The Alma Mater vs. UCLA
The Alma Mater vs. UCLA
Gregg’s part is pretty direct. Mine less so. We don’t really have to talk about my part, it just is. It is always a part of this sort of thing.
I represent “the Man”. The system, the FBI, authority. Always there watching, observing, assessing the threat.
To my knowledge there are no homes where this buffalo roams and I did indeed see antelope play.
The best part was I didn’t have to go far to see these animals. I didn’t even have to get out of my car- but I did get out of my car. My wife and children were screaming, “What are you doing? You are going to die! That thing is going to eat you!”
None of those things happened (the dying that is. I really did get out of the car).
They didn’t happen because while I can be categorized as a tourist, I’m not exactly the kind you call stupid. At least not when it comes to interacting with wildlife- though I have been known to metaphorically poke bears.
First, I know both bison and antelope are herbivores, and second, I didn’t try to touch anything while staying far enough from the animal and close enough to the car, to run if I had to.
I’m not new to this game.
Though I did see some guy in a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off creeping up through the grass toward the buffalo. he didn’t die either though I did think he was stupid. I didn’t say it out loud, just in my head, which was still not nice despite its truth.Antelope Island is out in the middle of the Great Salt Lake but you can drive there on a causeway. You can see it from the city but not many people go there. Which makes it kind of nice.
I don’t mind people but I love expanses. Vistas. I love being in the center of everything or the middle of nothing. It is those in-betweens that I don’t like, speaking geographically not ideologically.
Though the extremities are where you normally find sleeping bears to poke.
I have never been kind to Provo. I have no intentions of changing my attitude or moving there ever, but gosh darn-it if Provo doesn’t keep serving me up surprises.
Not that I recommend anyone visit that city, but if you do, go to Taste.
They make, and sell, chocolate. Good chocolate.
Surrounded by pseudo French styled decor you can sidle up to the bar for an $8 chocolate and balsamic tasting. Or you could spend just a touch more for afternoon tea, Friday night chocolate and cheese pairings, or, because of where you are, non-alcoholic wine.
I am a bottom dweller so I ponied up 8 bucks.
For that I got a square of 6 different chocolates, 3 balsamics , and a taste of the stuff Nutella is trying to be. The chocolatier explained as we went a long what it was we were eating and the process of its production.By far the best was called Karamelizalt Levendulaviragok Csillaganizsos Tejcsokoladeban. Those are real words. I didn’t make that up. This stuff won a silver medal at the Academy of Chocolate and it is the only milk chocolate I like- because it also has caramelized lavender and anise- and my heart. It also has my heart.What I walked away with is this stuff made in Portland called Pok Pok Som. It is a drinking vinegar with ginger and I think I swooned.
Swooned? In Provo?
When you are young your world is narrow. You think you know things despite the fact that you have never traveled independently past the corner or that fence around the school yard- but this is your world. And we all think our world is the world.
In my world there were only four kinds of people: old people, Rockers, Wavers, and that mush in between who liked top 40. These were strict, and the only, categories that existed. Later in my youth a 5th wing emerged that we called “hicks” (we were not nice kids) but before Garth Brooks showed up in 1990’s, there was no such thing as country music, and we all knew he was really just top 40 in a cowboy hat.
I have recently learned that there are some of my generation, or maybe just a touch after mine, who somehow missed things musical and consequentially have no context with which to understand the world around them. They are adrift, left to silly things like books, the New York Times, and critical thinking with which they attempt to understand society and they are failing. It is sad, and bad, and it hurts my feelings, and it is well documented that I have all the feels. Not only do I have all the feels but I am a trained sociologist and musical anthropologist (in the same exact way Rachel Dolezal is a black person). This is me doing my part to give back. I am making the world better.
Ska was a musical movement that began in the late 1950’s Jamaica with a signature fast paced backbeat. It spawned both reggae (by slowing down and infusing Rastafarianism) and punk (by speeding up and infusing rock and roll). Punk made it into the atmosphere of my youth, but reggae did not. That is till one day (no joke) I found an unmarked dubbed cassette tape in the gutter while walking home from 6th grade. I took it home and listened to it and didn’t understand a word. I loved it. LOVED it. I listened to it alone in my room till I learned to decipher what was going on, and what was going on, was tearing down the corrupt Babylonian system and returning to Zion where racial oppression and materialism do not exist. It was exactly what I had been learning in Sunday School and sounded much better. It was Bob Marley’s Talkin’ Blues album and no else could stand it. I didn’t care, I still love it. It wasn’t till “high” school that everyone else discovered Buffalo Soldier and Three Little Birds. They thought Bob was all about peace and smoking weed. He was not. He was about fighting off oppression, religious devotion… and weed.
I have never smoked anything, not tobacco, cloves, nor weed.
The Specials, Rudy (1979) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbqiCxEIeEo
The Wailers, Small Axe (1976)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJJeLFvYsT0
Kinky Reggae- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNxTigI_qjw
Slave Driver (1973)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlfblmgOaYE
You Can’t Blame the Youth (1977)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3pi-6fInng
Ramones, while they all gave themselves the last name Ramone, they were not related and it was none of their real names. They are considered THE founders of American punk rock music. They made these fast, loud, and pop sounding songs and they looked ugly and they liked it that way. Sedated (1978)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLlLtSG7xe4
The Clash, founded in 1976 in London, broke up in 1985 Along with the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. They are what punk is and will forever be. -should I stay or should I go (1982)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGIFublvDes
Blondie, Everyone knows Blondie. Their (it is a bond not a person) songs are on commercials now. They were part of the New York punk scene and, like the Talking Heads, are considered another bridge from punk to New Wave. Heart of Glass (1978)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGU_4-5RaxU
One Way or Another (1978)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXewIR7Y7cc
Dead Kennedys, Were a San Francisco punk band that was more popular in England. Everyone else went the other direction. They were part of a big censorship law suit. Holiday in Cambodia (1978)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qr6NOsluHYg
Talking Heads, while you would never think it by their sound, this is considered an essential punk band and the founders of New Wave. With this “founding” many consider punk to have died; with some following the Talking Heads into a new wave of music, and others sticking more with the loud chaos of thrash. Punk did -NOT- turn into heavy metal. Talking Heads were art school students. You can tell. Once in a Lifetime (1983)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1wg1DNHbNU
Suicidal Tendencies, from Venice California they were considered a Thrash Band. I don’t know who listened to them in CA, but in Utah all the new wave kids listened to them. The song Institutionalized is the best song ever to help “outsiders” understand the mindset of white middle class suburban teenage boys. Institutionalized (1983)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYItTxqTc38
Oingo Boingo formed in 1972, Lead singer Danny Elfman went on to write the scores for the first run of Batman movies, the Simpsons, Pee-Wees Big Adventure, Nightmare Before Christmas and pretty much any movie music that’s creepy. Most People Know the song Dead Man’s Party but to better illustrate the problematic creepiness of Oingo Boingo, try this song- Little Girls (1981)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2LQMElLoLs
Or Stay (1990)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwRnW89EsxI
U2 is from Dublin and started making records in 1980. It is hard to underestimate how big they were in both the 80s and 90s. Bono, the old guy who is always about some social cause, was/is the lead singer and he has been about causes since way back then. U2 was that magical kind of band that balanced singing about meaningful things without sacrificing the music. They could sing about MLK (which wasn’t the cool thing to do back in the 80’s) or just sing some introspective love song. I will admit that I stopped listening to them with the Achtung Baby album. They changed their sound and remained relevant. I did not. They have a million songs but I like this one. It displays the signature sound of 80’s U2 (not 90’s U2), along with the mainstream-rock-with-a-message that made them acceptable to the punk/New Wave crowd. Sunday Bloody Sunday (1983)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EM4vblG6BVQ
Violent Femmes, formed in 1981 and were discovered while busking in Milwaukie. First Album released in 1983 and contained songs that have now been re-made like Blister in the Sun. They are the most sing-a-longable band ever. Gone Daddy Gone (1983)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekL7o8BQkZM
Midnight Oil, Australian band. Diesel and Dust album hit #1 in Australia in 1985 but it took a lil bit before the Americans got wind. This band is a great example of the singing about social causes from a position of privilege, toward others similarly situated. Which was very much an 80’s white people thing.Beds Are Burning (1985)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejorQVy3m8E
INXS, Another Australian band that was a top 40 hit both here and there, but “Wavers” still liked them. Devil Inside was their biggest. This one is better. More representative of their 80’s vibe. Need You Tonight (1987)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrZZfaDp02o
The Smiths, possibly the most New Wave band ever. Synthesized, artsy, and incredibly depressed. They formed in England in 1982 as a Post Punk band (the lead singer “Morrisey” wrote a book on the punk band New York Dolls before the Smiths formed). With songs like Girlfriend in a Coma and a very 80’s not quite androgynous but kind of androgynous look, they ARE New Wave., – Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now (1984) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjPhzgxe3L0
R.E.M. a New Wave staple out of Athens Georgia and the first album (cassette) I ever bought with my own money. “Stand” was their break out hit but the One I Love (1987) is a better representation of why their fans loved them. They were odd sounding… and depressed- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7oQEPfe-O8
Depeche Mode, while I claim that the Smiths is the most New Wave band ever, Depeche mode is the most “iconic” new wave band. English, Gay but their videos had them playing straight, but we all knew they were an incredibly gay band. No one cared. And by no one I mean kids and adults weren’t speaking to us because we were kids and our parents were Boomers. Policy of Truth (1990)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2VBmHOYpV8
Everything Counts (1983)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1t-gK-9EIq4
Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, One hit wonder but kind of represents the “mood” that grew into Grunge. It wasn’t the noise. It was the mood. What I am (1988) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDl3bdE3YQA
Red Hot Chili Peppers. You need to understand how old these guys are. They put out their first album in 1984, had a top album in 1999, and released another album just last year. They won’t die. They are like my generations version of the Rolling Stones in that they just keep playing, live way too hard, and just won’t die. Forget their new stuff because-meh-. The RHCP used to be all about silliness (and nastiness) and Flea, the bassist, is a real musician. Catholic School Girls Rule is agreat example of what they were all about but there is a little bit of nudity and a whole bunch of stuff a young Mormon kid should have had nothing to do with… but I did. This is their first time on TV (1984) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZRdjZFffnQ
Under the bridge was their first break out top 40 hit, but what most people don’t know is that it was about the lead singers struggle with Heroin. The band one of its original members die from an overdose. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLvohMXgcBo
The Breeders, was formed when the bassist of the punk band the Pixies wanted to be a lead singer. She formed the Breeders. They were in this weird space, that made sense to us then, as a post punk, sorta new wave but kinda becoming grungy right as grunge began to be a thing. Cannonball (1993)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxvkI9MTQw4
Pearl Jam was a bigger deal than Nirvana up until Kurt Cobain committed suicide. Nirvana sort of worked their way into the public sphere while Pearl Jam just kind of exploded on the scene with this song about a kid killing himself in front of his class. There were a lot of Seattle grunge bands on air around then and while Nirvana was grittier (I avoided saying grungier) than Nirvana, Alice in Chains was grittier than Nirvana. Eddie Vedder’s vocals had this certain sound, and could be understood… and he was trying to say at least a little something meaningful. Oddly enough, the drummer on this song is the same drummer from Eddie Brickell and the New Bohemians. New Wave kids liked Pearl Jam, and grunge, because it was depressing- Jeremy (1991)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MS91knuzoOA
Sound Garden was a Seattle band that was around before Pearl Jam, but didn’t hit it big till they all exploded on the scene together.- Black Hole Sun (1994)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mbBbFH9fAg
Alice in Chains, was around (in Seattle) long before grunge was a thing, but they didn’t get popular till grunge became a thing. Of all that crew they were maybe not the grungiest, but they were the grimiest and the rockiest. When the other guys were listening to ACDC to get ready for a football game, I was listening to Alice in Chains and Pantera. Rooster (1992)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAE6Il6OTcs
Primus is the band that plays the Southpark theme song. They were a sort of bridge from punk/wave over into grunge. They were not depressed but they were loud and “quirky”. The Bassist is perhaps the greatest ever. Flea might give him a run for his money but they don’t exactly do the same thing, because no one does the same thing as the bassist for Primus (Les Claypool plays bass and is the lead singer). If you have not heard this song before, and loud screeching isn’t your thing, stick through it till it gets to the repeated chorus. This song is unlike anything or anyone else out there. Tommy the Cat (1989)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4OhIU-PmB8
Beck, Loser- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgSPaXgAdzE
Blind Mellon was not grunge but was there at the same time. Blind Mellon is what you get if Pearl Jam had lived in a sunnier place, like LA, which is where they are from. This song must be included more for the video and the fact that everyone from this time remembers the bumble bee girl. She changed our lives, or at least how we view bumble bee man on the Simpsons. -No Rain (1992) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qVPNONdF58
Smashing Pumpkins, Is what new wave kids listened to when they were worn out from listening to Grunge. It was kind of artsy, moody, and the lead singer was just creepy enough for a Cure fan to accept him. Today (1993)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmUZ6nCFNoU
Weezer, is the band that took us back toward new wave after grunge died. New Wave could not be resuscitated so we got Indie instead. Sweater Song (1994)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHQqqM5sr7g
POST PUNK-NEW WAVE-GRUNGE
Mighty Mighty Bosstones are kind of the band who took punk and ska and then created the thing that No Doubt later made popular. Ironically the Bosstones later became kind of popular with a watered down version of themselves and may have actually killed the genre they created. Someday I Suppose (1993)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmOmAuhAQbE
No Doubt, IS early 90’s Orange County. They got, and then got more, pop success, but they were a punk-ska band. They, or really Gwen, is the precursor to the Spice Girls “girl power” bubble gum. Trapped in a box (1992)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DccmKKnizFY
Green Day, Is the early 90’s punk band that those of us who liked the first version of punk, didn’t really believe were punk. It is like they wanted us to believe they didn’t care what you thought about them, but were kind of trying to be cute at the same time (cute like pretty). So in that way I sort of see them as the founders of what it means to be a hipster. Watch them, then go back and watch the Dead Kennedys. You will see what I mean. Basket Case (1994)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUTGr5t3MoY
Sublime is the neo punk band that we actually believed were punk… in a California way not a NYC way. To hammer that point home, the lead singer suffered a drug induced death in 1996. What I Got (1996)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Uc3ZrmhDN4
Sum 41 is included here just to help illustrate for those who might be a little young, the musical evolution of “punk”. This Canadian band might not be punk in a Ramones kind of way, they did pick up a little of Green Day’s gloss without appearing to take themselves quite as serious. Sum 41 is what happens when No Doubt and Green Day have a baby and the Clash are the grandparents sitting in a rocking chair complaining about kids not caring about real issues. In Too Deep (1999)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emGri7i8Y2Y
Rage Against the Machine, Is what happens when kids listen to both Metallica and Public Enemy. They are more metal than punk, but would probably smash a hair band with their guitars. They are loud because they are making a point and that point should piss you off…. Hence the Public Enemy part. People who loved loud music listened to them, as did the socially conscious people-and those aren’t always the same people. Killing in the Name (1992)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWXazVhlyxQ
System of a Down. So it goes Chuck Berry>Led Zeppelin>Metallica+Rage Against the Machine=System of A Down. Chop Suey (2001)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSvFpBOe8eY
ACDC does not appear on the t-shirt of Beavis and Butthead by mistake. They are the grandfathers of what became heavy metal. They formed in 1973 and still tour. The Rolling Stones are representatives of an era, ACDC are representatives of a genre. Thunderstruck (1990) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2AC41dglnM
Twisted Sister could not have existed at any other time than the 80’s. The lead singer bears a striking resemblance to Sarah Jessica Parker. Also, who can pass up a young Gary Busey? We’re Not Gonna Take It (1984)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9AbeALNVkk
Guns N Roses is THE quintessential (because that word has to be in a musicology somewhere) Heavy Metal hair band of the 80’s. There are bands that were more glam rock than them (Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Etc.) and others that were “heavier” (Metallica, Iron Maiden), but no one was more pure rock and roll, cigarette smoking, whiskey drinking, groupie groping excess than G&R and their guitarist “Slash” is one of the all-time great metal guitarists, or just plain guitarists (if that is the word for a guitar player) ever and the lead singer pulled off feminine tough guy better than all the rest. Sweet Child O Mine (1987)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1w7OgIMMRc4
Welcome to the Jungle- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1tj2zJ2Wvg
Metallica might not be the grandfathers, but are the epitome, of heavy metal. They are loud, fast, tough, and are not trying to be sexy even a little bit. Lars the drummer is famous for having no sense of humor. Enter Sandman (1991)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CD-E-LDc384
Def Leppard, This is glam rock. Pour Some Sugar on Me (1987)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQ4xwmZ6zi4
Rap, Hip-Hop to Neo Soul
I am late to the game. I am so late to the game that I shouldn’t even be using that phrase. But I listen now (sort of) and I have listened back. That is not the story here, but what this is, is the place to explain that back when New Wave and Heavy Metal were going on, there were in fact such things as black people, and they weren’t all Michael Jackson. MTV, the radio, and genres were pretty separate back then… at least for suburban white kids in Salt Lake City. Which is what I was. So all I can do is explain how it was for me and some of us back then- and then draw a line back towards a bunch of stuff I missed. Which is a shame. Which is something that should be considered on a greater societal and historic level. I will be making some sweeping generalizations below knowing full well that some might read it and say, “nuh-uh, I knew about…”, but I am sticking to my guns because my point is still generally true. If you are the “nuh-uh” person, admit that you were a you back then, and not a we.
None the less-rap:
Beastie Boys start off this list not because they were the first or the best, but because they and heir music did, and in so many ways still do, occupy this odd space between social groups. Aletarnative and New Wave radio stations played the Beastie Boys. We thought they were “alternative”. They were white and they played instruments. In fact, they began as a thrash band in NYC being much more CBGB than Run DMC. But none of us really knew that. We just knew they were wild and wanted to party and that was the extent of their songs. Little did we (we white suburban kids) know that the Beastis were part of a vanguard group that were pushing a dance club “thing” into a full-fledged genre. Their sound and demeanor endeared them to the punkish skate boarding Tony Hawk sorts (because Tony Hawk was young then) but they were solidly in –physically- the Rap scene. Their second album Paul’s Boutique (1989) was a pioneer in the sampling arena. But in the end we (we suburban white kids) just wanted to jump around being loud and obnoxious. So did the Beasties. Fight For Your Right (1986)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBShN8qT4lk&list=PLJdDgfq34Jz1sPQT7P4RUd7HvqXG29CIX
Hold It Now (1986)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oB0NM6reiRE
Salt-N-Peppa are solidly in the pantheon of Hip-Hop gods but we didn’t know that back then. All we knew is that this video some how found its way onto MTV, it was catchy enough that we all knew it, and it was obvious what they “meant” and that is a universal language. Push It (1986)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCadcBR95oU
DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince is the very first rap artist I can remember hearing and the first one I can recall enjoying. Kids today might see/hear this song and think “Oh yeah, this is the Fresh Prince of Bell Air, aka Willow and Jayden’s Dad” but no- THIS was the Fresh Prince that allowed the TV show to happen later. Back in the 80’s this was just good time party rap. And regular white kids loved it. Parents Just Don’t Understand (1988)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jW3PFC86UNI
Tone Loc and few others (MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, Fesh Prince etc.) had a couple top 40 or “crossover” hits that made their way into our environment but they were all sort of single blips into the pop world rather than representatives of a movement or genre. Rap was maybe a kind of thing, but it was “over there” and we didn’t pay any real attention unless something looked fun. Then we the pop people would reach over there and grab some of the fun. Wavers and rockers would never do such a thing, but pop people dabbled. Wild Thing (1989)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=387ZDGSKVSg
Young MC– Refer to Ton Loc above. Bust a Move (1989)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xy4FXhkm6Nw
Slick Rick tells stories. He wasn’t trying to be a clown or a gangster, yet he was funny without being soft. His songs have since been sampled by pretty much everyone and it is relatively well established that he is the grandfather of storytelling rap. We (we suburban white kids) had no idea he existed. Children’s Story (1988)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjNTu8jdukA
Public Enemy We (we white suburban white kids) knew Public Enemy existed in the same way we were aware of Spike Lee. In other words we knew they existed but were not for “us”. We were stupid. Kids who has seen the train wreck television show Flavor of Love Fight might not appreciate that Flava Flav was part of what was perhaps the most important protest or empowerment group of that time period. They were musically, or artistically gifted, they were cool, and they were not shy about having a message, yet unlike the New Wave artists Public Enemy was not speaking to the privileged while similarly situated but rather rallying those without privilege to push and shove against privilege- and power. Fight the Power (1990)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PaoLy7PHwk
Don’t Believe the Hype (1988)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vQaVIoEjOM
De La Soul. New Wave is to Rock and Roll what De La Soul is to Hip-Hop. Except for the part where a whole bunch of rock people hate, and hated New Wave. I haven’t met anyone who loves rap who even dislikes De La Soul. They were witty, had a great sound, and were just plain good. Me Myslef and I (1991)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJEzEDMqXQQ
Tribe Called Quest has been described by some critics as the most intelligent and artistic rap group of the 90’s. The fact that the three foundational members remained artistically productive after the crew broke up in 1998. All that being said, the Tribe is great music and could, and should have been recognized as such by more than just the “rap community” (with everything that implies insinuated). But I completely missed them. I may have heard their name, but they got zero attention from me, or most people like me (white people), and were even ignored by the pop white people (who I don’t claim were “like” me). A big reason why they were ignored, and a whole problematic scenario (see what I did there?) will start with the next artist. In the mean time this classic song doesn’t just include the Tribe but a whole bunch of everyone including the head jester of hip-hop, Busta Ryhmes. Consider that a bonus. Scenario (1991)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6TLWqn82J4
Snoop Dog. It boggles my mind that this guy has become such a joke, as in intentionally funny, doing cooking bits as the harmlessly high foil to Martha Stewart. Today he is best known for some sort of half baked Snoop specific shizzle fizzle styled slang but back when he first came out he had the whole white world terrified. In retrospect we should have been able to see the clown but we were too busy thinking he and every other gang banger (synonym for rapper) were at any given moment about to drive around the corner and kill every last innocent one of us. I’m not exaggerating. Not only did we think Snoop Dog was about to kill all of us, but we were convinced that what he was doing was the very definition of rap. Somehow (side eye) we (the white people) completely forgot about DJ Jazzy Jeff, Ton Loc and the idea that a rapper might not be trying to kill- or rape- someone. I am not being melodramatic. If you ask almost any old white man, the kind that are old enough to be my parent, to name one rapper, odds are they will only be able to come up with “Snoopy Dog” and then will undoubtedly go on a rant about saggy pants, stupidity, and handbaskets. All of that is due in large part to the fact that Snoop and his California contemporaries did something magical that caught on and crossed over. All of the Rockers in the neighborhood took off their ACDC t shirts, but on an a Raiders puffy coat and tucked a blue bandan in their sagging pants pocket. This, this right here, is when hip hop started to take over become mainstream. That is not to say that “Gangster Rap” was ever really mainstream, but before this time rap was an occasional blip not a BOOM. MC Hammer blipped. These guys from Compton and Long Beach crossed over in numbers and sent old white people running for the hills. Gin & Juice (1993)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DI3yXg-sX5c
Dr. Dre was a founding member of NWA, one of the great architects of the West Coast sound, but NWA happened before downloads, streaming, or even CDs outpaced cassettes. So those of us who weren’t trying to know NWA had no clue. Even if we had known, and I argue even those near me who did know, didn’t really get it. But we knew Dre. I include this song, and Dre, because this video and song captures everything the people like me in that period, thought about rap. I didn’t get it. In large part I didn’t get it because nothing in my life resembled the world they were rapping about and the only context I had in which to place this G thing, whatever that meant, were some kids around the burbs who were trying a little extra hard to be hard. Nuthin but a G Thang (1992)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0F0CAEoF4XM
Cypress Hill is included here because it illustrates a point. Somehow (side eye) we (idiot new wave white kids like me) thought the Beastie boys were great but this song was somehow stupid… and a little bit scary. Yet a million years later I still know that hook and that beat, and overall sound really because it is so very infectious. Insane in the Brain (1993)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RijB8wnJCN0
Diggable Planets was releasing music at the exact same time as the gangsters, yet people like me (white suburban kids) completely missed them. Had we heard them we would have tried to argue they weren’t really rap but something different. We were stupid. Digable Planets is great music. Rebirth of Slick (1993)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cM4kqL13jGM
Where I’m From (1993)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sl-pjb7y3y0
Arrested Development. We could tell at the time that Arrested Development was talking about important things, especially when compared to the Beastie Boys, but we just thought they were quirky. We did not, and most of us still do not, know what Afrocentric is/was. Arrested Development was Afrocentric. But we thought rap was just Snoop Dog. Mr.Wendell (1992)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyDjRd0Tjss
Tennessee (1992)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VCdJyOAQYM
Pharcyde, because it is classic and we missed it (I didn’t say it. See what I did there?). Passin Me By (1992)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjsPG0Kspxo
Black Sheep, Again, because its classic. See above. The Choice is Yours (1991)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9F5xcpjDMU
Craig Mack Have I made my point? Flava in Ya Ear (1994)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNFqMx0gY7I
Tupac Shakur is one of two names people will bring up if you ask “who was the greatest of all time?” There are children who might say MR. Beyonce is in the running, and they might have a point, but the correct answer must include an argument about Tupac and Biggie. This argument may or may not end the way these two rappers ended, and it could also be argued that the reason they are considered is because of how they ended, but it is more than that. Tupac, possibly more than anyone else (that I know of but we have already established that I am not only not an expert but have historically been stupid) presented both ends of the angry gang banger who is going to shoot everyone and the conscious guy who loves his community and his mother. He came off as authentic on both fronts despite having previously been a back up dancer for the guys who brought us the Humpty Dance.
Brendas Got a Baby (1991) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRWUs0KtB- I
Dear Momma (1995) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mb1ZvUDvLDY
California Love (1996)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wBTdfAkqGU
Notorius B.I.G is the NYC foil to the LA Tupac. He is also the reason any of us know who Puff Daddy is. While Tupak had a bazillion of his songs released after his death, Biggie had a zillion songs about him released after his death, all made by Puffy. Ready to die Big Poppa (1994)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phaJXp_zMYM
Common, Recently won an Oscar for a song he did with John Legend but he is not new. He is a staple in the stable of those considered “conscious” rappers. I Used to Love Her (1994)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C99iG4HoO1c
Fugees were the group that solidified rap’s place in the main stream without being gangsta and without being bubble gum. Fu-Gee-La (1996)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPlb9HoOCxs
Lauryn Hill was a Fugee, then she became a hip hop diva- in a good way. Most importantly, she is the mother of Bob Marley’s grandchildren. Do Wop (1998)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6QKqFPRZSA
Roots, go way back before the whole Jimmy Fallon hook up. Proceed (1995) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5TUqdxqHS0
You Got Me (1999)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJCHeEQV454
Erykah Badu is THE God mother of neo soul and is my favorite (of now not of all time *Bob*) ,
On & On (1997)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CPCs7vVz6s
Love of My Life (2002)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNk3R23Twgw
Tyrone (1997)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YY2-mrsXgMM
Tracy Morgan, Simone (2007)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FeSNt9YiUqo
India Arie, India Arie (2001)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mq86e4Fhja0
If you lived in Philly when I did, and where I did, you should recognize all of these places:
Musiq Soulchild, Just Friends (2000)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7zsG3XFUd8
Jill Scott Long Walk (2000)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSYMKUtNuw8
Getting In the Way(2000) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiR6sU1igKM
When I first met the girl I would later marry I called my friend Riley and told her I met this girl who looked like a cross between Halle Berry and Left Eye from TLC. He laughed and called me stupid because that doesn’t exist, and if it did, she wouldn’t pay attention to me. When he finally met her he instantly apologized. Left Eye is the one in the red pajamas. We met in 1999. Had I still been the me from 1992 it would have never worked.
TLC, Creep (1994)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlZydtG3xqI
Having grown up when and where I did, I did not appreciate rap. Then, when I was 19, I found myself sleeping in an apartment on Bankhead Highway in Atlanta and everyone within a ten mile radius bought the Goodie M.O.B. album Soul Food and played it as loud as possible for at least a year. Hearing those songs, then, in that place, I began to “get it”. At least a little bit. Whether or not I did, or ever could, “get it”, I began to love it. Cee-lo was a member of Goodie M.O.B. before he was a member of Gnarls Barkley, and before he was a judge on the Voice. It was mostly him who converted me.
Goodie M.O.B. Sesame Street. Skip to minute 2:58 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHGx7BstZg8
Common and Ceelo together- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CodmNmI7XSk
Outkast is older than kids realize. Git Up Git Out (1994)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CssC- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHGx7BstZg8DY4lO8
In due time (1997)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvMCA9jHFZ0
Considering how quickly and easily I dove down this rabbit hole I now realize that I was indeed paying attention to something when I was younger, just not the things that would have been productive for my professional development.
I may at times be guilty of dismissing the place where I grew up in line with my experience. What I mean is that since nothing about my youth was fancy, I assume there was nothing fancy there.
Sometimes I’m wrong.
I am a Mormon. You cannot tell that just by looking at me, but it is very much a part of who I am. I could even argue that it is everything that I am. But you cannot really see it.
There are plenty of Mormons who like to think their Mormonism is visible, that we glow, but this is simply self-affirmation. You can’t see it. It isn’t like Orthodox Judaism or some forms of Islam with proscribed hair and clothing. We don’t even have any actual symbols to announce our faith. No crosses, no Star of David, no half moon and star. Some of us have created symbols, like Angel Moroni lapel pins, but these came “from the streets” not from God. But we know our own. We know who we are because we are obsessed with ourselves.
This is arguably why many people do not like us. We do not sit quietly in a corner, we let you know who we are. We knock on your door and ask you to join us. Odds are, if you want to be left alone, we still won’t leave you alone. This is one reason why, even if I am personally leaving people alone, they still might throw beer bottles at me, swerve their motorcycle to run me off the road, mock my faith loudly during board meetings, accusingly tell me what I believe in job interviews, misrepresent me in classrooms, sing songs mocking me in bars, spit chewed food at me, or the ever hard to really pin down- deeply ignore me. I have experienced all of these things personally.
Sometimes it happens without the other person knowing my faith. They say something negative with no intent to upset me because they don’t know. But most people I know, know what I am, and when the digs come they are intentional. It will not happen, but theoretically, I could always choose to simply not be Mormon. People leave the faith all the time. It isn’t like my last name ties me to an ethnicity like say, Lifshitz or Austerlitz, though I should say that names are how I know Ammon Bundy and Manti Teo were born Mormon. I could hide if I really wanted too, but odds are if I ever became somebody I would get outed. We out our own all the time.
For instance Derek and Julianne Hough, Aaron Eckhart, Ryan Gosling, all born Mormon. Roseanne Barr’s family joined when she was a kid and thanks to my favorite Pop-up Video bubble, the singer Jewel was Mormon till the age of 8. This was my favorite insider Mormon joke because we all know you cannot officially be Mormon until you turn 8, but the point is we are self-obsessed enough that even if you leave us, we will find and claim you. Just the other week I got a text while sitting in church informing me that the real life Rudy, the guy the movie portrayed, had just been baptized a Mormon.
There are some good explanations for this obsession; both historically and due to what it is like to live as a Mormon day-to-day. For example the governor of Missouri signed an extermination order in 1838 authorizing the use of deadly force to remove all Mormons from the state. During much of those years Mormons lived as refugees fleeing from place to place relying on each other for survival. Identifying and sticking with our own was critical. Then we went and founded a city. Then we went and founded a whole bunch more. Salt Lake, Las Vegas, San Bernardino, all Mormon. But manifest destiny couldn’t be stopped and in 1857 the United States declared war on the Mormons in Utah and occupied Salt Lake. As a kid my family regularly drove past the army base originally established by federal forces to keep us Mormons in line.
But that was forever ago, everyone who lived in those days is long gone. Yet this era is such a part of the Mormon cultural legacy that to this day every congregation across the United States send their youth on small summer “treks” where they dress in 19th century clothing and pull rickety human powered wagons called “hand carts” for a week in the woods to ingrain in these kid’s minds what their predecessors endured. If you visit Utah in July you will learn that July 24th, “Pioneer Day” commemorating the arrival of Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley is celebrated bigger and louder than the 4th. We refuse to forget.
But it isn’t just history, being Mormon today does draw some attention. While you cannot see my Mormonism, the fact that I have never tasted coffee, or alcohol, or that I was willfully a virgin at my wedding, have put me in some serious spotlights over the years, especially in high school and college. I weathered that storm, but even in the professional world I have had bosses question whether or not I could be an adequate host to important accounts if I was unwilling to drink at the bar with them or share a good glass of wine. I was of course willing to host clients at a bar, but I have learned through repeated experience, I repeat-much experience, that most people are uncomfortable drinking with a person who isn’t doing the same. Yet this one little thing which is such a miniscule part of my faith and an even smaller aspect of who I am as a person, has become my defining characteristic to a huge portion of my associates; clients, rugby teammates, neighbors, colleagues. It becomes rather annoying having that same conversation time and time again, “No not even a little bit. Nope never have. No it isn’t really that hard. Yes hats off to me and yes I still like karaoke.” My religious views on sexual expression influence what I watch in movies, television and online. I love movies and television, and the internet, but every Oscar season there is a large swath of nominated productions that I have not, nor will ever see. This makes me different than other cinephiles and makes me almost unable to meaningfully communicate in those circles.
Faithful Mormons are largely expected to marry other Mormons.
This can make things a little tricky if you don’t live around a critical mass of other Mormons. This is one of many reasons why so many Mormons want to live in Utah, or send their kids to BYU. They want some options, they want to fit in, and they want to be part of their people. Some of us feel this desire to be among our own very strongly, some of us are annoyed by the idea, but we all understand it. I am an American to the core, but having grown up in Utah, I have felt very much the expatriate living in other states. Looking back, at both my youth and my home state, I am a bit amused at how much I, and we, felt like ex pats even when we were living in Utah.
This is why the local Deseret News regularly prints lists of every identifiable Mormon playing in the NFL, the NBA, NCAA, Olympics, or on TV, or in congress. We take a special pride whenever one of our own does anything. I never watched the old MTV show Real World, till a Mormon named Julie went on the show and embarrassed me. I watched every episode of that season. There is a website, www.famousmormons.org that attempts to list every Mormon doing anything, the church puts out an official portfolio of monthly magazines (Ensign, Liahona, New Era, the Friend) yet you can find all sorts of extra Mormon themed magazines not published by the church, but more just published for Mormons by Mormons (LDS Living Magazine). We have created our own books, book stores, television stations, network of blogs (the bloggernacle), music, schools (SVU), all above and beyond what our hyper organized church produces and we cling to such even when we are already living amongst our own. We are self-obsessed.
But I get it. Sometimes I get tired being different and just want to relax with a group of my “brothers and sisters”. Sometimes I want to watch something like Napoleon Dynamite with hard to explain inside jokes. Sometimes I would like to see a doctor who understands why I might be a couch potato yet have this health nut styled prohibition on tobacco and alcohol, yet won’t drink green tea. I would love a dance company for my daughter to join that understands why she won’t train on Sunday. But I also want to live in New York.
So I get it.
Because I get it, I refuse to listen to any white Mormon who makes the complaint that black people think too much about race. I reject any critique coming from people like me regarding black colleges, black television, a congressional black caucus, or a black history month. It is hard being an “other” in America. I know this because I am one. And as one who has experienced how “hard” it is to be Mormon in current society, yet only glimpsed what it might be like to be black, I testify that America is harder on black people than it is on Mormons.
Somehow I found myself at the summit of Emigration Canyon at 9pm, prepared to ride a skateboard down a lightless winter road. I had planned to spend the evening watching TV but there I was with sweaty palms and shaky knees, all because I didn’t know the guys who invited me up there well enough to say no. Brooks and Daniel had knocked on the door of my dorm room and said “hey, we need a third. Wanna come?” I had no idea what they meant by a “third” so of course I said yes.
Riding in their Volkswagen bus up the canyon they explained to me that the idea is that two of us would ride the longboards down the canyon road, and the third would drive the van behind the skaters, to both give them light as well as block the way of any traffic that may be coming down the road. I assumed I was to be the driver. “Naw man. You can drive the next run. You are doing us a favor so you should get to go first. Besides, Sophia gets kinda nervous without me in the car.” Sophia was the two year old girl smiling at us from her car seat. This was Utah after all and it is not uncommon for an undergrad to be married with a two year old named Sophia.
“Uh. Cool. Thanks. Uh… I have never ridden a longboard before. Maybe I shouldn’t go first.”
“What? No way! Don’t worry bro, we have never ridden the canyon before either so we are like even. No worries bro.”
I was a very good student so this made perfect sense.
It was explained to me that longboarding is nearly the same as snowboarding, which I had plenty of experience with, except for the whole stopping business. Since you can’t really stop a longboard they told me that the key is in checking your speed with weaving turns, and when that doesn’t slow you down enough, you simply jump off the board before you get going too fast. I asked how fast is too fast and they just chuckled and responded that it would depend on how fast you can run as you jump off onto your feet. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that concept but I was already in the car. It was too late.
So there I was. The headlights of the van cast our shadows down in front of us and Daniel just smiled and said, “Here we go,” and pushed off. He was a good ten yards out ahead when I did the same. I could feel the rumble of rough pavement travel through the wheels, past my feet, and into my knees. I made a couple of awkward turns and leapt off the board landing on my feet. The board just rumbled into a snowbank. Daniel had done the same up ahead and looking back shouted “This ain’t so bad is it?” We both pushed off again. As we made our way down the dark canyon road I started to get the hang of it. I was cautious at first, jumping off at the slightest hint of discomfort, but I began to sprout some courage. Perhaps it wasn’t real courage but more a mix of adrenaline and embarrassment. I started pushing myself a little more than before.
I started leaning into the turns and holding on instead of bailing. I shifted my weight to the front foot and with my back foot I slid the tail of the board out making turn after turn. I felt fear slip away replaced by fun. I started to like it. I liked the winter wind biting my face, the blur of the yellow dashes as they sped past my feet, and the rhythmic sway of carving turns down the road. Yes. I liked this. But then a shaky turn snapped me out of it. My wheels caught just a little and as I regained my balance I regained my senses. I was going just a little too fast. Daniel was behind me now and the headlights were behind even more. I was right at the edge of controlling the board, but unfortunately going much faster than I could run. I turned by leaning back on my heels- an awkward angle from which to jump. I tuned the other way leaning on my toes- not as awkward but twice as fast. Stuck. Stuck riding a plank projectile. I began eying the snowbanks on the side of the road, planning, or timing, my last hope of escape. Not that one, there is a ditch between me and the bank. Not this one, I’m not quite ready. Too afraid. Going faster. It has to be the next one. I have to hit the next snow bank. I prepare to eject.
And as I leaned into the turn aiming at the snowbank, the glow of the snow disappeared, replaced by the dull grey of a guardrail.
Time stood still in my mind as I floated in air above the pavement. I moved my legs as if to run, hoping that when my feet finally touched down I might, somehow, stay upright. I did not. My legs were moving at the speed of me and the ground was moving at the speed of light. When feet hit ground they slowed, but torso head and arms did not. I tucked my head as I rolled bottom over top and put my arms out in front before I did tumble number two. The board clanked off the rail and ricochet back into a ditch on the other side of the road. I, having caught myself in push-up position, stood upright and stared at nothing. “Duuuuuuuuuude!” Daniel shouted as he came bounding up beside me. Startled back out of my slow motion daze I grinned and sauntered off to reclaim the board. “You cool?” Daniel asked. “Yeah. That scared the crap out of me. We are almost to the bottom, let’s finish up.” “Hecks yeah,” he agreed.
I tried to push off but couldn’t stand on the board. My legs had obtained this uncontrollable wobble that I didn’t notice till I tried to stand on the board. Two legs were fine, but when I lifted one foot up to stand on the board I was all Jell-o from the waist down. I was done. I expressed my unfortunate failure to Daniel and he compassionately replied, “Well broham, looks you got the wheel for the rest of the night.”
Back up at the top of the canyon Brooks stepped on the emergency brake and hopped out. I jumped over into the driver seat, smiled back at the kid in the car seat, and tried to grab the wheel. It wasn’t till I gripped the wheel that I realized that where I once had palms, I now had a mixture of flesh, gravel, and gore. Hamburger is great on a grill but gross on your hands and I figured the polite thing to do would be to simply drive with my finger tips.
When I got back to married student housing my wife was sitting on the couch. I said “Hey babe,” nonchalantly and she mumbled “hey,” staring at the television. I went right to the bathroom, normal behavior, but once inside I didn’t pee but rather flushed the toilet with my foot as my hands were in the sink trying to rinse away gravel and blood. I walked back into the other room and flopped onto the open end of the couch.
“Scrubs. Where ya been?”
“So funny thing. Brooks and Daniel came by and invited me to go longboarding with them. I had never been before. It was cool.”
She looked at me sideways in the way she always did when I talk about, or do things, that she did not understand or have any desire to understand; which was normal and often.
“”Oh. Cool.” Was all she said. It was at about this point, the two of us quietly looking at the screen, when she instinctively reached over to hold my hand. Her fingers brushed my palm and my hand involuntarily jerked away. It startled her. She looked at me. Looked at my hand. She looked at me. Then without a word she just shook her head and turned back to the television.
On my next birthday she bought me a longboard of my own.
When I was 14 my friend Matt and I were supposed to be sleeping over at Eric’s house, but we all snuck out the window. We didn’t have anywhere to go, or even anyone to meet, but it was summer, we were bored, and we were going to manufacture some adventure in any way we could. In my pocket I had a brick of firecrackers my dad had brought back from Wyoming where they were legal. We headed off for the gully where it was rumored devil worshipers held strange ceremonies involving kidnapped children. Where else would adventure seeking suburbanites go? When we got there we did not find the pagans, but we did find a lone cop, sitting in his squad car with the windows rolled down.
Eric told me to wait in the bushes and he would be back in a minute. I dumbly complied. About two minutes later a string of firecrackers lit up the inside of the cop car. I could hear the officer shouting in shock even louder than the pop-pop-pop of the Black Cats. Eric came hurdling over the bushes and ran down the street not waiting to see if I was following. I was.
That was more than 20 years ago and I have told that story a million times to thousands of people. Eric is a responsible well employed adult now- no harm no foul. Funny thing is this story gets different reactions depending on who hears it. Most of my white friends laugh in wonder at the foibles of youth. Most black people with whom I tell are at best, annoyed. Some are quite upset.
You see, most of my white friends, more than you might think, counter with their own stories. Thanks to them I have quite the collection of stories about idle vandalism and general teenaged delinquency; enough to re write American Graffiti ten times over. But this would be a very white movie. None of the black people I know have the same sorts of stories. No, that isn’t quite true. They do have those stories but the endings are very different. The black stories I hear trend towards much less actual destruction and much more police involvement. It is possible that the black people I know are just lames. Maybe they were blerds. I of course have not met all black people, nor do I represent all white folks, I am just a middle aged collection of anecdotes. But with that being said, we, my black friends and I, are all Americans but we did not grow up in the same world.
This reality was made even more clear to me, and more alarming, last night.
I attended a local public forum on race and policing. Up on the stage were a row of chiefs. There was the local police, the county sheriff, even the school district pd. The mayor, a black woman, sat there too, joined by another row of pastors and local clergy. Out in the auditorium the public lined up behind two microphones to ask their questions, make their comments, and the chiefs gave their answers. It was a mostly cordial event. I support having more of them. Yet there was a theme coming from that stage that troubles me.
More than one officer, and a couple pastors, even one black officer from the crowd, talked about how the youth are different today. They talked about how the youth of today don’t respect the police. One officer suggested kids are responding to things they see about cops in the media and two pastors said this is all a result of the lack of Bibles in school. There was a common thread that the police wanted to understand, more so to be understood, and that they are constantly frustrated by the public’s lack of cooperation.
The challenge of policing in a violent racialized society is definitely complex and difficult. I get that.
But I also get that American Graffiti was released in 1973. I also know that I knew all the words to that Officer Krumpke song from West Side Story when I was ten. That movie was released in 1961. I know that all through my youth the cops were the ones who got mad at you for throwing water balloons or eggs, chased you when you hopped the neighbor’s fence, and cops were the ones who stopped your car when they got calls of possible gun shots coming from a black Tercel. The car was blue, not black, and the sound wasn’t gun shots, it was the noise made when a bat hits a mailbox.
We were never respectful, we were too annoyed that our spirits were being oppressed.
But maybe I haven’t spoken to enough young black kids today. Maybe they are the ones who have changed. Maybe it is the black people of my generation who would never have dared to throw a lit firecracker into a cop car or who got arrested for being out too late. Maybe the black kids today would hit the mailbox or would throw the egg.
Does this mean things have gotten worse?
Maybe bad guys and cops have both been pulling triggers for generations and the only thing different now is cameras. Maybe the black folks who never threw eggs back then are more afraid of bullets and are now willing to throw bricks. I know that plenty of the guys I grew up with, the ones who did the same things as me, have grown up to be cops. These are great guys. I love them.
But did we forget? Where is the empathy? Why has the phrase “kids will be kids” been replaced by the word thug? Is it because these kids today, these thugs, are worse than we were? We, the Dazed and Confused kids were just messing around but these thugs are a real danger? Really?
I struggle with this. I struggle because in 9th grade I watched my classmates smoke weed and shoplift. In 10th grade I watched a bunch of kids hop out of a car at a strip mall and beat up a stranger for no reason. I saw one kid beat another with a bat behind the movie theater over a girl. Jed got stabbed at school. My good friends did meth, dropped acid, sold coke. Stole a car, drove drunk, walked away. I saw all of that. But we are all older now and we have learned our lessons. We have matured now and we teach our children better. We were kids.
Really, the biggest difference I can see between us back then and the kids today, is that for the most part, we were all white.
I got nervous on the drive to the hotel. It was the kind of nervous you feel when a friend you’ve never heard sing is about to take the stage to belt out a ballad. You hope with all your heart they do well but more than that, you suspect they are horrible. You were excited during the planning but now that the curtain is moving, your mistake is realized too late. “Is the DJ going to play Snoop Dog or Depeche Mode?” my wife asked. “I have no idea. Actually, I have no idea if Matt even hired a DJ. Wow. What if he didn’t hire a DJ?” Imagining a large room full of people with no music, forced to make conversation with each other, suddenly terrified me. I hadn’t talked to most of these people in twenty years. Some of them I had never talked to. Imagining all the horrible possibilities made me feel sixteen all over again, which was appropriate, because I was on my way to my twenty year high school reunion.
I graduated from a suburban public school outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Going to high school in suburban Utah is just like going to school in any other suburb except that it’s maybe just a bit whiter and a lot more Mormon. There was plenty of homework, zits, football, sex, beer, bad hair, bad taste, and good times. Not all of us had all of those things, but they were all there. There were geeks and jocks, band nerds and burn outs, somebodies and nobodies. I was never quite sure which of all those I was, and I think part of my nervousness pulling into the parking lot was that I might find out. This was very much a homecoming. Not just in that I grew up in this place and been gone for most of my adult life, but because most of the people that would be there, I not only graduated with, but grew up with. I had known them since elementary school. I lived in the same house from birth through high school, and so had almost everyone else. Both that place and those people are and were my roots. We grew in the same soil at the same time and we were all going to be together again tonight. Nostalgia does not always square well with truth and some truth is hard to face. Really, the truth rarely squares with Facebook or Instagram either. This was part of why I wanted to go to the reunion in the first place. I am aware that liking posts on Facebook is not the same as friendship. Looking at online pictures of someone’s kids or latest night on the town is not the same as hanging out. I wanted to hang out. I wanted to see if we were still friends in the real world. I wanted to be real world friends with those I now chatted with online despite never speaking to in high school. I wanted them to be friends with me. I wanted to see if the folks who defriended me around election time would still shake my hand. What if they did shake my hand but still harbored hard feelings? What if it is weird? What if we all just stand around awkwardly nodding at each other? My insides began twisting into a knot but I had driven hundreds of miles back to a place I had long since abandoned and drug my wife along for the ride. I couldn’t back out. I took a deep breath, held it for just a moment, then pushed open the car door.
I walked slowly as my wife did her one footed hop, trying to strap on heels and walk across a parking lot at the same time. As I paused to wait, a black SUV pulled to a stop in front of me. “Daaaaaaaalyn!” they yelled as the windows rolled down. We grownups rarely get such a greeting and I was happy to see that we weren’t all going to be grownups tonight. Nanners, Nat, Dixie and Gina; I hadn’t seen those four women since they were girls and we were friends. Exchanging awkward hugs through rolled down windows gave me hope that our dormant relationships still lived and that tonight’s party wouldn’t be dead. A bit surprised at how surreal it was to see those faces after all these years I told them to go park and we would meet inside. It was awkward just as I feared. Awkward, exciting, and happy.
Trevor was in the lobby. From fifty yards away I could tell it was him and I was scared. We were real friends, the kind that hung out after the convenience of school had expired. But I had moved away chasing my own future and we hadn’t spoken since. What if this was my fault and he knew it? We shouted each other’s names and when we got close enough to hug his smile looked real. We stepped back to stare at the creases at the corners of our eyes, and realized they were in fact the same old eyes, then hugged again. I didn’t care anymore who else’s smiles might be real because now mine was. I didn’t care anymore. I had stepped onto that stage and hit the first note pitch perfect. The fear was gone. As my wife and I turned the corner we saw the crowd spilling out of the conference room doors. There was Leavitt, Tina, Dan, and wow; is that Steve? I stepped into the crowd and slipped into a sort of sensory overload. Everywhere I looked were foggy versions of my past all smushed together into right now. I didn’t know what to say or who to talk to. I just hugged everything that crossed my path and kept smiling. Smiling and smiling and smiling.
My wife was a great sport throughout this whole thing. She had originally declined my request that she come along. “Why in the world would I drive ten hours to go hang around a bunch of people I have never met in a place I don’t really want to visit?” It was a fantastic question to which I had no immediate answer. “Uhhh, cuz I wanna hang out with you?” was all I had. With our intentions firmly settled I sadly made solo plans. I thought about this as I buzzed around the room shaking hands and reading name tags. She smiled and encouraged me to pose for a picture with everyone I met. She floated over to the table of old letter sweaters and memorabilia taking photos, reading the memorials to those of our class who passed too early; she was more than a good sport. She finally agreed to come when an old friend of hers, not mine, called and begged her to come sleep in their guest room. This invitation moved her from “no way” up onto the fence. Her mother offering free babysitting for the weekend shoved her over onto my side, and once on my side she went all in. She smiled and acted excited to see people she had never met. She read name tags and laughed at everyone’s jokes including mine. She did it so well I was convinced her smile was real. She did it so well that within a few minutes she convinced herself as well. We had done our homework before the trip. I thumbed through my old yearbooks, she fell asleep half way through Can’t Buy Me Love, refused to sit through License to Drive, but together we watched every episode of Freaks and Geeks. This combination of preparation, and her natural charm, made her an instant hit, and by extension, I felt like a hit as well.
There was a DJ. I’m not sure what he played because I was too busy catching up with old friends. There were some prizes given out to the senior superlatives, including the couple voted most likely to be together forever. They were both there and they were still together. The two voted biggest class clowns were still clowns, though one of said clowns is now, strangely enough, a principal. Most likely to be president- wasn’t. Matt, the one who organized the whole thing, said some words, but not too many. It was perfect.
It was around this time, or perhaps a little bit earlier, that the bar on the other side of the hotel, and the 12 pack stashed under a table, started to show their influence. No one got stupid like they always do in the movies, but they got happy, slow, and shallow. People I was excited to see would hug me tightly and while staring hard at my forehead say things like, “Living the dream man. Ya know, just doing my thing. Isn’t that great?” or maybe, “You have always meant the world to me. You are the whole reason I came,” said just a little too slow and in response to the question, “Do you have any children?” Such conversations put me in a strange place. I would stand in front of a person I was profoundly happy to see, someone I had anticipated spending time with, and there they were, but only a slightly glossed façade of a person. It was still good to see such a friend, but it was much more like watching a movie than living one in that you could see them, but they were really somewhere else.
In a way this was the most real experience of the night. Real because one night of catching up is not enough to connect with the whole of a person. We were mostly too happy, too excited, or for some- too drunk. Reality is happy and excited, but it is also sad and hard. There are affairs and divorces, lost jobs and lost children. We knew each other when we were young and full of dreams. Most dreams either evaporate or die violently. New dreams, often better ones can take their place, but staring into the liquor happy eyes of a once very close friend, I felt the loss that comes with reality. I wanted to know everything I had missed over the years. I wanted to pay a happy visit to days past. I wanted to be close again. What I got was a good strong hug, sincere exchange of smiles, and a good look into a pair of eyes that let me know we wouldn’t be going much deeper that night. It was like Facebook in real life.
As I sat back and enjoyed watching everyone, even the empty eyed ones, enjoy themselves, I wondered if is possible to tell the type of a tree just by looking at its roots. Looking around the room I could see my roots. This place, these people, are what I grew from. Looking around I could see it, remember it, feel it-roots. But while looking and feeling I wondered what kinds of trees or plants we really were, or rather are. I can’t tell. This was a room full of people with the same roots but we were oaks and aspens, orange trees and grape vines. I am not confident I know what everyone has grown into and I’m sure most others really don’t know me. Maybe that is because in my mind I am not sure what kind of tree I am either. I’m not done growing. How high school of me. I am unsure of what I have really grown into, some of those I grew up with drink to avoid knowing, and most of us just post pictures of our blossoms.
But I loved it. I loved it because what I do know is that I still have roots. I have a base from which to grow no matter in what soil I am planted. Roots feel good. In that room hugging those people, smiling a very real smile, wishing we could talk deeper than we did- I was happy.