Lisan Jutras

Play Me Off, Keyboard Cat

Charlie Schmidt, “Keyboard Cat” (2007)

At a bar the other night, a man said to me, “I don’t get Keyboard Cat.” We had met by accident. I was supposed to meet some friends but they had forgotten about our date. I was feeling self-conscious because all the other hipsters were being groovy in clusters of two or three, and I was checking the non-existent text messages on my phone. A man with a beer in hand asked me for change so he could play a tabletop video-game. I gave it to him; he treated me to a round of Galaga. We got to talking and soon enough we were joined by a friend of his, a guy who used to work at a bookstore near my house. It was this guy who told me he didn’t understand Keyboard Cat.

There are some artworks in life that you understand on a purely gut level. You might not be able to explain their relevance, but you do know that they express a deep truth of existence. So it is with Keyboard Cat.

“It’s an anthem of failure,” I said.

“Yes!” said the video-game player. “Yes.”

Paulenrique, “Play The Skater Off, Keyboard Cat” (2009)

Keyboard Cat, though used mockingly, expresses something beyond mockery. Something like celebration. It’s an anthem, more precisely, for existence.

We live by grand ideas. Mythologies. Narrative arcs. But most of our life, percentage-wise, is spent on small decisions, minor humiliations, streetcar rides, thinking about vacuuming, worrying about our cat, buying pizza-flavoured Combos on a lunch break and then reading the nutritional information while thinking about characters in books or the lives of people we envy. We fall in love and we still, or perhaps more than ever, do hilariously inappropriate things.

The Beijing Olympic ceremony was not designed for this species; it may as well have been designed for Martians. We need an anthem that recognizes that we thicken the chowder of our life with invented meaning. We need an anthem that recognizes the world’s indifference to our trifles. We need an anthem that recognizes that failure should be a value-neutral concept, considering we’re all doomed to die sooner or later.

Keyboard Cat’s theme is the implicit soundtrack to life; at its heart, it’s about what it means to be human.

You are born; you learn lots of stuff — but not enough to know that the coffee table will flip over when you stand, singing and preening and generally pulling a Jennifer Hudson, on its overhanging lip.

Teckniks, “Play Her Off, Keyboard Cat” (2009)

Or that the girl you want to marry isn’t in love with you.

Splan160, “Play Him Off, Keyboard Cat” (2009)

Or that it’s best to end your songs with a Steve Tyler-esque scream only in the privacy of your own home and not when you are on American Idol.

Life may be “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” but does this mean we shouldn’t celebrate it? No! Maybe your failure is glorious! Maybe your failure involves an almost beautiful, choreographed-looking tumble.

BrotatoChip, “Play Him Off, Keyboard Cat” (2009)

“Cut the body loose,” that’s what they say at jazz funerals. That’s when they stop playing dirges and start the up-tempo cacophony. That’s when a stiff-armed cat in a sky-blue polo shirt sends you off. Cut the body loose! Everyone dances. Your shoes become airborne. All is festivity.

– Lisan Jutras

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Lisan Jutras is a writer and therapist living in Toronto. She is author of the short-lived “Microcelebrities” column about memes and viral videos that appeared in The Globe and Mail. Before that, she was their pets columnist, which embarrasses her a little. She doesn’t need your pity, though!