The Price of Greatness...

Wednesday, March 06, 2013
Recently, my 10 year old son, Walt, performed in his school's talent show, "Aviator Idol." (Named that way because his school is the "Round Top Aviators, - Where Learning Takes Flight.") For the show, he decided he wanted to rap Vanilla Ice's, "Ice Ice Baby," so I said, "sure."

At some point during his hours of practicing he said to me,

You know what would be really cool, Dad? If when I said, 'turn off the lights and I'll glow,' the lights went off and I had cool glow sticks stuck on me and I really glowed.

I immediately said,

I will make this happen.

I realize the rest of this story might make me sound like a "stage dad" who lives vicariously through his son, and to that I say you're missing the big picture. The big picture is that I'm a stage-dad who lives vicariously through his son AND daughter, but this story is only about my son.

I suggest watching the performance before continuing to read the rest of this as the remainder references many things in the actual video.

I wanted to write about this to let other parents out there know how much work is involved in a simple thing like creating a show-stopping performance at your 10 year old's elementary school talent show. Yes, that's why I'm writing this. As a service to other parents. Not to brag about my child's accomplishments... not at all. (But did you watch the video above?)

There are many moving parts in this equation. Some of them are outlined below, then elaborated upon below that. You may think these seem far fetched or ridiculous, but to that I say, each point below represents a few loose coins in a change purse, that when totaled, equals the price of greatness.

Some of the things that were orchestrated by Walt and me, in no particular order were:

  • Download the karaoke track
  • Remove all references to sex, drugs, alcohol, and guns.
  • Re-write lines that couldn't be edited out because of the song's structure.
  • Memorize lyrics.
  • Find great glow sticks.
  • Tape the glow sticks to Walt in a strategic, artistically cool way.
  • Choreograph dance steps to accentuate the glowing.
  • Make sure the auditorium could be blacked out all the way so the glowing effect would look amazing.
  • Make sure the light board operator was savvy enough to make the black-out happen at the right times.
  • Make sure we got it well videotaped so I could blog about it afterwards.
  • Go to the doctor and get a prednisone the morning of the show because Walt had a seal-bark cough and couldn't talk at 7:00 am.
  • Force Walt to take the most disgusting tasting prednisone in the world and watch him writhe in agony as he swallowed it in the McDonalds parking lot.
  • Watch Walt shove four McNuggets in his mouth at once to chase the prednisone.
  • Buy herbal tea and honey to sooth his throat all day while we played PS3 with each other instead of going to school.
  • Prioritize the talent show ahead of the school day so his voice would get the rest it needed to be able to perform, but still get a doctor's excuse.

If Round Top Elementary administrators are reading this blog, then I'm only kidding about those last two. (Also my wife had nothing to do with it either way... she had already gone to work before anything was decided.) If you are not from the administration of Round Top, then those last two are true.

There are other steps but this is a good start. If the above list seems too daunting for you, then just realize the following truth: Even if your kid is the most talented, he may never get the show-stopping moment he deserves. It takes more than just talent. It takes a border-line psychotic parent to be there along the way. From the look of the overall show, I would say there were definitely some other border-line psychotic parents out there because many of the acts were outstanding!

Below are some of the above bullet points with longer explanations.

Download Karaoke Track
I am a huge fan of The reason I like this site so much is they allow you to download multiple versions of your track. I downloaded three versions. One with all the instruments and vocals, one with all the instruments and only the back-up vocals, and then one with only the instruments. That way I could create one version for Walt's iPod so he could start memorizing it with the lead vocals, but I also had the freedom to edit verse lengths and chorus structures so we could remove the bad lyrics.

The editing of the multiple karaoke tracks necessary for rehearsal and performance probably took three hours. You might say, "Marty, that's crazy." To that I say, "It's a small price to pay for greatness."

Remove All References to Bad Stuff
"Girls were hot wearing less than bikinis," just didn't seem appropriate for this elementary school performance, so we needed to change that. Also the second verse is full of "gunshots, ranged out like a bell, I grabbed my nine, all I heard was shells (grammar error in lyric, not my writing) falling on the concrete real fast, jumped in the car, slammed on the gas."

So I told Walt, we had to remove any reference to gun violence and barely dressed women. He was fine with that. That's why we cut right to the chorus after "Beachfront Avenue!"

Re-Write Some Lines
At the end of the song we couldn't just cut two lines as it would create awkwardness in the run to the last chorus. The original lines use a swear word and a strong reference to drugs. "Other D.J.'s say, D***! If my rhymes were a drug I'd sell'em by the gram!"

These lines became "Other D.J.'s say, Wow! My rhymes are so good all the people will Bow!" Which Walt wrote himself.

We also changed the last line which reads, "Magnitized by the mic while I kick my juice," to "Magnetized by the mic, while I drink orange juice," because, honestly, I didn't know what "kick my juice" meant, but it just sounded bad enough to warrant the change.

You may say, "Marty, all this editing is so much work and trouble," to which I say, "It's a small price to pay for greatness."

Find Great Glow Sticks
This was easier than I thought. Wal-mart. Total glow stick budget including the ones used at rehearsals... $6.23. Seriously. I used the self-checkout lines to avoid the anxiety attack which is induced by interacting with any employee at Wal-Mart.

Tape the Glow Sticks to Him
This was easy too, but only because I own Gaffer's Tape. Gaff tape is so awesome for clothing because it doesn't leave that nasty residue all over you like duct tape does.

As for the design of the deal, we just stood in front of the mirror and taped them on one at a time trying to make it look like Tron pretty much. We had cracked a few the day before at rehearsal and had confidence that after they were cracked they would glow for at least six hours. This was an important part of the research. Also, in hindsight, Walt wishes he wore a black shirt instead of the white shirt. In our small bathroom the white shirt didn't show up in the pictures as seen below. But on stage the white shirt did show up. Oh well... no one's perfect.

The Most Important Piece in the Puzzle: The Light Board Operator
Instead of finding out if the light board operator was savvy enough to pull this off, I decided to go a different route. I volunteered to run the light board myself for the entire show. When I was a coach and teacher I never liked parents who brought me problems and then expected me to solve them. I loved the parents who brought me solutions as they presented problems! Therefore I decided to be a "solution" to the folks running the talent show. I knew they needed someone to run the board. My son needed it to be perfect. So I volunteered. Easy-peezy. Small price to pay for greatness.

Make Sure the Auditorium Could Be Blacked Out All the Way
This one was also easy. Just make sure your school has the coolest Vice Principal in the world. One willing to perform with his own son in the show and bring the house down. (I'm not the vice principal, even though it could sound like that based on this article.) The vice principal was the fantastic Mr. Sherman, who made sure all the house lights were turned out for me! (And he did so about fifteen minutes after his own standing ovation he got for performing with his son. The performance included him dancing "gangnam style" because his son pressed a button on a remote control! Mr. Sherman understands the price of greatness.)

Prednisone and Staying Home From School
Walt woke up with a horrible seal bark and could barely breath, much less talk. He gets croupy like this from time to time and I know the drill. He usually can't talk really well for a day or two. He rarely misses school for it, because he doesn't run a fever, but this time something had to be done.

My family pediatrician is amazing. I am not going to post her name and links because I didn't discuss this with her, but if you ask me who she is I will tell you! She explained to me that prednisone didn't take effect for 12 hours after taking it, but that if I wanted my son to have it she would write the script for it. AWESOMENESS! She went on to tell me that her own daughter swears it gave her voice back to her two hours after taking it, even though all the medical books say otherwise!

I have had shows when I had no voice because of a horrible sinus infection at noon, but my buddy, who is an ER doc calls the local pharmacy in Nashville (or wherever) with a horse's dose of steroids, and I can then talk like a champ six hours later. So I know the toils of the road and I wanted my son to have prednisone!

Prioritize The Talent Show Ahead of the School Day
This one is probably strange to some of you reading this, but I am serious. I believe school is a vehicle to instill something inside our children. Something that will last a lifetime. Maybe the history lessons or math equations stay inside their heads and maybe they don't, but the overall experience of attending school will stick with a child forever if done correctly. And let me tell you, the folks at Round Top Elementary in Blythewood, South Carolina, do it correctly!

Here is how I view it. My child has spent the last month of his life walking around the house after completing his homework rapping the lyrics to this song. He has spent every ride to baseball practice listening to his iPod play the edited karaoke track and performing the entire song for me in the car multiple times per ride. He has worked for a few hours planning his costume and orchestrating the glow stick idea. He has invested a ton of his emotional well-being into this ordeal.

I think at this point, this talent show has become significantly more important than attending school. I would never let my kid cut school just because he was in the show, but if going to school on this day possibly jeopardized his ability to perform, then you're dang right I will keep him home with me!

It All Came Together
It all came together for me in the McDonalds parking lot the morning before the show when Walt was forcing down 12 milliliters of liquid prednisone. Which, by the way, tastes like a mixture of sand, crushed dramamine pills, chalk, black licorice, liver, kitty litter, and boiled egg yolks.

As he teared up from the sheer smell and gutted down the last few sips, he coughed several times, jammed a few McNuggets in his throat, chewed them up and then drank a huge swig of sweet tea. When he could talk he said, "The price of greatness, right?"

I said, "Yes... yes it is."

From coach to comedian: Marty Simpson is a former USA Today high school All-American and collegiate Academic All-Conference player for USC who scored the Gamecocks' first 6 points in the SEC. During 8 years as a high school varsity coach, Simpson led his team to the state finals and saw one player advance to set an NFL rookie record. Simpson now divides his time between his family, running a multimedia company named Blue-Eyed Panda and getting the same pre-game jitters by performing stand-up comedy nationwide.

Check out Marty's performance dates here.

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