Chisos Mountain Basin, Big Bend National Park

As a kid, I was involved in various extra curricular activities, mainly focused around the arts. Theatre was the most prominent, however, choir was a close second. I relished in the spotlight of possibilities that were in no part dissuaded by the adults in my life. Teachers, Relatives and family friends saw the stars in my eyes and did what they could to keep fueling that. My involvement was never propelled by their unachieved dreams; these were my own and I was given the space to embrace them. Writing and art, which moved from fairly rudimentary pencil sketches before budding into an interest in photography for me may have just been a way to keep me occupied while adults were having conversations. However, I was able to use my imagination, creativity and talents to express myself both internally and outwardly.

While I was never in the running to win a Grammy or Oscar, what performing helped instill in me was a sense of appreciation for talents that I now better understand do not come as naturally to everyone in the same way. As much as I might catch a groove from time to time on a dance floor, I am not built to be a professional dancer. Admittedly, dancing was never a discipline I honed either. If the measure of an individual is determined by what we invest in, I have been equally a different person at different stages of my life, however, dancing has pretty consistently not registered as a major pursuit in any of said stages.

The idea that someone is a “triple threat” of talent was traditionally held as someone who could sing, dance and act. The nineties challenged that notion for many a performer, often replacing dancing for rapping. I was wholeheartedly not immune to this change. I looked up to the people I often saw on television or heard on the radio, including Will Smith and Eminem. Ok, maybe Eminem wasn’t a logical stretch for acting at that point, but he blew up the airwaves at a time that I was searching for who I was to become.

So, what now comes out periodically as a random party trick after loosening up a little was once part of how I wanted to change the world as a preteen. MC’ing was not more lengthily developed for me until high school, but I could scribble a song idea or verse or two on the school bus, between being prodded by my peers for a multitude of other crazy ideas.

I won’t point to a specific date or point of public performance that really made things “click” for the part of me that highly enjoys hip hop. However, what I can share is a relatively humorous and fairly embarrassing pursuit of my forays into publicly rapping as a teenager; the night Show Choir took on Will Smith’s “Wild Wild West” at a recital concert.

I am relying on Google to help remember the year of the film and subsequent song’s release. If the release was 1999, it places me around 7th grade by the time the song made it’s rounds to the middle school choir circuit. I can’t actually confirm a Middle School Choir Circuit, but I can’t deny one either. Middle School Choir Circuit’s are very Palahnuick-esque in that way.

In the weeks leading up to this choir recital, there are some relatively useless facts to keep in mind.

1) I was in a “show choir”, which was considered a privilege due to the special mail order black polyester vests that were required to be worn as we “toured” local businesses, usually around the holidays, to remind people that there was hope for America’s future. And that hope had great pitch, special polyester vests, and white long sleeve oxford shirts tucked into black dress pants.

2) No one I’ve met has ever recalled their time in Middle School as successful. Most people spent those years developing skills the hard way (by failing greatly and learning from the mistakes), but the things that we think are so detrimental to us publicly are often not the actual things remembered by others. So, while I have denied any public filming of this event, I am almost certain someone has footage of this performance. If you are a Johnston Middle School Alum (or family member) from 1999/2000 with video evidence of this performance, email me. Contact info is on the site. I will post a clip in all it’s glory if someone can find it. Then we all can relive this greatness. (shudders)

3) As much as I wanted to be a Baritone in ’99, I was for sure a Tenor.

4) Will Smith’s part, even in the chorale arrangement, was a definite rapping solo. The solo required an audition. A few classmates really had me amped up the day to try out. Whether it was a tactic to avoid having to do it themselves, or if they wanted to see me go for it I am unsure. But I will go with the latter.

5) To date, I still can’t read music. I have relied heavily on musical sensibilities and playing by ear. But if you were to hand me sheet music, I am just as likely to ask for the day’s specials as I am to know the notes you want me to sing.

So, I was successful in the room of maybe 18 people securing the solo. Pretty sure that you have figured that out by now. On the day of the show, I realize that there are far more than 18 people in a packed auditorium. And that I am to stand in front of them (with a mic?) and rap/sing this piece. The lights are low, the music is playing in the background. I am at the front of the stage right, with a black felt cowboy hat, (faux?) black and grey snakeskin boots, bolo tie, and maybe a khaki trench coat over my black polyester vest. Some of the details slip over time.

What I remember was an initial sense of excitement, bringing my best to something, even if I had no idea how it would end. The music kept playing. As I started to hit the mark, the room began to narrow. I could see somewhat confused looks on the faces of the audience. This was a choir recital, not a sing along. There was no clapping to the beat. The group of teens behind me swaying side to side in time wasn’t pulling the crowd off their feet mid song. The verse finally, despite all my observations had ended. I received a reassuring nod from the choir director and returned to my post on the rafter. The crowd clapped upon the completion of the song, the narrow room returned to it’s normal and expansive size. I didn’t pass out, have a voice crack in the middle of the piece, or use the opportunity to Kanye the moment with a mic.

As the next group of performers entered the stage, we were escorted back to our seats to watch the rest of the show. I was proud of the solo even if it didn’t mean that I would be popular. Even if it was a minuscule opportunity to shine a little brighter in that moment, I stepped up to the plate.

I found out that Will Smith turned down a role as Neo in the The Matrix for Wild, Wild, West. The film project that he selected was not as acclaimed as we now know The Matrix to be. But sometimes, when you are faced with an opportunity; be it at the trailhead of a beautiful hike with the skies parting from a refreshing raincloud, a microphone in front of you with spotlight pointed your way or a couple of movie scripts to choose from you just have to lean in and make it your own.

The shot this week comes from the gorgeous Chisos Mountain Basin in Big Bend National Park. Very few things ring truer to me than West Texas skies. I am glad to recall this one often as I snapped a picture, record and boombox in tow just as a cool rain began to hit my face on the way back to the car. If you have the opportunity to camp in Big Bend, I for sure hope you take it. And don’t forget the Will Smith featuring Dru Hill and Kool Moe Dee.

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