When Singing Sinatra Can Get You Killed

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There was a fascinating article in the New York Times the other day about violence in the Philippines and its thriving karaoke culture -- and the deadly problems that can crop up when it comes to Frank Sinatra. In fact, it's one Sinatra song in particular that seems to be the cause of so much trouble -- and which has played a role in dozens of karaoke-related killings over the years -- "My Way."

The authorities do not know exactly how many people have been killed warbling "My Way" in karaoke bars in the Philippines, or how many fatal fights it has fueled. But the news media have recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade and includes them in a subcategory of crime dubbed the "My Way Killings."

The killings have produced urban legends about the song and left Filipinos groping for answers. Are the killings the natural byproduct of the country's culture of violence, drinking and machismo? Or is there something inherently sinister in the song? Whatever the reason, many karaoke bars have removed the song from their playbooks. And the country's many Sinatra lovers, like Mr. Gregorio here in this city in the southernmost Philippines, are practicing self-censorship out of perceived self-preservation.

Theories abound: some say it's because of the song's arrogant tone ("I did it my way!"), others claim it's the ubiquity of the song -- everyone knows it, has an opinion on it, and people clearly aren't afraid to criticize one another's karaoke skills in the Philippines -- while defenders of the song cite the frequency with which it is sung; it's simply more likely to be killed while singing "My Way" because it is sung so often. Still, rightly or not, "My Way" is increasingly finding itself banned from karaoke bars by fearful owners.

Incidents of karaoke-related violence in the U.S. are pretty low -- but can anyone think of another pastime that might have a similar analogue? Britain has its deadly soccer hooligan brawls -- what have we got? Bowling-related violence?

February 9, 2010 - 6:26am
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