She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes …
If you are anything like me, the last thing you could imagine doing is standing up in front of a group of friends and singing. I once told some friends in Japan that I would rather give a speech to 10,000 strangers than sing for ten friends. But five minutes later, I was serenading my way through McCartney’s “Yesterday” with the reverb turned up all the way, and scenes of young Japanese children frolicking on the oversized karaoke screen behind me. Susie followed with an even worse rendition of John Denver’s “Country Roads”
Every international kite traveler needs to keep one or two easy-to-remember songs in their accessory bag. If you are lucky, the karaoke books will contain some English titles. But if they don’t, it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.
In Weifang, China, Scott Skinner and I were treated to a wonderful meal at a place we called Mr. Ding’s Red Ball Restaurant. Mr. Ding was one of the primary festival organizers. The restaurant, who’s real name we never learned, featured a large red meatball hanging over the main entrance. But that’s another story.
Following the meal, each of our Chinese hosts took a turn on the new karaoke system. There were ten people at the table, and slowly, Scott and I realized that we would soon have to sing for our supper – quite literally. Our turn was coming up, and unfortunately, the songbook was completely in Chinese and featured only traditional music. We would have to go it alone. No words. No music. And no place to hide.
At a neighboring table, other American guests looked on quite bemused. Apparently, they were no longer jealous at being left off the V.I.P. table.
We each gulped a glass of strong Chinese liquor, stepped to the stage, and in a fit of inspiration, warbled our way into “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain…” We started in a slow duet, and picked up speed with each verse, improvising some as we went. After a few minutes, the whole room was clapping.
“Round the Mountain” reared its ugly head again in Fano the next year. A large party and dance was scheduled toward the end of the festival with a really good rock band. The morning of the party, we found out that the American delegation was the intermission entertainment.
Ten of us took the stage that night – in Peter Lynn hats and sunglasses. At least, I figured, this time there was safety in numbers. We started slow again, and even did a solo with a small mouth organ one verse. As luck would have it, two of the microphones had been turned off so Mike Sterling and I were probably the only ones heard. I’m still trying to find out who engineered that!
I decided that night that whenever I had to sing – and there would be times when you HAD to sing – that campy was better than serious. If I was going to look foolish, at least I would do it on my own terms.
And that’s how it came to pass, a few months later, that I was standing at another mike in Japan, crooning my way through “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” But the worst was yet to come.
Just a few weeks ago, Pete Rondeau and I were back in the Ginza sharing a drink with our hosts. These people had paid our way to Japan. They had sung for us and now expected the fellowship of our singing for them. The hostess picked out a sensual love song and handed Pete the microphone. He prepared to do a duet with her. But just as the music began, she handed the other mike to me.
We sang to each other…
It was terrible…
And I promised never to mention it to anyone. So please don’t tell Pete you know.
C.D.’s and tapes will be available soon.