Singing along with the bright young things

New York Confidential
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The Independent Culture
WHEN IT comes to bars, London has a tendency to copy the latest New York trends. Last year, for instance, a number of "lounges" sprang up following the success of various Manhattan establishments such as Jet Lounge, Cheetah Lounge and The Bubble Lounge. If this pattern continues, London's watering holes will shortly be replacing their jukeboxes with karaoke machines.

That's right, the hot new trend in New York is karaoke. Now that Rudoph Giuliani has banned dancing in all but a handful of establishments and shut down most of the city's strip clubs, karaoke bars offer the closest thing to a wild night out. Indeed, several "lounges" have started holding karaoke nights where celebrities regularly belt out the lyrics to such Eighties classics as "Tainted Love".

The best known of these used to take place on Wednesday nights at The Lansky Lounge on the Lower East Side. Various movie stars have been spotted in the crowd on karaoke night, including Ben Affleck, Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg. On one recent occasion, Dave Lee Roth leapt out of the audience and sang along to his own band's cover version of "California Girls" by the Beach Boys. It was a perfect post-modernist moment: an Eighties pop icon impersonating himself impersonating Brian Wilson. The crowd went nuts.

The woman who used to run that karaoke night at The Lansky Lounge, Audrey Bernstein, has relocated to the Elbow Room, a Greenwich Village dive favoured by New York University students. I went along on her first night to check it out. The evening began with a trio of students performing a very polished version of "Get Back". Unlike Asian karaoke practitioners, who do their best to impersonate the original, this group clearly weren't trying to sound anything like The Beatles. On the contrary, they were sending them up, though in a fairly light-hearted way. It was extremely entertaining.

At the beginning of the evening I'd written my own name next to a song selection, never imagining it would come up. However, to my horror, it popped up almost immediately and I had to clamber on stage and sing along to "She's Not There" by The Zombies. Unfortunately, I wasn't nearly confident enough to attempt a parody of the original. Instead, I produced a thin, warbling imitation. If I hadn't been somewhat the worse for wear it would have been one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life.

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ONE OF the surprise hits of the current television season is Guinness World Records, which debuted three weeks ago. It's like a creepy, X-rated version of The Record Breakers, featuring a circus troupe of freaks and weirdos.

The records that are broken have little to do with the mental dedication that Roy Castle used to sing about and much more to do with genetic mutation. So far, the records that have been "broken" include the world's largest tumour and the world's smallest twins. This week, the star attraction was a man who nailed a block of wood to his face. Somehow, I don't think that that's an activity that would have passed muster with the McWhirter twins.

However, it's been a huge success, right up there with America's Dumbest Criminals. Over the three weeks of its run it's averaged, as TV jargon has it, a 7.8 rating and a 13 share, which means it's being watched by 7.8 million people and 13 per cent of all households watching television in its time slot. Poor old Roy Castle must be spinning in his grave.

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VIDEO-CAMERAS are rapidly becoming the pervert's must-have accessory in New York. A couple of weeks ago, a man was arrested for trying to film up the skirts of unsuspecting women sitting on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Apparently, this wasn't the first time this has happened. Museum security guards told The New York Post that the area is a "prime stalking ground for video perverts".

More recently, a friend returned to work after her lunchbreak to find an anonymous video cassette on her desk. It turned out to be footage of her entering her flat. She's completely freaked out, not least because it was evidently shot from one of the flats opposite.

Video camera manufacturers have even begun to inadvertently play into the hands of these video perverts. Sony said it was recalling a new model which it had equipped with an infrared facility to enable wild-life enthusasiasts to film animals in the dark. Apparently, when used in daylight the camera is able to see through people's clothes to reveal what underwear they're wearing - or whether they're not wearing any at all.

So far, 600,000 of these new X-ray video cameras have been sold and they're already being offered at 10 times their original price on the black market. I better start saving up.

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