John Goldbach

Seth’s Bar Mitzvah, Sept. 4, 1993

I don’t know Seth nor was I at his Bar Mitzvah. In the early ’90s, however, I did attend a few Bar (and Bat) Mitzvahs and had one myself.  Although mine didn’t have any sort of video-karaoke, after I read from the Torah (Leviticus 19), my guitar teacher, Pete, and his friend, Glen, did play the party, at which, late in the night, my older brother, my stepbrother and I got up with the band of two and played songs by Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

We were good for kids but obviously not Jimi Hendrix good and not even as good as your average bar band. We were kids, though, so in a way, we were tolerable, perhaps even endearing, and somewhat entertaining; the British woman who cut my hair, Julie, and her date/friend, Diane, a fellow hairdresser, seemed to love our renditions of “All Along the Watchtower,” “Hey Joe,” and “The Ocean,” and kept screaming for more (they were the most vocal fans—and the drunkest).

At Seth’s Bar Mitzvah, it’s not the kids singing “That’s What Friends Are For,” and the Bar Mitzvah manboy’s nowhere to be seen. Instead, it’s the older folks covering the unforgettable collaboration between Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Dionne Warwick (her biggest and last memorable hit—penned by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager—before giving up music for clairvoyance).

Watching septuagenarians clown around with sexagenarians—putting on rainbow-coloured wigs in front of a Tron-like screen while mumbling the lyrics (or not) and playing blowup guitars—is definitely off-the-charts endearing, and entertaining, if you can get over the initial pain of the off-key and mumbled singing.

It’s the way the family dynamics are so plainly visible (and somehow so familiar): The couple in their late-thirties or early-forties in the middle (perhaps Seth’s proud parents!) are the nucleus and holding the mike and probably paying for the party; there’s the woman in the multi-bowed red dress (an aunt?), who’s clearly uncomfortable with the whole Karaoke-thing and perhaps her family, too; and, the obvious favourite, the whacky old man in front who’s cracking everybody up, even the uncomfortable woman in the multi-bowed dress (I’m positive he’s an uncle, though not Seth’s uncle—he’s too old—but perhaps Seth’s dad’s uncle. I call him Morty).

I hope right now this video’s being broadcast into space using one of those giant satellite dishes, like the ones Jodie Foster uses in “Contact,” and I hope aliens receive the transmission (instead of Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics—which in many ways belong to Jesse Owens and Cornelius Johnson—like in “Contact”), and I hope they watch “Seth’s Bar Mitzvah, Sept. 4, 1993” and find the human race old, out of synch, strangely endearing, and tone deaf.

- John Goldbach

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John Goldbach’s the author of “Selected Blackouts," a collection of short stories. He lives in Montreal, Quebec.