This Saturday, thousands of Chicagoans stuck inside due to “social distancing” will throw open their windows to sing some of the most inspiring lyrics in pop music: “Whoa, we’re halfway the-ere!” Yes, responding to the community balcony sing-alongs in locked-down Italy, two Chicago women are hosting a citywide “Livin’ on a Prayer” window sing-along.
The event happens this Saturday (March 21), with mass-synchronized singing set to begin at 7 p.m. Organizers invite everyone across the city to fill the Chicago evening air with their rendition of ’80s greats Bon Jovi’s beloved song about perseverance. If the public Facebook event page is any indication, the travails of Tommy and Gina will enliven the night outside thousands of Chicago windows: As of Friday morning, nearly 5,000 community karaokeans had responded “Going” or “Interested.”
Rogers Park couple Rebecca Kell and Jenni Spinner (a former colleague of LoganSquarist founder Kate Hamilton) planned the event after seeing inspiring videos of locked-down Italians singing from their balconies to boost morale.
“My wife was inspired by the Italian videos,” Kell said of Spinner. “She also loves karaoke, and we miss karaoke a lot.”
Kell said the two were looking to promote “some fun and unity in this time of stress and isolation.”
If you want to take part, jump in! The event’s instructions are pretty simple: Just pull up the lyrics — as the organizers say for this eminently well-known song, “if you need them.” Then, queue up the song; here’s the Spotify link, but maybe go old-school and break out the tape deck? Finally, at precisely 7 p.m. (CDT), hit play and then hit your courtyard, sidewalk or alleyway with the immortal, “Tommy used to work on the docks …”
“Follow along with the lyrics,” the event page says, “and sing your ass off!”
Kell and Spinner said they’re laid back about the prospects of precisely organizing such a mass sing-along. The event page says, “If it doesn’t work, no problem — we’ll try again! If it works, awesome!”
Inspiring songs in trying times
Italy’s balcony singing came in response to a lockdown. Chicago thankfully hasn’t experienced that yet. However, we are, as is everyone across the country, being asked to “socially distance” ourselves and avoid going out in order to slow the spread of coronavirus. Home to the worst coronavirus outbreak outside of China, Italy saw opera singers, instrumentalists and just neighbors looking to share a song step out into the – safely distant – open air to serenade their compatriots. Some entertained with DJ sets, while neighbors in Rome sang along to the folk tune “Volare.” Opera singer Maurizio Marchini did Puccini in Florence, The Guardian reported.
The community activity has spread to other parts of Europe, with a thunderous round of applause for Spain’s health care workers sounding from the country’s balconies.
For Chicago’s version of such an event, Kell said, she and Spinner wanted a well-known song that they knew, from experience could bring people together. “It’s a song that most people are familiar with and know many of the lyrics,” Kell said. “Jenni once saw Amanda Palmer with The Dresden Dolls do a cover of it, and all the goth concert-goers sang along.”
“Livin’ on a Prayer” has lived a blessed life in the realm of pop music. A huge hit for Jersey hair band Bon Jovi since ’86, its lyrics are so well-known they periodically pop up as memes. (Once you hear that “Whoo-ahh, we’re halfway the-ere,” you know more or less what’s coming next: Lemon on a pear? Sure. Lizard on a chair? Why not?) The infectious tune even brought fleeting internet stardom to this passionate fan at an NBA game. (Sorry, another reminder of bygone days of public events! But at least NBA League Pass is free now, during the crisis.)
Once Chicago collectively shouts out that last “Take my hand, and we’ll make it I swear” (without actually taking hands — keep your distance!), what’s next? Kell and Spinner “don’t have encore plans at this time,” Kell said. But they may change their minds.
“If we do,” Kell said, “I’m pushing for Prince song.”
Featured photo: Jenni Spinner and Rebecca Kell. Photo: Ed Negron