Singing the National Anthem is a case study in nerves.
You know that feeling you get when you’re balancing on two legs of a chair and you are just about tip over?
That’s what singing the Anthem feels like.
We’ve all seen the videos of people drawing a blank mid song.
“What song am I singing?”
“How’d I end up here?”
“Where am I?”
“Who am I?”
“Who thought this would be a good idea?”
When we lived in Tennessee, I would quite often sing the “Star Bangled Banner” at local and National BMX races.
I would almost make myself sick leading up to the longest 90 seconds of my life.
One reason that I was so nervous was I was scared that if I screwed up, the INS would chopper in, revoke my Green Card and remove me from the USA.
Ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but you never know.
Sometimes my hands would be shaking so violently that I’d have to hold the microphone to my chin just to stop the shaking.
I’d be shaking so much, I was convinced that people would think I was coming down off a raging three day bender.
And then the questions start to percolate.
“Is it ‘Streaming’, then ‘Gleaming’?
Or is it the other way around?
I don’t know, I don’t remember!
Jesus! How could I forget this?!?”
And oddly enough, these are questions that only ever come up, once you’ve started the song, and usually, right after you’ve sung the words, “What so proudly we hailed…”
And for the love of Christ and all things Holy, do not start the song too high, because when you get to the part of the song where you sing “and the rockets red glare”, hang on tight, because things are about to get really interesting.
Hop on Youtube and search “Carl Lewis National Anthem”, and you’ll see what I mean.
Anyway, a couple weeks ago, I was contacted about singing “O Canada” for three nights in a row at Rogers Place in Edmonton for the PBR Global Cup.
I jumped at the opportunity and instantly regretted it.
How could I have forgotten how much I wrestled with nerves whenever I sang the American anthem?
For the last couple weeks, the thought of singing the Anthem was constantly in the back of my mind.
But there was no backing out of it.
So last Thursday, November 9th, at 5PM, I made my way to Rogers Place for a sound check.
There were about a hundred people milling around getting everything set up for the weekend of Bull Riding.
And, of course…
I was already a nervous wreck.
I walked up on to the stage and sang “O Canada”.
It was the first time I’ve ever sung the song (alone) in public.
Everyone stopped what they were doing and put their right hand over their heart.
All in all, I felt pretty good to have made it through the song with out completely falling apart.
At 7PM, with all the lights down, I walked out to the stage.
Let me tell you, it’s a long and lonesome walk out there.
There were probably 5000 people in attendance the first night.
I sang “O Canada” for all I was worth and was very relieved when it was done.
One down, two to go.
Friday, I showed up around 5:30 and wandered around the belly of Rogers Place.
I was a bucket of nerves.
I ran into a buddy of mine and we went to the pub upstairs.
I had a pint of beer in an attempt to take the edge off.
After the beer, to help calm my nerves a smidge, I had two cups of coffee.
At 7PM, the lights went down and I walked out to the stage.
It was every bit as long and lonesome of a walk as the first night.
There were probably 7500 people in the crowd.
I sang “O Canada” as best I could and was very happy when it was done.
Two down and one to go.
Saturday (Remembrance Day) I went to Rogers Place around 5:30.
I sat in a dining hall, that is used to feed visiting hockey teams, with the entire PBR cast and crew.
Bull riders and TV production people at every table.
I drank coffee and read a book about Seinfeld called “Seinfeldia”.
If yer a Seinfeld nut, like I am, it’s a good read.
Anyway, because it was Remembrance Day there was going to be an entire production before I sang the anthem.
Soldiers repelling from the ceiling.
A Bugler playing “The Last Post”.
The laying of the Wreath.
A moment of silence.
So at 8PM, the lights went down and I was lead through the dark to the side of the stage.
It was easily the longest and most lonesome walk of the weekend.
I was losing my mind.
There were probably 15,000 people all standing to show their appreciation to the Veterans of Canada.
Jenny and Ruby were in the crowd.
They knew that I was nervous.
I’m pretty sure they were nervous too.
I bet I sang “O Canada” probably a hundred times in the ninety minutes before they lead me out to the stage.
It actually felt more like I was being lead to the gallows.
“Hang man, hang man, hold it a little while…”
As the Bugler played, I just looked down at my shoes and kept saying over and over and over “You can do it, Plume. You can do it. No problem. You’ve got this.”
As they were laying the wreath, I was singing the anthem one more time for good measure when a thought bubbled up.
“Wait a minute! “We stand on guard for thee”?
Do I really sing that line in three of the last six lines of the song? Are you kidding me? That can’t be right. There’s no way! How can that be? That doesn’t make any sense at all. Oh no!!!’
Complete panic attack.
I was trying to remain calm and cool, but I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown.
My mind was racing.
The entire arena stood in absolute silence.
You could hear a pin drop.
I could hear a kid crunching on potato chips way up in the very last row at Rogers Place
I wanted to run away.
If I’d had my phone with me, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have Googled the lyrics.
I just couldn’t convince myself that I wasn’t about to jump out of a plane without a parachute.
Then I heard the announcer say…
“Ladies and Gentleman, we remind you to remain standing for the singing of our National Anthem performed by Mike Plume…”
I thought I was gonna throw up.
I took a deep breath.
I raised the microphone.
And I sang…