I wasn’t supposed to do it.
I didn’t volunteer for it.
When I saw it was coming, I figured I would avoid it like the plague.
But it didn’t matter. I was chosen. I was stuck. Doomed to be publicly humiliated in front of around 1,000 people… four times in one weekend.
And it wound up being so much worse than I feared.
High School: The Age of Self-Consciousness
I know a handful of people who look back fondly on their high school years.
To a degree, I understand it: you’re surrounded by your friends every day, your life responsibilities are largely minor, and you still have a bit of that innocence about the world.
For me, unfortunately, high school was a neverending experiment in fear, anxiety, and massive doses of self-consciousness. I obsessed over everything about myself: my hair, my clothes, my zits, the way I walked, the way I talked, the things I did, the things I said…
I didn’t do this out of ego. I did it out of fear. Every day, I walked around a school full of people who I thought were judging me. I felt like I was on display everywhere I went. There were guys who I wanted to hang out with. There were girls I had crushes on. I wanted to be liked. Weird guys aren’t liked.
This obsession, of course, did nothing to help me. My constant push to try harder damaged me far more than I wanted it to. I refused to just relax and be myself out of the fear that me being myself would turn people away.
And then… I had to rap.
The Biggest Concert of the Year
Every spring, towards the end of the school year, my high school put on what was called the “Prism Concert.”
It was a big deal. Rather than being held in our auditorium like other concerts, this one was held in the big gym. Multiple stages were set up. Students auditioned their own musical pieces to be a part of the event. The choirs, the bands, and all other musical groups were all involved with their own performances. Several big joint numbers were also involved in opening and closing the show.
The Prism Concert was held, to the best of my recollection, 4 times over the course of a weekend. Different performers were rotated in and out of the nights so that as many acts as possible could be crammed in.
It normally sold out every show. About a thousand people crammed uncomfortably into the gym at chairs and tables, and on the bleachers.
My junior year of high school, I was in my second year of being involved in the music department. The year prior, I debuted with our sophomore-level choir. I don’t remember much about it.
But boy, do I remember my junior year.
Why Shrek Gives Me Nightmares
During my junior year, Shrek was in full swing. It was an original, funny take on fairy tales. I remember watching it many times. My girlfriend at the time was a huge fan.
And yet, the thought of Shrek today makes my stomach sink, because it is responsible for the worst moment of my high school life – and the most embarrassing moment of my entire life.
I don’t say that lightly: as a man who struck out with a lot of girls, had dates so bad you could write books about them, and generally kept shoving his foot in his mouth repeatedly over the last 35 years… saying something is the most embarrassing moment of my life is a really big statement to make.
I don’t flinch when I say it, though: this one is head-and-shoulders above them all.
Best Years Of Our Lives
The Baha Men. You terrible, terrible group.
Yeah, the guys who wrote Who Let The Dogs Out actually did something worse, and that something worse is Best Years of Our Lives.
In my junior year, our choir was going to perform this abomination of a song.
Fine. We’ve done terrible songs before. No big deal.
But Best Years of Our Lives has a rap solo in the middle of it.
Can you see where this is going yet?
It looked terrible, and I knew there was no way I’d audition for that nonsense.
And yet, our director announced in front of the choir one morning that I was going to perform the rap solo.
Please note: I was not warned of this. I was not asked. He didn’t say, “Hey, Tom, how do you feel about doing the rap solo?” He didn’t ask for auditions or even ask anyone what they thought of the idea.
He just announced it. I found out at the same time as everyone else.
They all turned and looked at me. I felt the color drain from my face.
Many of them smirked. They knew what I knew.
I was… not a rapper.
Take a look at this guy and please imagine him spitting some sweet game on the microphone:
I didn’t have a hint of cred to my name or image.
And listen, it’s not that I couldn’t hold a beat. I could. One of my well-established karaoke numbers is Lose Yourself by Eminem. I can rap. I’m better than I appear. It’s fine.
But would I rap at the biggest concert of the year? Of course not.
Rapping at a bar where everyone is drinking and you can screw up and walk away is one thing. Rapping in front of a thousand people as a significant part of the opening number of the biggest concert of the year is a completely different animal.
And there was another, even more significant problem.
This rap was truly awful
I’m not even going to comment on it. I’m just going to post the lyrics and you can see for yourself.
So you always consider me like an ugly duckling
and you treat me like a Nostradamus is why
I had to get my shine on
And break a little something to get my mind on
Cause you have my mind gone – ah ah, ah ah, ah ah
Turn the light on,
Come on baby let’s just rewind this song
Cause all I wanna do is make the rest years the best years
All night long
No joke: my eyes watered instinctively as I typed out these lyrics. That’s how embarrassing this whole ordeal was.
The practicing was as bad as I feared…
The first time I had to do this nonsense in front of the choir full of my friends, I couldn’t even look up from the music. I muttered my words. My body refused to participate in this.
When we moved to the gym for sound checks and official rehearsals, I held the microphone up to my lips and barely got the words out.
I looked at our director, who was miming to me that I should be dancing or looking like I was, you know, into it.
I wasn’t “into it.” Nostradamus?
My goal wasn’t to do it well. My goal was survival. Just get through it and move on.
Then, Opening Night happened.
…and the first performance was even worse.
My instructions were as follows:
- Stay back with the bass section and sing the song.
- As the song approached my rap solo, strut over to the wireless microphone that was set up separate from the choirs – you know, so everyone could see me.
- Pick up the microphone, flip the switch on, and rap.
- Stay there and dance by myself on a platform so everyone could stare at me and judge me through the end of the song.
All of those things happened, right on cue.
But as I was getting the words somehow out of my mouth and into the microphone, it felt… off. Something wasn’t right, and I don’t just mean the fact that I was rapping in public.
I felt like I was in some kind of vacuum. Time was moving in slow motion. I felt like the rap would never end, and it was even more awkward of a slog than I thought.
The microphone wasn’t on.
Not only was I trying my darndest to make this thing work, I was now rapping into a microphone that was off. I looked like a complete and utter idiot.
The audience wasn’t just watching this dork trying to rap, they could also barely hear him, which made it even worse.
I danced and whatever. I don’t know. It’s hard to see when your eyes are blurry from embarrassment. The girl standing on the risers next to me turned in the middle of dancing and whispered, “You didn’t turn your mike on.”
I looked down. I did turn the mike on. The sound guys screwed it up.
Didn’t matter. I looked like a buffoon who didn’t know how to work a microphone on top of rapping about Nostradamus.
The damage was done.
It never got better.
In subsequent performances, the microphone worked. People could hear me. I don’t know if that was better or worse.
But I don’t know that I was ever more relieved than on Sunday night that weekend, when I spit out, “All I wanna do is make the rest years the best years” for the last time.
I don’t have a recording of it. Maybe someone does. I don’t know. I hope they burn them all.
Here’s the actual song. And imagine a 135-pound high school cross country runner doing the rap in the middle:
So, no, I don’t want to go back to high school.
There are moments where you think, If I could go back, I’d do X, Y, and Z differently.
But there was nothing to do differently. I was placed in this position against my will, I did my best, and it was a complete, abject disaster through no action of my own.
Sometimes, life throws moments at you that you just have to grit your teeth and grind through, no matter how terrible it is.
This was mine.