to eat me up inside.

I wanted to sing 100% well or not at all. My fierce self-loathing would attempt to strangle me before I even opened my mouth. But I kept singing anyway, determined to improve in spite of those inner haters. If I could learn to be all right with the way I sang, maybe, just maybe, I could be more okay with myself. Singing might help me like myself again.

In New York, I was lucky enough to sing with a superb women’s choir. During our concerts, I’d feel transported by the music and the women’s voices. Angels on high, we were. When I left the city, it was one of the few aspects of my NYC life that I genuinely missed.

At the Jersey shore, the outlets for singing are few and far between, if you don’t count your outdoor shower. So with a faint tinge of embarrassment, I found myself at a local grungy bar on karaoke night.

What’s there to say about karaoke that hasn’t already been said? Yes, it can be bloody awful, an insult to real music and occasionally just plain circus-style creepy. This place was no exception.

But desperate times called for desperate measures, so there I was each weekend,  gin and tonic in one hand, cheap mic in the other, singing everything from Boston to the Bee Gees, from Loverboy to Led Zeppelin, from the Stones to the White Stripes.

Slowly, I became an integral part of a strange but sweet subculture of wannabe singers that cheered and supported me even when I kinda sucked. The name of the game wasn’t to nail it but to simply try it. A perfection-free zone where I could still sing even if I failed. My internal motto became: Who cares? It’s only karaoke.

As months went by and I became a bit bolder (or drunker?), my singing morphed into performing. I’d allow myself to be taken by a song, by the emotions it brought up. Or I’d dare to dance or act out a song. Who cares? It’s only karaoke.

And if all the stars were aligned, this feeling of sweet transcendence would lift me, simply because I dared to open up my voice and let my soul fly out. It became a strange form of therapy that purged the dark sludge from my soul. I’d go home feeling at peace and charged up by my own magic. (And drunk…I was usually drunk.)

Singing soon became part of my daily life at the Jersey shore. My bedroom turned into my rehearsal studio slash concert hall. Others could hear me sometimes—neighbors, passers-by, etc.—and the self-haters would return. But I wouldn’t let that stop me. I’d sing in the face of self-consciousness, forcing myself to not care what others heard.

Exposing your voice…it's more naked than nudity.

Years ago, a friend pretended to strangle me, as a joke. The moment her hands reached my neck, I suddenly started sobbing, much to her (and my) surprise. That area of the body can be so loaded with emotion. My mom was dying at the time so somehow the tears and anger just got stuck there.

Singing can move it through you. That’s the magic of it. 

Over the years, my singing has improved and I’ve even joined a rock band. We kinda suck but oh well. It’s not about perfection but expression. This newfound self-acceptance spilled over into other areas of my life. “It’s only karaoke” became “it’s only life.” Take chances, speak your mind, express yourself, sing to the skies, sing to God, just sing it out, purge it from you.

Create to the best of your abilities.

You may flail and cringe at what you’ve created. You may meet up with crusty old monsters that want to destroy you. But if you allow yourself to “sing” in spite of it all, you just may save your soul. Isn’t that more important than getting it right?

Beth does Karaoke from Beth Mann on Vimeo.

(Leo Sayer, singing the song maybe a little better than me.)

(After the host Gary introduced me to a better mic.)

There are Worse Things I could do....really. from Beth Mann on Vimeo.


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This was great Beth. i saw that last on on Facebook yesterday. (my name is not trilogy over there). You are so expressive. you can tell how much you love it. and that bella voce piece was gorgeous.
woops. (as usual) forgot to rate
Beth, you've been my heroine since the police car pics. Then "cunt off freak fuck" made you even more of an inspiration. Now you are a goddess.

Brava! This was absolutely bloody fantastic.

this is so good..I have to re-read it and come back!
Yes indeedy, reallybeautiful voice, will you be a Vandella at my 4th party Beth?
(R)ated for aria above and beyond the range of hearing!
Keep belting them out...dancing is my cheap therapy...after going to the Freedom Cafe last night where there was karaoke, I watched and listened to other people get their therapy session...then I meandered up the causeway to dance at the Tiki Bar...there are worse things I can do...very engaging musing heart goes out to your family and you.
Okay, that was surreal.
Gary, are you back yet? I'm waiting...still waiting. Where are you?

Fred, what party? I'm there. Heading to airport now.

Trilogy, figured you out on FB. Yay for us!

Leonde, thank you. Dancing is therapy, too, for sure. It's the original therapy, isn't it? And simply the name "tiki bar" makes one feel better. Thanks for condolences.
What the hell...belt it out with the great gusto that pulses outcha, sista! Life is meant to be lived and sung with exuberance. You go girl...and yes, less therapy as a result of releasing your truth fully. Enjoyed this/you very much! thanks!
Ummmm - if you're the wallflower in your family I'd be a little scared to see the ones on the other end of the spectrum.

Seriously, I really, REALLY enjoyed listening to you sing and perform. I've seen pros who weren't this good! msp
How beautiful, that the Persistent Muse would have such persistent and muse-like advice! How perfect.
Oh I find this tender and beautiful. I LOVE this.

I was Rizzo in Grease in a small production for a few months. I have a more jazz suitable voice, so they slowed down the tempo and I turned it into a torch song.

The reaction to it remains one of the high points of my life.

I LOOOOOOVE you for sharing this...the sounds, the '

Good lord, you are so likable. Such a GOOD writer.
(Your version is beyond sexy and adorable, by the way..)
you rock the house Beth
favulous (a typo, but i kind of like it) piece, beth. i gotta say that four-year-old chiming in -- "me" -- on bye bye blackbird is one of the most charming things i've ever heard, but i got all choked up reading the conversation between you and aunt marylou. i get why you sing. i do. i do it myself. can't imagine a day without singing.

rated for all of it but especially "practice for life."
maybe karaoke singing is practice for life, ore maybe its practice for singing ON KEY
hey dont feel bad Im not talking about anyone in particular
ah geez nevermind
I loved this. I know how hard it is to put yourself "out" there. I have placed one song here of me singing and it took all my trust to do so. You are wonderful, this whole post was wonderful!
I would go with you to karaoke anytime. We would have a blast.
I adore this. You are a gorgeous singer and writer. Natalie said it best: You are a goddess. _r
Beth I have been to this bar, be careful, although I am not a karaoke person, I am easily convinced to do a lot of things after a certain amount of persuasion (alcohol) you might just see me there one night. You swirling in the dress, I was thinking of that line that people put on places: I am comfortable in jeans (a wet suit) or dressing up. Great stuff.
Beth's got talent! I can sympathize with the 'not a singer but love to sing' notion. My sis is a genuine singer of the city chorus type - much more talented than sing-in-the-shower me - she claims she's an alto and so I always have to sing the soprano parts - which believe me, does not show my vocals to best advantage.
wow wow wow beth you rock! that was amazing fun to watch and to hear, more more more
Oh. My. God.

Bella Voce, karaoke, surfing, comedy, acting, writing. I think I'm going into congestive heart failure!

It is, what your descibed: "more naked than being naked" when you belt out that song from the heart. It only works for us when we cease to care (totally) about who is listening. It is not easy for most. Shyness, a stepchild of fear takes over.

My trumpet instructor left me alone in the classroom once and when I thougt he was out of earshot, I blew like he did on that horn....long, full notes trying to imitate his good technique. He burst into the room and said, "Wow, you sound so fine!" I was intimidated to the point of almost running out of the room, and could not find the courage to hit the horn that hard, and with the same intensity and abandon...not until I let go of the need for approval.

I love the idea of you doing Karoke. You deserve the thrill and lasting value it brings into your life. The videos are charming. I enjoyed them so much!
Oh Stellaa...yes! How exciting to watch her. That's is some serious vocal brazenness. I'll keep working...a LOT! I never knew Eydie Gorme was so amazing. Thank you, thank you...and I promise, I'll integrate a bit of her into my Jersey shore routine.

Mr. Blevins, I know you surround yourself with great vocal talent, so to receive even a nod is okay by me! It's really hard, though...and if you were here, I'd drag you with me. I think it's easier singing in front of an orchestra.

Persephone, I love that you sang Rizzo's tune - that seems so fittingly connective. I'd like to hear your version. I'm sure you did it righteous justice.
H-julie, thanks for props. I hope we will meet one fine day.

Dr. Spudman, it is true: I'm 100% fun. I've just lost a few percentage points along the way. Trying to gain back.

femme forte, you sing every day too? I never knew. I love singing. It does make everything better. And to think all these years I let my insecurities get in the way...what a waste! And maybe you and I will be singing at the same time? Tomorrow or the next day?

joan h and rita, thank you. and join me anytime you want. we can all sing madonna perhaps?

natalie, we freak fuck together, my friend, my goddess friend! ha...

gary, thanks for being my OS soul mate.

who am i missing? I'm sure, someone. will hit you tomorrow.

thanks, all. for reading and listening.
"Exposing your voice - it's more naked than nudity."
Brave. courageous, really.
Rated for Real self as shown--openly
Forgot to mention I enjoyed very much the lyrical Bella Voce piece. Very soothing.
stellaa's song suggestion...listening for my fourth time:
Stellaa, I watched the vimeos on iPad, just FYI, no problem. Beth, you truly rock, and I'm ever so sorry about your beloved aunt. Rx Karaoke.
Been wondering for some time, How does Beth do it, write so well? What's her secret? A clue here. She mixes the tragic and comic up in the same piece, using the same exact inviting, sincere voice.
But shucks. That's just WHAT she does. Not how. That's her deep secret and I know she won't tell me (may not know it herself.)
The singing I will discuss with her in private.
Kickin' and fun.

Singing-avoidance is in my genes. My father was the first person to perform lip-synching, as the nun in charge of choir at his catholic school 60+ years ago told him to only move his lips and to "pretend" to sing.

I admire people who can do the singin' thang.

Even sorrier I screwed this up not once but twice. So very sorry about your cousin, Beth. All the best.
My God the camera loves you. And so do I.
You are one hot canary,Bethy.
This was a brilliant post, Beth.

Very creative and people underestimate Karaoke. If they had Karaoke back in the old days, people woulda done it.

It also connects us with the world. We didn't invent it and we (USA) are just another place where it exists.

I'm sure you have heard of the 'My Way' killings?
Poor woman, thanks for taking the time to listen to the Bella Voce song. That's one of my all-time favorites.

Luminous muse, thanks for your helpful feedback. Great having a real musician give some pointers.

CrazeCzar, I think of you of the singing sort, strangely enough. Not sure why.

Cartouche, thank you - but I haven't shown you any of the bad video yet. That's on the cutting room floor, luckily!

Sandra, thanks. From one hot bird to another!

Nick, thanks for your points. You're right - it's connective and that article you sent it amazing! My god! I almost thought it was a joke or something. But they make some points in that article too; how karaoke gives people a chance to blow off steam and express. Note to self: never sing My Way (which I wouldn't anyway - too low and not a big Sinatra fan. Shhh...)
Keep on singing, healing and being healed. Yay, you!
We REALLY need to get together the next time I'm in the city - We can karaoke all night long!
I'm so sorry about your cousin, and I love the way you do everything you do with such gusto, like even though stupid life is being cruel you are going to suck the marrow out of every minute. And that's something I truly admire and respect.
Plus yer a rlly good writer, btw.
Hi Beth...your post reminded me of a "This I Believe" piece that musician and producer Brian Eno did on NPR couple of years ago about how he believes in singing with other people... he gets together every week with a bunch of folks to sing a capella. ( day I'll figure out how to put hyperlinks into comments, sorry.

I listened to the clip of Bella Voce while I was reading your piece. Awesome. And I agree...singing is therapy. I do mine in the car
where nobody can hear me when I unleash.
Oh sure, writer, performance artists, teacher and singer. I hate you, winky winky.

I sang once in the fourth grade as a class thing. The teacher asked me to sing very very low. That was my last public performance.
Singing is excellent therapy! Keep it up!! [I'm about to start again as well.]
Sings "Ring of Fire" karaoke style.
Okay, as usual, I love your writing - thematically and technically. Thematically, I had to read and listen a couple of times to really soak it in. Technically, it is wonderfully conversational, part whispered secrets and part "take a look at me now" brassiness. What a combination of tenderness and toughness . . . vulnerability and backbone. You are a marvel, Beth Mann. Even when you don't feel like one.
ahhh I feel like I just read my own biography...kindred spirits you and I. Keep singing beautiful!
ah Beth, this is wonderful on so many levels...