After a day of barbering, Rodolfo Gregorio went to his neighbourhood karaoke bar still smelling of talcum powder. Putting aside his glass of Red Horse Extra Strong beer, he grasped a microphone with a habitué’s self-assuredness and briefly stilled the room with the Platters’ My Prayer.
Next, he belted out crowd-pleasers by Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. But Gregorio, 63, a witness to countless fistfights and occasional stabbings erupting from disputes over karaoke singing, did not dare choose one beloved classic: Frank Sinatra’s version of My Way. “I used to like My Way, but after all the trouble, I stopped singing it,” he said. “You can get killed.”
The authorities do not know exactly how many people have been killed warbling My Way in karaoke bars over the years in the Philippines, or how many fatal fights it has fuelled. But the news media have recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade and includes them in a sub-category of crime dubbed the “My Way Killings”.
The killings have 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 Gregorio in General Santos, are practicing self-censorship out of perceived self-preservation.
Karaoke-related killings are not limited to the Philippines. In the past two years alone, a Malaysian man was fatally stabbed for hogging the microphone at a bar and a Thai man killed eight of his neighbours in a rage after they sang John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads.