Friday, April 30, 2010

Give Numero A Pulitzer

Sure it sounds odd to give a literary/journalistic (and sometimes music) prize to a record label. But the Numero Group are not just a record label, they're a full-scale archaeological enterprise, and one that also happens to release the results in the form of cds and records.

Each Numero release is filled with extensive details and biographies, old pictures in various states of decay, and sometimes tracks that didn't even make it onto an album or single, despite the hopes of the creators. The label has become best known for the Eccentric Soul series, which has focused on individual soul record labels that hovered under the radar, often even in the city where they were based. These release form an underground history of African American music and history in the '60s and '70s, with many songs that have been literally saved from the dustbin of time.

And those are just half of what they've released. The label's other work has ranged from gospel funk to country to power pop to the folk. Each release is a testament to the quality of music that has been made in America that never made a dent the first time around.

The records they've release touch on many of the Pulitzer Prizes. There's an incredible amount of research involved for these albums, with the label's three owners tracking down musicians and singers who have mostly moved on from their dreams of music and some who don't want to be found again. These works are biographies of cities, regions and musicians. The label has performed an incredible public service with their work, illuminating history and also bringing much great music back from the dead.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Where I Went to High School: Poolesville

I did not ever live in Poolesville, MD, but I consider it more my hometown than my real one.

Truth is, that's a somewhat disingenuous thing to say, as I will describe in a moment. It's a little bit appropriate-y. I would never say I'm from Poolesville; I'm from Gaithersburg. But since Gaithersburg is amongst the most boring and unexceptional of all DC suburbs, it has had little influence on me, unlike Poolesville. My wooded neighborhood within Gaithersburg, that has a place in my psyche, with my childhood romps and secretive bonfires in the forest; but not so much Gaithersburg itself. Poolesville, however, is a place with far more character, maybe too much for its own good, and at the same time not enough character whatsoever. It managed to produce a renaissance during the four years I was there, and at the same time it remains a perpetual cul-de-sac for many unhappy souls.

I went to Poolesville High School because it has a magnet program, the Global Ecology Studies Program. I, like everyone else on the planet, was unhappy in middle school, but on getting accepted to a couple magnet high schools I had the opportunity to start over. I chose Poolesville because my best friend at the time would go there too. (We would cease to be particularly close by sophomore year.)

PHS (yes, I'm another Gentleman who went to a PHS) had about 600 students. Each grade of 150 had about 50 of those students in the Global program; of those 50, about 40 were from out of town, and the rest were Poolesville native. (Since I left, Poolesville has gained additional magnet programs.) PHS' attendance net covers the entirety of northwestern Montgomery County. For those who don't know, Montgomery is one of the richest and best educated counties in the nation. The northwestern third of the diamond-shaped area, west of the major highway that is 270 (270 cuts through Gaithersburg) is farmland. When you head west from 270, through that half of Gaithersburg, you quickly leave the DC suburbs that are so intimately connected with the city in character, and so similar to the other Eastern Seaboard suburbs and mini-cities that stretch from DC all the way to Boston. Poolesville is practically in another region, the same way that Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore are. Civil War manuevers are memorialized in the town.

Poolesville's population is around 5000. There are some hundreds or perhaps thousands more people scattered throughout the wide countryside that comprises the school's attendance net. Some of them live in little tiny townships like Barnesville, which consists of a stop sign, a couple churches, and two craft stores; Barnesvillians have to drive a good 20 minutes to get to a grocery store. Poolesville has a grocery store, and a McDonald's, and in the years since I graduated it's gotten a CVS and a Mexican restaurant that if I remember correctly is called Mexican Cafe.

The people that live in and around Poolesville are that strange mix so peculiar to border zones. It's got some wealthy, middle-class people who raise straight-A, clean-cut students, many of whom end up one of those locals in the magnet programs; they're the ones who wanted even more privacy and space than could be afforded in regular suburbs like Gaithersburg, and don't mind a 45-minute rush hour drive to the Metro. It's got hippies and artists; the town has two frame shops, and just to the south there's a really cool Buddhist temple. And it's got rednecks, many of whom are proud to be so. There are many, many horses and young women who love riding them. I went to school with one girl who proudly claimed redneck status (although you probably wouldn't believe her), rode horses, and was at one time a model.

In plenty of ways, the students of PHS that me and my 40 fellow interloping Global students from way out East went to school with from 1998-2002 were not that different than those of any white-bread suburb. (Non-white population of the school: approximately 30, I'd guess. By contrast, the high school I would've attended if I hadn't gone to the magnet was probably minority white. I didn't know this when I chose the school, and I doubt I cared much about race as a shy 14-year old anyways. Disclaimer over.) I'm sure that they're even less different nowadays, what with that newfangled Internet thing and its increased influence.

But in many other ways, Poolesville, in its 20-minute-drive isolation and its everything-closes-at-9pm nothing-to-entertain-a-teenager emptiness, is a very special place. Getting out of Poolesville is hard for many of the kids, at least many of the ones who aren't living in the big houses in the new neighborhoods. If your parents can't afford to give you a car at 16, and you live in Poolesville, or, worse, 20 minutes outside of Poolesville, you may have a rather tough time of it as a teenager. I had a car, and I didn't live there, of course; that's why it was disngenuous to say I think of it as a home, because I was only a tourist, and still am in some ways when I still, regularly, visit.

Drugs in Poolesville are so accepted and common it doesn't register as any sort of scandal or epidemic. I've never heard a word of the town elders calling for crackdowns and only on occasion have I heard of a meth lab getting busted. I have heard of a drug-addled friend-of-a-friend who was raped by some guys in the woods during high school, or maybe that was a rumor; he later became the sort of guy who if he showed up at his friends' houses, they had to very firmly and nervously turn him away, because he'd rob them blind for drug money if he was allowed in.

Certainly drugs are pretty standard nationwide; but the unique thing about Poolesville (or, about Poolesville and thousands of towns like it) is that, being such an isolated little cradle, it doesn't produce drug addicts who spiral down into serious shit like in a city (although some do wander far enough astray they end up in prison or rehab); it mostly just produces dead-ends. Even kids who don't use drugs in Poolesville can get stuck in an endless cycle of not having money for a car, not leaving town for weeks on end, working at the pizza parlor or maybe taking the twice-a-day bus to work the Starbucks in Gaithersburg, and just... staying there. If there's drugs involved, they blow their money on them, never getting in serious legal or health trouble. Poolesville isn't hell for these kids; it's limbo.

Funny how a 20-minute removal from the rest of society can be sufficient to trap people. Even the ones who regularly travel to Gaithersburg or College Park to visit people seem to stay trapped and unhappy and depressed if their home base is Poolesville.

I mentioned a renaissance earlier, didn't I?

When I got to PHS in 1998, so did a new teacher, an art teacher named Walter Bartman III; the prior to Walt Bartmans were also artists and art teachers. Mr. Bartman isn't a modernist or progressive artist; he believes in artmaking for its own sake, and in the act of creating; appraise his work for yourself here: Whether or not you are a fan of his creamy style, I can assure you he was an excellent teacher. He emphasized creation and practice. Before his arrival - and after he left, in 2002, the same year I graduated - the art program at PHS was, like so many stereotypical ones, focused on making this random pot for Project Number One and now drawing a picture in Pastels for Project Number Two. But Bartman gave the students serious freedom; if you produced artwork, he simply let you work. He helped spark a little renaissance in art at PHS. Two of his students, kids in my year, got Presidential-level awards. Several of my friends, under his influence, went to art school, some on scholarships, and many are still doing art.

Concurrently with the visual arts renaissance came a smaller, outside one, that perhaps only a small percentage of the school actually experienced. I think of it as the four-year punk renaissance. A little too late as far as the larger trend-following world was probably concerned, and definitely too early for the punk-descended emo scene, punk came to Poolesville largely thanks to the efforts of my friend Jenny, the handed-down influence of some older students, and the musical stylings of Poolesville's very own frequently horrible but enthusiastically rebellious punk band, Poindexter (chorus of their hit song: "GO! YOUTH! GO! GO YOUTH GO YEAH"). Poindexter operated in a very Poolesville-specific place, mixed of actual anger and ennui, intellectual appreciation for the DIY punk ethic, and a kind of ironic irony. When shouting along to "Go Youth," we weren't being strictly serious, but we weren't being ironic in the way modern hipsters are; it was sort of like we were being ironically defiant in how serious we were being.

Analysis aside, the punk scene - the smaller local one within Poolesville, and the larger suburban-Maryland continuum that Poolesville punks became attached to - was all about community, of course. Jenny threw parties at her house, and punk bands from Sterling, VA and West Virginia and Frederick came and played. We broke a china cabinet, so the next party CAUTION tape was strung everywhere; and if you're completely unfamiliar with punk, of course whenever someone fell moshing they were picked right up. For these Poolesville kids trapped out in Poolesville, it was everything they needed, along with Bartman's artistic encouragement. There was, of course, significant crossover; Jenny, the punk-party thrower, was also the number one artist. Punk and art provided many kids a rebellious outlet, a sense of greater purpose (punk shows led to protests against the war), a feeling of being part of something beyond the small town. Poolesville students became political anarchists and straight edgers who refused drugs.

Of course, most of that didn't last; the majority of the millenial PHS punks left the music, the anarchism, the straight edge, and some of them even the artmaking behind. But I don't think that's really important. I'm trying extremely hard not to wax nostalgic (calling it a renaissance probably gives me away, though), but I do believe these alternative influences created a very curious and original social cocoon for those four years. As far as I'm aware, after Bartman, Jenny, and the kids from Poindexter all moved on, the school ceased to have that pocket society which could nurture that third of its population. The serious redneck-y types, they never went for it, and the serious suburban-well-off straight-A types, they never went for it either, but probably neither group really needed it; it was the artsy kids who needed a home within their hometown, a place to recognize that they fit a paradigm of (youthful, burgeoning) free thought and (youthful, burgeoning) political awareness and (youthful, burgeoning) art and community. I'm not sure if PHS, nowadays, has that. Heck, I'm not even sure, when I try and cut through the nostalgia, just how much the art-punk scene helped in the long run (as I check Facebook to find out whether that one fellow punk made it out of rehab or not); but for lack of knowledge of anything else, and for the influence it had on me, that community-within-a-small town is where I consider myself to have gone to high school.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My Only Post on the Tea Partiers ... Probably

Last week the New York times published a survey and an article on the views and demographics of self-identified tea party members, and then five million bloggers wrote blog responses. This will be one more.

From the article there seems to be three main points of the Tea Party Platform:

1. The deficit is out of control!
2. Government spending is out of control, government takeovers of everything is coming!
3. Obama doesn't share "my"/"our" values!

Let's start from the beginning. Check out the deficit before and after Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush took office. Notice something? The deficit went way up. We actually had a surplus at the end of the Clinton era. Shocking right? Government spending didn't really go down either during Reagan or Dubya's time.

To tea baggers I say this - first you should acknowledge what terrible presidents these two Republicans were. Look at the way they spent all of our money!

Then there's government spending. Now the tea party folks want to make one thing clear - Don't touch their medicare or social security! But there's a bit of a problem, these are the two most expensive government programs, and if we leave aside defense for a moment (it's a third rail that no one will touch anyway) then social security and medicare, which people seem to love across the board, are many multiples as large as all other federal government spending.

What can we do to reduce spending, then? "Eliminate waste," say the t-baggers, parroting what John McCain used to say when he was a maverick. But no one actually supports government waste, just like no one supports littering. And yet no one is in the streets protesting littering. Waste is just a red herring.

Thus request #2 for the teabaggers - since you fear the increase in government spending and deficits, I think it's time to put your money where your mouth is and forgo any social security payments for you and your loved ones. Your 401k should be sufficient right? That was Bush's plan in 2005, so why not do a minor enactment of this yourselves to get the ball rolling.

Then there are "values." I'm not even going to tackle the "He's a Muslim from Kenya" thing, except to say this, if I was in charge of a newspaper or magazine, I would put in a footnote under quotes when someone told a complete lie, [i.e. "I don't support what he's doing pushing his Muslim values on Americans," says Bob Smith of Pittsburgh, PA. Footnote: Obama is not Muslim, he is a practicing Christian.]

You know what country likes to force folks to subscribe to a rather narrow selection of values? France. Ironic really that the pushier the right wing get, the more they sound like Frenchmen who condemn their countrymen for saying "le weekend" instead of "le fin de semaine." The joy of America is the diversity of American culture. The culture that makes our movies (lot of liberals there) invents new and important technology (more liberals) advances research in our universities (liberals, obviously). Gosh I wish these liberals would all just move to Canada so we can just watch movie versions of the Left Behind series until the end times.

So an educated, well-spoken, Christian, sports-loving, family man is the devil? Seems kinda odd and it leads down an inevitable conclusion. If you tea baggers aren't ready to take the leaps I've suggested on points 1 and 2, then there's really only one issues - you don't like black people.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Where I Went to High School: Montgomery Blair

Unlike the last GentleMonth, my high school years were at best undramatic. Looking back, it was only during an improvised beach week with friends the summer after I graduated (and not the beach week, as we were all sober and at one of our friend's parent's timeshare) that I even really thought to look backwards and wonder about the what-if's of high school. But there wasn't much drama, I made the right choice, even if I didn't have a great time.

I did my four years of time at the lovely Montgomery Blair High School in real Silver Spring, Maryland. My first year was at old Blair, a fine old building where Ben Stein, Goldie Hawn and Carl Bernstein had also attended class. My last three were at new Blair, which was not a bad building by any means, but was much lacking in character when compared to the original.

But as I said not much happened to me in high school. It was a means to an end and I needed to get through it to get into college. I busted my ass -- chemistry almost killed me, Calc 2 almost killed me, my research paper senior year was a royal pain -- but I made it through and got into Maryland. That was the goal. I rarely hung out with folks outside of school and I'm not in touch with very many folks from high school now. My living really started in college, and even then thing didn't get all that interesting until sophomore year.

But it was not all drudgery. The thing that kept me sane in high school was Jazz Band every day, in the middle of the day, for my last three years. I cannot stress enough how beneficial it is to spend 50 minutes a day doing something you really enjoy. Sure in an ideal world it would be 8 hours a day for the rest of your life, but you've got to start somewhere. Hell, it should be mandatory that 5th period should be the "Do Something You Enjoy" period, be it music, art, gym, creative writing, etc. Something to re-energize teenage brains right before or after they have a (healthy) lunch.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Where I Went to High School: Sunnydale High

Go SHS Razorbacks!

No, I'm not actually saying that I attended a fictional High School in an imaginary universe surrounding the events of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (aka "The Buffyverse"). But, If you really must know, I attended Patuxent High School in Lusby, Maryland.

PHS was a fine school, especially for a public one, where I participated in a number of programs ranging from soccer, cross country, and track and field, to the band program and everything involved therein. Starting junior year, I even had a fairly healthy social life and walked away with (arguably) acceptable social skills. But, that's pretty much what I have to say about that experience. I'm not very sentimental about the past. I believe in learning from mistakes, looking forward, and moving upward. I am far more interested in the stories of others than I am my own, fictitious or not. Also, most anything about you wish to know about that particular school has already been spelled out in wonderful detail here, written by personal O.G. and fellow Gent. B. Graham. I'll leave the personal details to those who where there and those who currently involve themselves in my life.

Regardless of its existential definition, I still managed to spend considerable time at Sunnydale High - typically once a week on Tuesdays from the hours of 8 pm to 9 pm*. Of course, these forays were private. I had been a closeted Buffy geek since the show first aired (while I was in middle school) and I didn't find anyone with whom I could share my fandom until a year after Buffy finished its run. Given, I also didn't tell many people about it - being male, straight, six-foot two, sixteen years of age, an athlete, and capable of growing a full beard in a week made my Buffy-love seem kind of out of place to everyone else. Anyone who found out would squint their eyes, tilt their head for awhile, and then their face would light up like they just figured out a $1 million question as they asked, "It's 'cause she's hot, right?" Admittedly, that didn't hurt (although, I was more of a Faith fan, truth be told). But, what can I say? I love vampires, strong-yet-flawed female leads, clever dialogue, and well-developed, relatable characters. And, that pretty much explains my man-love for Joss Whedon. But, I digress - when talking about Buffy it all inevitable boils down to one argument - should Buffy have left High School? Or, more to the point, did Buffy lose its point once the titular hero graduated?

It's hard to argue against the fact that Buffy was firing on all cylinders during Seasons 2 and 3. It's core concept was great - High School is actually Hell. Sunnydale High was located directly above a supernatural hotspot called a "Hellmouth." Guarded by an unnamed, giant, multi-headed demon (referred to by fans as "the Hellmouth Monster"), the Hellmouth(s) forms where the boundaries between dimensions are particularly thin. These inter-dimensionally fragile places are spots of mystical convergence - pooling supernatural energies, attracting various demons, and facilitating other paranormal activity. Many of the mystical events and demons represent different problems your average teenager may have to battle and overcome - and thus you had your engine for the show. Female teenager fights various demons inherent to graduating high school and growing up. That's Buffy in a nutshell - well, until she graduated.

I will defend to this day that Buffy's graduation didn't actually ruin the show. But, it did make things harder. Season 3 had a (near**) perfect wrap-up and the final exchange between Oz and Buffy represented it perfectly:
Oz: Guys. Take a moment to deal with this. We survived
Buffy: It was a hell of a battle.
Oz: Not the battle. High School.
Obviously, challenges surmount when this whole idea jumps out the window. However, I don't think Buffy, at this point in time, inherently "lost" its engine. Engine loss is a mislabeling of what happened. Instead, I think this reaction concerned Buffy growing up, its engine along with it, and an audience reaction to a show that changes. Following high school, Buffy went to college and eventually became an adult, while the engine reflected this slow evolution - and some didn't like that.

I should admit, the new engine in Season 4 was a little less stable. "College on a Hellmouth" does have a harder time standing on its own two feet. But, while the Initiative's presence (an underground, government operation representing the adult realization of "not knowing everything that causes everything") functions as an (albeit farfetched) stabilizing force, Buffy still worked as Buffy. Problems still arose with which people through the ages of 18-21 had to deal and battle - Buffy at this point in time, was still breathing (heh). Joss and co. were able to crank out quality episodes and a cohesive story arc - marked with some of the most poignant moments of the series. Season 5 came around and the engine solidified around a single premise - preventing inevitable doom by an actual god - and ended strongly with Buffy's foreshadowed*** death. And then, UPN happened.

Buffy was supposed to end in Season 5, but was revived into Season 6 after UPN dropped a fairly large check on Whedon's doorstep - which can breed its own problems. Season 6 is a television anomaly because it had nearly no engine. Instead it relied on Sunnydale as a supernatural hotspot to push the general (emphasis on general) plot and three major themes - life is Hell, the aimlessness and loneliness of being a young adult, and discovering the aspects of life that are hard/impossible to control. You'll notice in this season the lack of a "Big Bad" - the primary antagonist being life itself for this season. It's a novel idea and I liked it, but listlessness does not translate well on television - especially if your engine is going to reflect themes as much as Buffy's tended. This is, of course, in addition to the criticism covering Buffy's change in demeanor and the overall dark premise of Season 6. Buffy had very much lost her way and all of this season was about Buffy slowly finding it again (i.e. not wanting to die). And then, Season 7 solidified again with another stabilizing premise, a return to high school to strengthen Buffy's engine, and a satisfying end to a 7-year series. Buffy had finally grown up and the show was officially done.

Buffy was a show about growing up, overcoming obstacles, and defeating your demons - even if it is Hell. It was a great show with a solid run that evolved over the course of time. Were there bumps along the way? Sure, but each season had a reason for watching, took risks, and succeeded in being a poignant, self-aware commentary on life. High school was definitely its heyday - no one's going to argue against that. But, it was also a show that grew along with its strong, quippy heroine. And, I really dug something like that.

* - covers the time during which Buffy aired during the first 3 years of the series, while Buffy attended high school. "Buffyverse" time, of course, extended to 8 pm - 10 pm on tuesdays - after Buffy graduated and Angel began its run.
**- in reference to Angel leaving. Also, I'm
still waiting for the cookie dough to finish baking.
***- I had no idea until today that in Buffy's dream sequence with Faith in "Graduation Day," where Faith says, "Little Miss Muffet counting down from 7-3-0" was actually referencing Dawn's involvement in Buffy's death at the end of season 5. "730" is the exact number of days before the episode airs where Buffy leaps from the tower and dies again.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

indie rock, etc

When people ask me what kind of music I listen to, I tend to answer "indie rock." This is a simplistic answer, but saying "eclectic" is pretty lame, even if that does sum up my listening habits. Still, indie is a decent catchall that happens to include two rock 'n' roll bands, The Hold Steady and Titus Andronicus, that in a different era may have been known as pub rock, or punk rock, or just rock.

But let's step back a bit. I do not like Bruce Springsteen. I think his lyrics are trite, his sound is calcified, and three hour sets are not really a good thing (note to Wilco: while you can play 40 songs a night, but these days less than half will be songs that I want to actually hear). Yet Bruce is for better or worse, a big influence on these bands in that Hold Steady and Titus are the modern heirs to the bar band tradition. Craig Finn and Patrick Stickles, the leaders of each band are both relatively poor singers in the traditional sense, but absolutely fabulous lead singers, which is a very different thing (i.e. Iggy Pop = history's greatest lead singer). Both men are well read and clever lyricists, which all sounds very stodgy, and yet both bands translated lyric-heavy albums into cathartic live shows that anyone can enjoy without being able to cross reference every mention of clever kids or hoodrats.

All of this is to say that these are two rock bands, who exist because of Bruce, punk rock and Pitchfork. And because of the ever shrinking window of rock that makes it on radio stations, they are "indie rock" bands. Plus, if you want to catch a great rock 'r' roll show, go see Titus Andronicus for just $8 @ St Steven's Church in Columbia Heights on Friday.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Where I Went to High School: SoMD*

When I was in high school mine was one of three in the county; it's one of four now. It had been built five years before my freshman year, and by the time I got there it was already overflowing with 200 more students than it was built to hold, and it had sank into the swamp about a quarter inch. Welcome to Calvert County.

The personalities of our three schools were predetermined: the northernmost school was built in the 70s with the ideology that windows are distracting and detrimental to the learning process, so the inside was dark and lit only by flourescent lights; the middling school (our rival) was the first high school of the county and built in the late 19th century, so there was constant construction and peeling paint; and the southernmost school (my alma mater) was built in the 90s with the new-age ideology that windows and open spaces are actually good for the learning environment. So my high school was, in a word, gorgeous; it was compared to a shopping mall by visiting students. It was also an extreme waste of space and money, so there were unusable seats in the auditorium and half-funded lab tables in the science wing.

I had the usual awkward high school experience I think, with high periods of silliness and notoriety (I got fired from the morning announcements and it is sometimes still brought up in conversation when catching up with old high school acquaintances), peppered with the occasional dramatic breakup or un-friending (before facebook!). My friends and I didn't drink or do drugs, a prevalent pastime in small-town America, so my high school memories are of parking lot dance parties after one of the thirteen-billion afterschool activities I was enmeshed in, bayside (or riverside, I can never remember which side of Solomons Island is which) picnics, a lot of loitering, and a LOT of driving around aimlessly.

I don't think my experience as an awkward, dramatic, self-centered, oddball teenager is in any way uncommon, but I often find that Hollywood seems to think so, and that irks me. Teenagers played by twenty-somethings often come off as smooth and experienced, but I am almost positive no teenager is without awkwardness, regardless of experience.

Obviously not every high schooler had "fairyland," an extensive playground in someone's backyard next door to the school, a popular class-skipping or sports team-running break hangout; or "the ghetto," the group of class trailers in the front parking lot put in place after the school ran out of room for trailers out back; or a school-wide inside joke about our crazy one-term Principal, who announced at the end of a long-winded speech on his first day that, "You don't mess with Libby, 'cause LIBBY DON'T PLAY," but everyone was sure awkward as hell, and that's kind of nice.

Comforting, even, knowing that some of my weirdest, most awkward moments ever can be retold and laughed [with] in the knowledge that everyone's got a story, like the time I asked a boy out by ambushing him and yelling that I was going to the movies (by myself) and did he want to go. Or the time my girlfriends and I skipped school to go shopping and I announced (loudly) in an upscale shoe store, "WHAT, DO THEY ONLY HAVE ONE OF EACH KIND??" Or the time my running buddies and I bowled each other over in a mad scramble to leap into the bushes and hide before the lacrosse team saw us all red-faced and sweaty. And the list goes on.

Oh, and to any former teachers who may come across the blogosphere and read this, I totally learned stuff, too. Like from my football coach/calculus teacher who punched holes in walls when he got excited about math, and my history teachers who made us climb under our desks and threw "shrapnel" at us to teach us about WWI and stole me from another class to put me on trial at a Red Scare hearing (and turned on the news on 9/11 because they knew how important it was, despite or to spite the administration's mandate to keep tvs turned off.) And the theatre teacher who made me realize what I wanted to do with my life, and the English teacher who still invites us over for tea every year. There's a whole other post in what some of my high school teachers did for me as a person, so I'll leave it at that.

My high school experience was a fitting metaphor for teenagehood, with awesomeness interspersed with absurdity and pain, and an overwhelming sense of relief that it's all over. Calvert County high school: God Bless Y'all Real Good.

*SoMD is what the natives affectionately call Southern Maryland, sometimes going a step further to call themselves SMIBs, or Southern Maryland InBreds. Clearly no one else is allowed to call us that but us.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Where I Went to High School: Saratoga Springs Senior High

Like most of my life up until that point, High School for me was briefly spent moving. My Freshman year was spent at Northmont High in Dayton, Ohio. I made a few good friends, but by and large hated it. Then, as we often did, my family packed up and moved away, this time to Saratoga Springs, New York. A little more than a week into the semester, I began my Sophomore year at Saratoga Springs Senior High.

There's a certain mystique to being the New Kid. You get to reinvent yourself in ways that wouldn't be possible around people that you've come to know for years. In Ohio, I started school the same day as everybody else and quickly became that nerdy kid from Arizona whom had never been to public school. I learned a lot of hard lessons there about the social scene. If not for a stroke of blind luck, I probably never would have made any friends during my two years there (not entirely true; I had friends in my neighborhood, but I almost never saw them at school). Within a week of being the bonafide New Kid, I had a date to the Homecoming Dance, one Krissy Dittmar, and had met Matt Williams, whom would become my longtime best-friend-and-collaborator.

Unfortunately, there's also a consequence to being the new guy in town. This is especially true in a community like Saratoga Springs, which is known more for attracting tourists than lifetime residents. The people living there had all grown up with each other since grade school, meaning the social cliques which had been established were ironclad by the time High School rolled around. As a result, I never actually settled in with one group. Where I spent my lunch (the surest gauge of which social circle you belong to) could change at any given time. One day I'd be sitting with Amber Hall, the girl nice enough to invite me to sit at her table after noticing I was alone. The next I'd be outside in the expansive open area in the gazebo which was a gift from the Class of 1998, hanging out with friends of Krissy's or talking wrestling and comic books with Matt.

Now, there are a lot of things I could focus on regarding High School. It was there I met Claire, whom, besides one brief relationship before her, was the only girl I actually dated in Saratoga Springs (funnily enough, I ended up dating 4 other girls from that school, but all years after I graduated). I could talk about my battles with Mrs. Finnegan, my Senior English teacher, on the proper interpretation of "Hamlet." There was also my ill-fated decision to run for Student Council President, which while I had flashy special effects and entrance music for, I neglected to write a speech.

Instead, I'll just touch on the theater. I had decided back then, long before (or after, since I had declared when I was 5 that I would be President one day) my political ambitions took hold, that I would become an actor. So naturally when auditions for the school production of "Grease" were advertised, I was all up in that. By all standards I've learned since then, my audition was positively atrocious. Fortunately, I'm very good looking, which was good enough to land me the part of Kenickie. However, Director Bob (Bob Berenas, whom I believe is still directing there today) had a keen enough ear to recognize that I can't sing to save my life, so Jason Gibbs was given the "Greased Lightning" song (when the cast sheet was posted, there was an asterisk and note next to my name which read "Not Singing "Greased Lightning").

"Grease" was tremendous fun. I probably decided then and there that I would continue to pursue theater, which I eventually earned by degree in. Though she hated me when we met (I was really weird, according to her, which is ironic because she is totally weird) the girl who played Rizzo, Joanna Koslowsky, ended up being my actual prom date in one of those life-imitating-art moments. However, even being a part of a cast and working with the same kids every day for hours at a time, I never really did break into their social circle. By and large the cast list was drawn from the Choraliers - the elite amongst the school choir - and they didn't have room for the kid who couldn't sing. Also, I was probably really weird.

The next two years I'd have supporting roles in "The Wiz," - during the course of which I met another good friend, Lindsay Shoen (she was the Wicked Witch), and then wrapped up High School with "State Fair." For the last one, I had joined the wrestling team before auditions began that year, and was informed a month or so in that the schedules for the two could not peacefully co-exist. I chose theater.

Saratoga Springs Senior High School afforded me an excellent education and some very memorable and life-long friends. Krissy got married and has a baby boy. Claire became a dentist and lives on Long Island. Matt still lives near Saratoga, and will be marrying his longtime girlfriend Cait in a wedding where I've been asked to be a groomsman - by the way Matt, we're going to have a talk about who the Best Man is. While I don't always keep in touch with the people I knew from High School, I try to catch up whenever I know one of them is around, or whenever I go back to Saratoga to visit. I don't even have time in this post - for the sake of keeping it somewhere within the realm of a readable length - to talk about everybody; Devlin, Alex, Phil, Sabrina, Katie, Alisa, Lena - all the people from High School whom had some bearing on my life afterward.

My High School is gone now. The year I graduated they began a massive new renovation project. That gazebo was torn down - in fact, the entire outdoor area was eliminated to make way for new classrooms. The theater is still there; I got to see my younger sister perform there for the school's annual French Night. That is the only part which remains recognizable to me. Everything else has changed completely. My teachers have left or retired, the rooms they taught me in are gone or changed. It would seem that in this aspect of my life, we both moved on. The only difference is that Saratoga Springs Senior High will make little distinction between one more pair of sneakers which tread its halls, whereas I know that in some way, I have been shaped by what happened during my time within them.

And that is where I went to High School.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I Went to Six Concerts and All I Got Were These 7"s*

Last week I went to six concerts in seven days, and still have my hearing.

Shearwater/Wye Oak @ Rock and Roll Hotel
I have been meaning to see Wye Oak for ages and the didn't disappoint. Just a duo, the drummer Andy plays keyboards with one hand and guitarist/singer Jenn Wasser makes a fantastic racket. Shearwater, which was ostensibly the quieter side project of Okkervil River is now a rather massive (in sound and ambitious) act themselves. Each of their albums gets more epic, and they now have enough material to play masterful sets. They've gone from a band I like to a band I don't want to miss live.

Surf City/Real Estate @ Rock and Roll Hotel
Surf City are a low-key low-fi New Zealand indie rock band, but seeing as how the old guard of bands have faded away, they are a much needed commodity. They're a fine mix of a catchy and fuzzy. After them were Real Estate who are tough not to like. They were friendly and they played lovely little songs. Not the kind of band I see filling Constitution Hall in five years or anything, but they seem deserving of their acclaim. I left before headliner Woods, as their recorded work is just awful, and yet bafflingly critically acclaimed.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow @ DC9
The opener before these guys were just absolutely terrible. I don't know their name, I don't want to know their name, they just sucked. But Sunny Day (who are actually from Philly, the land of sunshine) were quite good, and although they had a cleaner sound then their shoegazy records, the songs held up well. Plus in two days I saw Sunny Day In Glasgow and Real Estate which is kind of like seeing Sunny Day Real Estate.

Japandroids/Love is All/Tennis Systems @ Rock and Roll Hotel
Japandroids are about as loud as two human beings playing instruments can be (Lightning Bolt are probably louder), and their songs are huge. Go see them before they fill arenas. Love is All are quirky post-punk and were great. And Tennis System(s?) are an excellent DC band who have impressed me on both occasions I've seen them.

Matthew Good Band @ Iota
I attended this at the invitation of Jason and I'm glad I did. You can't beat good between song banter and Good is a master of it. Perhaps a future on the Henry Rollins speaking circuit beckons. But there were many songs too, whose names I don't know but that Jason does. Minus points though for the opener, whose lead singer looked like Ke$ha and sounded like death.

A Place to Bury Strangers/The Big Pink @ Rams Head Live
I've already spoken of the general awesomeness of A Place to Bury Strangers. I'm not sure why they were the opener, but whenever and wherever they play they are a force to be reckoned with. Anyone coming just to see The Big Pink would have been duly impressed. And the headliners themselves came with attitude to spare, and in the case of the drummer a lack of over-garments. Right now they have one album and about five huge concert-worthy anthems. Which was fine given that I paid mainly to see APTBS, but I think by album three (assuming the music industry lasts that long) The Big Pink will be a monster band who can fill the whole Rams Head, nut just the lower floor.

* The two 7"s were by A Place to Bury Strangers

Friday, April 2, 2010

Gentlemonth: Where We Went to High School

April is a special month. The trees start to bloom, warm weather starts creeping in, thoughts start wandering to pool parties and beach vacations, and prom is just around the corner!

That's right, April is a GentleMonth (kind of like the Daily Double, you never know when it's going to pop up), and this time around we'll be talking about Where We Went to High School. Journey with us as we plumb the depths of where, and when, and what the hell happened.

So dust off your prom dress and boutonniere, kick up the parking lot jams, and don't forget to finish that essay on Abraham Lincoln, because we'll be winding back the clock, just a bit, to a simpler, er, more hormonal time.

These Gentlemen in High School. Would you have been friends with us?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Scientists Affirm: Meteor Impact Imminent.

News broke across the globe today as scientists confirmed that a meteor the size of Antarctica will collide with planet Earth in the near or distant future. While the specific date of impact has not been determined, scientists stated during the press conference that they expect Meteor U-5XB (nicked named either "The Ragna-rock," or simply "The End") to "eradicate all life as we know it. Possibly. Maybe." Despite this foreboding revelation, the scientific community assures the public, "Not to worry. This kind of thing happens, like, all the time," and that, "If Hollywood has told us anything, we have a protocol for this sort of thing." When asked about the track record for species surviving large meteor impact, the scientific community collectively shrugged and responded by saying, "Probably? Not good," and then abruptly left the press conference simply claiming that one of them had rented a DVD of Armageddon the other day and that they "needed to study it before they had to return [the film]." While exiting the conference, one scientists could be heard stating that, "this would not have been a problem if someone had just signed up for NetFlix like they were supposed to," but remained unclear regarding who was responsible for this error.

Meanwhile, a collective manhunt is underway in search of God to "bring him to justice for causing an inevitable end to life as we know it." The alleged deity is facing charges from over fifty countries who claim God responsible for attempted murder, crimes against humanity, and treason, amongst other international crimes. Federal authorities are currently studying each one of his manifestos, written more than a thousand years ago, as evidence of his involvement. There are no supreme deities in custody at this time and the collective search has yielded "no physical evidence" as to the creator's whereabouts. Authorities also claim that executing search warrants has been problematic based on the fact that he has so many places of residence. Currently, there is no physical description of the suspect - but many predict that "he probably wears a lot of robes and has a white beard [because] he's so old." Others raise issue with the sex of the suspect, asserting that the divine being is either female, hermaphroditic, or none of the above. Despite a lack of physical presence, popular opinion claims that to know that "God is everywhere" and an overwhelming amount of people have purported "finding [God]" - all of whom are currently undergoing rigorous investigation and interrogation. Experts suggest that the deity is extremely talented at "not being seen," and that others have been known to search for years without affirmatively finding him. Religious proponents affirm to have, "known this was going to happen all along" and wonder why people seem to be so surprised. Authorities ask that if anyone has seen, heard, or is unsure of whether they have seen the suspect to inform their local law enforcement agency immediately.

Bidding Farewell

It has unfortunately become necessary for me to end my time here at These Gentlemen. I have enjoyed my time here, and I hope you all have enjoyed having me around, but other factors in life have come into play and I cannot ignore them. Perhaps when my sentence is up, should it come to that, I will be able to once again be a contributing member, but this isn't anything I can say for certain until after the trial.

I want to thank everyone who has read my work and commented on it, and I certainly hope you won't think less of me after what I've done. And to the lovely Ali Daniels, even if worse comes to worst, I will be there for at least the second birthday.

Farewell, These Gentlemen, and may you continue to provide both style and substance for the readers of this blog.