The haunting ramifications of my abysmal performance during the 1994 Milton-Union Middle School talent show remains branded into my brainpan to this day.
Even as I write this I started playing the song “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles in the background (on a constant loop) as I tell this tale of teenage angst and embarrassment.
My good friend William Andrew Puterbaugh and I began playing guitar at age 13 when a new man of the cloth took over the local church and agreed to teach us. However, we made a pact with the pastor that once we were able to play, we would perform during every church service strumming church hymns in order to continue receiving lessons from him.
I guess you call something like that a “pray-to-play” arrangement.
Two years later Puterbaugh and I decided to enter our school talent show as separate participants and ply our trade as teenagers who believed they were excellent guitar players because they knew a few songs and had a few hundred church hymns committed to memory.
We each picked a song to play at the talent show and decided we would play along to the music as opposed to playing and singing ourselves.
Puterbaugh went first that day and encountered nary a problem as he played “Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum. His execution was flawless, but I felt his pageantry left little to the imagination.
It was just an empty school gymnasium stage with some weird-looking kid sitting on a metal folding chair and jamming away to a song that now dates the two of us.
My performance, however, had all the glitz and glamour that you would come to expect from a middle school talent show.
I was decked out in some totally awesome, bejeweled turquoise jacket, which matched the colors of my blue electric guitar. But no, I would not stop there.
The simple dynamics of school popularity would not allow it. I needed something bigger, better — something extremely large, extremely flamboyant and extremely yellow!
The planned performance was simple. Once my music started my two friends, Brad and Shane, agreed to carry a gigantic cardboard submarine across the stage behind me as I played. In the hours before the performance we had all applied generous amounts of brain-cell-killing yellow paint to the contraption, which was more like an overly-painted, cardboard Hindenburg.
Except the only thing about to go down in flames was me.
The real lynchpin in this talent show caper was the school’s sound system, which is hard to type without using air quotes. This “sound system” primarily consisted of the oldest tape deck known to mankind and one speaker.
The other speaker was busted and for some reason never replaced.
That’s important to know from a scientific standpoint. The Beatles recorded the song “Yellow Submarine” in stereophonic sound, which is a fancy pants way of saying that, with only one speaker, I was set up for failure.
With only one speaker nobody in the audience could hear the lyrics. Had there been another speaker my peers would have heard the whole song, lyrics and all, and I wouldn’t be writing this right now.
Once I realized what was occurring I just continued strumming the song as I tried to buy myself more time. There was a microphone in front of me, and while singing the song was the only option I had, it wasn’t an option at all.
This bird doesn’t sing, you dig?
And then the crowd turned against me. It was ugly man, so ugly.
I remember things in brief segments after that. I recall hearing the sound of a crudely made yellow submarine violently hitting the floor as my two friends charged with holding it scurried off the stage like rats.
I recollect running off the stage, too, as a pre-pubescent scallywag anonymously mocked from the darkened gymnasium, “Where are you going, Ringo?”
Where was I going? Even I wasn’t sure. The only thing I knew for sure was that we all live a life of ease, and every one of us has all we need.
Sky of blue, sea of green — in our yellow submarine.