When I was a kid, I liked spring a lot more. Except for our spring concerts. Every year, my entire elementary school put on an all-school musical in the gymnasium. The themes changed annually. When I was in second grade, we sang “Up, Up, and Away” and “The Trolley Song” for a transportation-themed musical, because there’s probably nothing more exciting for young girls than singing about cars, planes, trains, trucks, boats, and motorcycles. The next year my class dressed up like ragamuffin orphans to sing “It’s a Hard-Knock Life” for the school’s version of Annie. We did The Sound of Music in fourth grade, Peter Pan in fifth grade.It was during that performance that the second-ugliest picture of me ever was taken. Look at this!
Music Teacher: “Hey kid, you have a nice, fat head and look like a prepubescent boy. Want to be Captain Hook?”Me: “Sure! I’ve always wanted to wave around a plastic hook hand while singing an off-key solo before a hot, crowded gymnasium full of parents forced to sit on hard, metal folding chairs. I'm going to look so awesome in that hat!”
The next year could have been somewhat redeeming. Our sixth grade class (the far-flung Eden Elementary contingent) would meet all the other sixth grade classes from Campbellsport at the annual 6th Grade Spring Camp experience--sort of a “meet & greet” before they threw us together in the junior high blender the next school year.
And we were sure to make a great first impression with our medley of Beach Boy tunes.We earnestly practiced for weeks. Everyone had a part to play. Me? I pretended to ride in a car, bopping my head and doing some kind of hand motions to “California Girls” with three other kids from my class. We sounded awesome. We were so psyched. The day of the camp performance arrived, and we donned our surfer shorts, pastel tops, Swatch watches, leis, and dorky smiles. Each song had a carefully choreographed dance routine, accompanied by piano. Jazz hands may have been involved.
The other sixth grade classes? Lip-synched to Bon Jovi in acid-washed jean jackets and sunglasses. They were accompanied by a boom box and somehow, a kick-ass laser show. No one was told to smile. No one flashed jazz hands, but there may have been some rudimentary break-dancing.Afterwards, we felt as if a trick had been played. At least I did. I’d spent years lip-synching into the mirror in my bedroom, only to never have the opportunity to publicly display my talents. Lip-synching was actually an option? As was maintaining some sort of cool factor in the critical weeks before the first day of seventh grade?
Also, it’s a miracle none of us were beaten.Fast-forward two years to the eighth grade spring chorus concert. I vaguely recall singing a bunch of shitty rock songs (“R.O.C.K. in the USA” comes to mind), and the show was to close with a stirring rendition of White Lion’s “When the Children Cry.” All of us were supposed to sit on the edge of the stage, our legs dangling into the void before the front row—to make it more profound or intimate, maybe, or so the audience would have more difficulty seeing us…it’s hard to say. Our chorus teacher revealed the true extent of some childhood head injury when he said to us, “Everyone! Idea! Find a small child to bring with you for our final performance. The kids are going to sit on your laps while you sing ‘When the Children Cry.’”
Luckily, I had a three-year-old sister, so I was set. Others begged to borrow children from babysitting clients. Some classmates simply couldn't find a kid to sit on their lap for the song and were summarily banished to the edges of the line-up, which made the rest of us hugely jealous and resentful. I can tell you laps were urinated on, and children actually did cry. Beyond that, I've suppressed most of the memory.Behind the Music: every kid in that class (one of two required electives--it was that or band) had to select and sing a SOLO in front of THE WHOLE 8th GRADE CHORUS CLASS that semester. And when I say "every kid," I mean every kid: the jocks, the nerds, the farm boys, the cheerleaders, the burnouts, the shy bookworms, ALL of us in our awkward, tuneless, voice-cracking, middle school glory. By the time we'd selected our Top 40 sheet music, practiced at the piano with Mr. Krumbein, and actually sung the fucker into a microphone before nearly fifty of our peers, a kid peeing on your lap during a White Lion song sounded great by comparison.
In case you were wondering, I picked "Heaven" by Bryan Adams. I made my friend Pam sing "The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics, and I still can't believe what an evil bastard I was back then.