(cross-posted from Lime Tea. Maybe it'll give somebody a laugh-- or at least a twinge of recognition.)
The story I am about to tell you is true. Whether there is any moral or even practical lesson to be drawn from it, I can't say. If nothing else, it illustrates the depths of self-deception into which adolescents can sink given the slightest encouragement-- or even, as in this case, no encouragement at all.
Anyway, at my high school, there was a concert given every year by members of what was then known as the "BCHS Jazz Choir."
Ugh. I don't know if I can even tell this. Let me pour myself a drink.
Okay, so there was a concert given by the Jazz Choir. This concert was really nothing more than a talent show featuring those students whose ability to carry any sort of tune at all (or even to curry favor with the choir director, which is how I got in) qualified them to be in the Jazz Choir class. Each student (or small group of students-- I seem to remember a goodly number of duets featuring songs by acts like Ashford & Simpson and DeBarge) got a number to do. Since I couldn’t sing, and was a geek beyond even the not inconsiderable geekery of being a member of something called the BCHS Jazz Choir, I did a Tom Lehrer song. (I fucked it up, not that anyone noticed.)
At the conclusion of the program, we all got on stage and sang, I shit you not, "I Sing The Body Electric" from the "Fame" soundtrack. These are the lyrics:
I sing the body electric,
I celebrate the me yet to come,
I toast to my own reunion,
When I become one with the sun.
And I'll look back on Venus,
I'll look back on Mars,
And I'll burn with the fire
Of ten million stars.
And in time, and in time,
We will all be stars.
I will now enumerate just a few of the many ways in which this is totally depressing.
1. You didn't hear it with the music.
It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to isolate the most embarrassing of these admittedly extremely embarrassing lyrics. While the image of some shimmering, ectoplasmic choir geek floating through space looking back on Venus and Mars certainly beggars the imagination, clearly the most painful line, the one that is the psychic equivalent of chomping into a big ball of tinfoil with a loose filling, is the one about how "in time, we will all be stars."
Of course, that's the line we hit the hardest. After lurching through the horrible verses-- I think there were two-- we wrapped the thing up with an even more horrible sort of fugue, repeating the words over and over, as if to assure the justifiably incredulous audience that we were really, in fact, saying that in time the members of the BCHS Jazz Choir would all be stars. As I recall, my part (it was one of those majestic, layered, multipart arrangements, like the final number of a Disney film) went something like, "And in time, and in time, and in time, and in ti-i-ime, and in time [several more "and in times" omitted here for the sake of brevity], we will a-a-aaallll, be-e-e, STA-A-A-A-RR-R-S!" We belted out this last line in unison, as the choir director sweatily pounded out the big finish on the school's lone, battered, upright piano. It was indescribably awful.
2. We did not all become stars.
This probably goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway: Not only did no one from the Jazz Choir go on to appear on television, perform on the Broadway stage, or star in big-budget action/comedies opposite Salma Hayek, there was absolutely no reason to believe that any of us ever would. "BCHS" stood (and still stands, I suppose) for "B-------- Community High School," a depressing blond brick building on the edge of a depressing Midwestern farming town whose only claim to cosmopolitan culture was the fact that some of the students from the nearby Air Force base had lived in Germany for long enough to learn how to play soccer. The Fame school it wasn't, and the marginally competent teens comprising the Jazz Choir were about as likely to become stars of stage and screen as the teachers were to become Nobel laureates-- that is, not very fucking likely.
Horrifically, some of the Jazz Choir's more popular members formed some kind of god-awful a capella group called "Upscale," whose dearest aspiration was to perform their repertoire of cheesed-out arrangements of "Trickle, Trickle" and "The Way You Look Tonight" at the dinner theater by the freeway overpass next to the mall three towns over. I don't know if they ever realized this dream, but even if they did, I contend that this is not the type of stardom promised by the composers of "I Sing the Body Electric."
3. Being a star is kind of stupid.
I suppose this is going to sound a bit sour-grapes coming from one of the cruelly disappointed non-stars of the BCHS Jazz Choir (we whose dreams of stardom were so meretriciously egged on by the creators of "Fame" and the eight million or so movies just like it), but being a star-- at least, the kind of star that high school juniors want to become-- is pretty lame. Sure, it's cool to make a lot of money, not have to work very hard, and go to glamorous places. But you can also have that kind of life by inheriting money, and nobody makes movies about a young female welder's struggle to crack her trust fund before she turns 30.
No, the reason that high school kids want to be stars is to have the kind of recognition, cachet, and access to exclusive events that they believe accrues to those who achieve a certain level of success in the entertainment industry-- the same qualities that most high school kids aspire to in their day-to-day lives under the general rubric of "popularity." And frankly, if you're an adult who is still trying to be popular the way high school kids are popular-- well, that's pretty fucking lame.
4. I am still trying to become famous.
Notwithstanding all the above, I am still trying to be cool in a high school that, for all I know, burned to the ground in 1995. Please recommend my diaries and buy my band's records, then write me fan mail. Thank you.