Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Karaoke turned deadly in the “My Way” killings

Illustration for article titled Karaoke turned deadly in the “My Way” killings
Photo: Tom Chambers / EyeEm (Getty Images)
Wiki WormholeWe explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,664,405-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 6,169,790-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

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This week’s entry: My Way Killings

What it’s about: Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, not as many as the surprisingly long list of people who faced the final curtain after making the fateful decision to tackle Ol’ Blue Eyes’ signature song at karaoke. The Philippines saw a number of killings over karaoke renditions of “My Way” in the 2000s, although karaoke violence seems to respect no national borders, as we’ll see.

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Biggest controversy: The New York Times blamed the Philippines’ “culture of violence, drinking, and machismo,” which feels like pretty broad stereotyping that doesn’t explain why the phenomenon seems to be limited to one song. Filipinos quoted here, like university professor Roland Tolentino, and Butch Albarracin, who owns a Manila singing school, posit that the song’s pride-verging-on-arrogance may rub audiences the wrong way, especially when someone who can’t hold a tune is boasting of having lived a life of few regrets.

Strangest fact: A Japanese band referenced the “My Way” phenomenon. Kishidan, a rock band that typically sings in Japanese, covered the song with a video in which the singer is shot multiple times while singing the song. Although it’s entirely possible that’s a reference to Sid Vicious’ video for his own “My Way” cover version, in which he shoots several audience members for his big finish.

Thing we were happiest to learn: The My Way killings seem to have subsided… for now! The last incident noted here took place in 2014, and that one was nonlethal—a woman attacked a karaoke singer in Seattle for singing Coldplay’s “Yellow.” The New York Times notes six killings related specifically to “My Way,” ending in 2010. Wikipedia places the “My Way”-related killing of “numerous people” firmly between 2002 and 2012. (One factor may be many Filipino karaoke bars simply removing the song to avoid future incident.)

Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Other countries aren’t exempt from karaoke rage. In 2008 a Malaysian man was stabbed to death for refusing to relinquish the karaoke mic (the culprit is listed as “other patrons,” so the audience seems to have risen up collectively against him). The same offense got an American tourist stabbed to death in a karaoke bar in Thailand in 2013. That’s far from the worst karaoke-related violence in Thai history, as a man shot and killed his brother-in-law and seven other people over “repeated renditions” of “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

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Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: Most of the links on the My Way Killings page are Sinatra-related, including a full discography, and a discussion of “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold,” Gay Talese’ 1966 profile of the singer for Esquire, widely considered the best celebrity profile ever written. Vanity Fair called it “the greatest literary-nonfiction story of the 20th century.” At that time, Sinatra refused to talk to the press or be interviewed—wary of already-heavy scrutiny of his relationship with 20-year-old Mia Farrow (Frank was 49 at the time), his business ventures, rumored connections to the mob, and his dominance of the music scene fading in the rock era.

Without ever securing an interview or even speaking to the singer, Talese spent three months observing Sinatra as closely as he could and talking to any associates willing to open up. He told his editor, “by getting rejected constantly and by seeing his flunkies protecting his flanks—we will be getting close to the truth about the man.” Unable to do a traditional interview, Talese instead wrote a novelistic, poetic piece in which Sinatra is a mythic figure, isolating himself from the world while still needing its adulation. A head cold that interferes with the singer’s voice becomes an existential metaphor for human frailty. That kind of writing hadn’t really been seen before in nonfiction, and the piece turned the world of journalism on its ear.

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Further Down the Wormhole: “My Way” didn’t just have an effect on the murder rate; it also affected international politics. As part of his sweeping reforms that led to the breakup of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev announced the “Sinatra Doctrine” in 1989. For decades, Eastern Europe had been living under the Brezhnev Doctrine, which justified Moscow controlling the affairs of countries under the Iron Curtain for the sake of communist solidarity. Instead, Gorbachev announced, Warsaw Pact nations could manage their own affairs, i.e., do it my way.

In response, Poland selected its first democratically elected president, Lech Wałęsa. Wałęsa had been one of the leaders of the country’s Solidarity movement, and after a newly liberalised parliament created the office of president, he was worried a communist would get the job, so he ran under the slogan, “I don’t want to, but I have to.” He won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in democratizing his country, and is one of the most prominent names on Wikipedia’s List Of Polish People. Oddly enough, one of the people on the list isn’t actually a person. We’ll read about Wojtek Perski, the bear who joined the army, next week.

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Host of the podcast Why Is This Not a Movie? His sixth book, The Planets Are Very, Very, Very Far Away is due in early 2021. He tells people he lives in New York, but he really lives in New Jersey.

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