The heat from the stage lights was almost as blinding as the brightness. For a brief moment I paused to reflect how this most embarrassing chain of events could have transpired.
“This is worse than it ever looks in movies…”
My friend (who’s name I will avoid mentioning since sharing highly incriminating stories about myself is as far as I’ll go) looked over at me with a head nod.
The jam began.
I unleashed a barrage of triplets on the high-hat. Opening and closing the foot pedal for dramatic effect. An off-beat to the snare.
Our two legged trio began ripping into a mess of noise and chaos. With only bass and drums left on stage to quell the eruption of disappointment, it seemed only right to just let it all out.
There was no room to alternate solos. To undo the dramatic display of weakness we had to proceed with reckless abandon of each other’s musical boundaries. In order to redeem what little social credibility we had, we must blow full steam.
The crazy part is that this fit of rage almost seemed to work. It started feeling like the audience was being wooed back into our favor. Like we had a chance at showing back up at school on Monday without requesting a transfer to another school…
And then it happened.
The limbo in an otherwise bad dream. My eruption into mad drumming oozed sweat from every poor. Sweaty drumsticks in ill-tempered hands have not the grip one needs.
It twirled past my ear bouncing from the wall behind me only to find its way to a tiny sliver in the stage floor.
I desperately grasped.
We were done. Time to run.
The unfortunate truth of the evening was that was actually the only redeeming part of our band’s first and only performance.
How I arrived on stage for my high school’s talent show, the immediate following events, and why being embarrassed in front of hundreds of people can actually be good for you is what this story is about.
Talent Show, Take One (and Only)
Early on in my life I took up the drums. I liked building noise out of patterns and muscle reflex. How fast can I go. If I completely give myself to this rhythm, will I eventually be able to clear my mind?
It was therapeutic.
I started young in the fourth grade. I guess I probably could have been pretty good, but a couple too many school moves left me jumping through different hoops for different band leaders and eventually I lost interest after leaving private school my Freshman year of high school.
That was of course after this breathtaking performance.
The school talent show was approaching. Myself, a friend of mine that played bass, and another who played guitar got it in our heads that we would signup and perform Under the Bridge by The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
As many talent-thirsty high schoolers before us have proven, rarely is it a good idea to signup for such ridiculous events. Talent shows are for the school’s improv comedy crew, popular guys to do a boy band song, and cheerleaders to do something… anything really.
But we were outcasts to begin with.
The underdog of underdogs. I was a new kid as a Freshman and so was my comrade on bass. The guy that played guitar had been at this school since Kindergarten. I think he ultimately had the most on the line.
Which is why he took this whole charade much, much more serious than we did.
Always annoyed when we just wanted to jam when it was time to practice. We were always like:
“Let’s just get up there and rock out… why do we need a song?”
And our friend would go ballistic. So we’d run through Under the Bridge again and again.
It wasn’t like we were bad at it, we could muddle through. It’s not like the drum bit is that tough. Or bass or guitar. I think it really came down to whether our friend with the guitar could sing and strum at the same time.
In practice it seemed like he could.
But then again, bass and I were just interested in crushing madness.
I Show Up
One thing about me that is almost to a fault is that I don’t think about what happens when I actually show up to something. I just show up. Whether I’m prepared or not, I get on stage.
This is something that as a leader and entrepreneur has helped out tons because on many occasions I don’t have the luxury to prepare.
But if I spend my days filling my head with anxiety or fear of what might happen when I get on stage, then I would probably convince myself out of ever speaking publicly.
Luckily, I know the worst thing that can happen.
And even the fallen drumstick wasn’t the bad part.
(Btw, I haven’t even told you the worst part yet.)
Woody Allen once said that 80 percent of life is just showing up, and while I used to understand that as “just arrive,” what he actually meant is a little more telling:
“I made the statement years ago which is often quoted that 80 percent of life is showing up. People used to always say to me that they wanted to write a play, they wanted to write a movie, they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something happen. All the other people struck out without ever getting that pack. They couldn’t do it, that’s why they don’t accomplish a thing, they don’t do the thing, so once you do it, if you actually write your film script, or write your novel, you are more than half way towards something good happening. So that I was say my biggest life lesson that has worked. All others have failed me.”
So while showing up is important, so is doing that one thing. And for me that one thing ended up being an entrepreneur. Starting businesses and letting the creativity and problem solving flow.
I don’t sit wondering, “I should start a business some day…”
I thrive in a place and around people that challenge me daily.
But I Digress
It was the big day. We hunkered down in the band room playing Chili Peppers over and over and over.
This was going to work.
It had too. Why else would we volunteer for social suicide.
We were set to play in the second half of the talent show. Not quite the “last act” – but in high school, a rock band was suppose to be a big deal. There was however a better practiced band of Juniors and Seniors that was to close out the night.
Sometime during the first half of the acts, it occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I had never performed in front of an audience in this capacity before. Sure, I had done school band performances and such… but we had sheet music and things were much simpler.
This was suppose to be cool.
However, when one of the stage hands asked me, “do you need a monitor facing you?” Acting coolly and all-knowing, “nah, I’m good man.”
This was a bad decision.
When on stage there is a lot of other noise and the guitar and bass speakers are rightly pointed at the audience, not me. Drummers need monitors or else they can’t hear anything. No lyrics, no nothing.
During the intermission it was time to get ready. Peer pressure is pretty amazing because I don’t think knowing what I know now that I should have been so calm and collected. We were out of our element.
We hadn’t even performed this song for a single person prior to stepping on the stage.
Kind of a funny thing to ponder as our names were called and we walked into our impending doom. We didn’t even have a band name, so literally the announcer listed each of our full names to unmistakably identify us to our vulture-like classmates. They were just waiting for a massive failure and we were about to give it to them.
We got situated.
Clutched in my hands were a single pair of drumsticks.
(Also another amateur performer mistake as drummers often lose orthrow away sticks.)
The three of us connected eyes and visually agreed to begin. Our guitarist friend started in. How this thing opened was ultimately up to him.
Since I didn’t have a monitor, all I got was the faint reverberated bounce of his guitar strums. At this point I fully understood the ridiculousness of my earlier statement to the stage hand.
Thirty seconds into the guitar intro he began singing:
“Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a partner…
Sometimes I feel like my only friend
Is the city I live in… the city of angels
Lonely as I am… together we cry”
I start tapping the high hat with a layover rim shot.
Everything is progressing nicely.
“I drive on the streets cause she’s my companion
I walk through the hills cause she knows who I am
She sees my good deeds and she kisses the windy
I never worry… now that is a lie.”
This might actually work! Time to break this sucker down!
“And I don’t ever want to feel like I did that day.”
And that was it. As our guitarist sang those last five words, his voice impeccably cracked as only one could imagine from a freshy-frosh high schooler.
Instead of playing through, he locked up. Stopped singing. Looked back at me. Looked at my friend playing bass. I tried to keep the rhythm going but he was petrified.
Fear dripped from his eyes.
None of us were skilled enough to figure out how to reboot from where we left off. My heart was racing. This was the moment every kid in high school usually wakes up and realizes they had just dozed off to conjugating Latin verbs. You know that moment where you wake up from the awful dream where you were on the school bus and forgot to put your pants on.
Except there was no foggy forgiveness. This was real.
Once our guitarist friend unpetrified himself, his next move was rather abrupt and efficient. He unplugged his instrument and ran off stage.
The logical thing would have been to chase after him, run straight to the parking lot, and burn rubber until we reached a county where we could not be identified as the three idiots that decided to ruin what little reputation they had left.
But alas my friend with the bass and I stayed put. The whole time we’d been practicing The Red Hot Chili Peppers waltzy ballad we really wanted to jam out to something more in the likes of Sex Pistolsexcept we hadn’t practiced that either.
So we just started hammering it. For a solid sixty seconds we rocked the house. For what it’s worth, witnesses later admitted that this brief sliver of musical fiery was actually quite blissful enjoyment. I will be the first to admit that this might have truly been due to our rough start and late-game decision to completely pivot our performance.
Of course none of this mattered. Once my stick fell, my uni-stick ability had never fully developed. We followed suit and quickly left the stage.
Nothing Risked, Nothing Gained
Backstage our grief overwhelmed us. Some upperclassmen who had organized the show agreed that we made a go at it and that it wasn’t that bad (except it was).
Eventually the show was over for everyone. The last rock ska band of seasoned talent show vets went off without a hitch. We got to stand by lamenting in our misery that we should have been better.
Rightfully, we were listening through a cracked stage door standing outside wondering how our fortunes might have turned so sour. Our guitarist decided that his sorrows were better left to himself and snagged a ride home. He was very upset and between the three of us we weren’t actually quite sure who to blame the mess on. Not that it mattered.
We were equally responsible for moronically agreeing to perform a song in front of our entire high school class. There was that 5% chance that it could have been a success and we would have been marched into the lunchroom Monday morning hosted up on our chairs.
This kind of thinking was what got us into this mess in the first place.
What was more likely was that we had a 94% chance of completely failing. Then there was that 1% chance that things would go how they did which was absolutely, without a doubt, the worst that they could have.
Then it happened.
A Senior from the other band opened the door and said,
“Hey, some of us are going over to a party after the show. You should come with us, I’ll give you a ride.”
At our school Freshman didn’t go to Senior parties.
Not that this was Grammy-level consolation prize or something, but for us it was a big deal.
The crazy thing was that once we got to the party, our anti-performance was the talk of the evening. No one could get over how tragic, but then utterly awesome it was to watch. It was like:
“I can’t believe you guys tried to pull that mess around! Then the stick flying off! That is the worst possible thing ever! You are awesome!”
And all I could do was agree and laugh my head off.
The night out after the show was probably the single best night while I was a Freshman. I met more upper classman on a peer level than any other single event.
By Monday, I had mostly forgotten about the embarrassment even though several of my own classmates were lock, stock, and two smoking barrels into digs. I felt more in my own skin than I had ever at this school.
I had a whole new set of friends. Instead of sitting with the usual crew of pimply-faced frosh, I took up residence with my new ska-band crew. This of course was the exact opposite thing that all of my Freshman classmates thought could happen.
I live life with a growth mindset. Every situation leaves equal parts experience and lessons.
Here are some takeaways:
- Sometimes failure opens up doors that success would keep hidden.
- If the option is to sit in the audience or stand on stage, I will take the stage every time.
- Sometimes being lucky is disguised as unlucky.
- The thing you need to practice (being on stage) can’t be practiced until you just do it for the first time.
- There has never been a time where a stage freaked me out after this because I truly know the worst that can happen.
- No matter how damning you believe a situation is in high school, it probably has no relevance on what will happen with the rest of your life.
- When you fail at something, you’ll quickly realize who your true friends are.
This story erupted in my brain this evening as I read I Wear The Black Hat. Chuck Klosterman goes on a tirade about the different bands he used to hate but now loves (or just doesn’t hate anymore). He mentioned Under the Bridge and I felt as though I was abducted by a Tron bike into a past I had not thought of for over a decade.
It’s funny how stories do that. As I finish this thought, I wonder how many more stories are sitting in my brain, waiting for texture, paint, and lighting. Or maybe a spark to unlock the hidden treasure in my memory.
I feel like I finally let this one free. Gave it a place to call home and to not fasten my neurons with the useless energy anymore.
If you’ve had a similar embarrassing story, let me know on Twitter (@brentweaver), I’d love to compare thrashings.