The only constant is Change: Responding to the Elder

The Elder J and I have always loved this song and I obviously stole his copy of the  CD as a young man. As much as we clash  all the time, we are similar in a lot of ways and I hope to draw some helpful conclusions by the end of the this post. Maybe I won’t. Maybe it’ll make things worse or have no effect at all. Hopefully, at least I’ll feel better or maybe understand each other and our lives a shade more.

My brother decided, after a long while of contemplation I’m sure, that he doesn’t want to write for the blog he created. He told me around Christmas but I clearly either didn’t hear him or take him seriously. I want to say “we” created because I wish that was true, but he was the one who had the idea and reading his post the other day is the first I have ever heard of my late Father’s distressful call/e-mail about my depressive behavior following grad school and my first serious break-up. I don’t blame him, it was necessary and having this outlet to write was something I always wanted and certainly would not have done it on my own. It helped me when I needed help and although I continue to procrastinate, I will also continue to write because I enjoy doing this.

You never know how you look through someone else’s eyes and even when you do share a lot on common, intentions and messages can become convoluted to the point where no one is on the same page.

As much as the Elder and I do share in common, we are also incredibly different and a good metaphor for this is the blog we have written together for three years now. He seems to want people to know who he is while I prefer to remain anonymous because I teach at a school where I live and also I don’t want to mention a friend who is then offended by something I wrote. I also don’t care how many people read this, how far our reach is, or how deep the posts are philosophically or otherwise. My favorites to write are amusing ways certain songs relate to my life and maybe to the readers as well as trying to share new music that could further enrich yours and my own musical experience. I agree with my brother that it can seem like a chore with so much going on in our lives and I barely know because he’s always written more and kept up on it better as well as leading a completely different life than I do.

Brother to brother relations are at an all time low right now. I’d like to blame the Elder completely but that wouldn’t be true. We’ve grown apart because of distance in geography, philosophy and general life style. I’m busy with everything from my band to my garden to my teaching to trying to date like an adult as I quickly approach the age of 30 to my multiple activities with many close friends in the area to trying to help the Mother J through a very hard time.  The Elder raises his two kids, runs his wife’s dentist office, teaches at a university, writes both this blog and written work in his field, runs marathons which he trains daily for and tries to help as much as he can with our mom. He ain’t heavy, he’s just my brother, and someday we will heal the wounds between us.

One thing I do agree with him on, at least in the last few weeks, is whenever I tried to sit down and write this post I felt an extreme anger to the point where I had to walk away. I think he said dread but you get the point.  When I was a young man, I had a real problem with controlling my anger and put a lot of holes into doors and walls. I grew out of it, but it scared me how strong it came back while trying to write this. I began it the day the Elder posted about Rachel which coincided with our mom having a pretty serious medical episode that has been pretty encompassing the past few weeks. She is much better but helping her get better has involved a lot of time and patience on my part. Two days after that, a childhood friend from childhood was in a motorcycle accident which killed him a week later after being in a coma. That, also with the typical last days of school which always equal crazy while spending all the free time I had in school where I used to write recruiting and organizing our class of students for next year. This sounds like the it somewhat approaches the level of activity the Elder has been dealing with all along so I understand his position more than ever.

I also find this very relaxing, like hip hop a few months ago. I loved Easy Star All-Stars even if it was considered lame by my peers in college. I need to make better use of my time. I’m busier than I have ever been but I still have time so I need to set a certain time to write on a daily basis which is what the soon to be mentioned retiring teacher does with his blog. It will probably never be what it was when the Elder did it with me, or did it pretty much for me rather, but it will be what it is and the best I can do is continue writing. I never was involved as much as I should have been, but like I keep telling my mom and student, actions speak louder than words. Best thing I can do is write, not feel guilty about what I should have done.

Another thing I’ve been into is that I was appointed to be the band leader for the  retirement party for the longest running teacher at our school, his career clocking in at 41.5 years! That’s 12 plus years longer than I’ve been alive. It took a lot of time the last few months as I had to gather many teachers together who play music with varying skill levels, pick out a set list, practice with the frenzied schedule of everyone, figure out logistics for the venue and generally try to keep my head from twisting off with everything going on. I listened to his retirement speech and the salient points I got out of it were that teaching at any level is one of the last noble ventures, make lots of good friends and find something passionate to do in your free time that connects back to your teaching. Make it part of your life and you will earn the respect of  teachers to students to administrators parents. Judging from the response from the show I put together, I think I’m on this path.

Jerry Garcia plays steel guitar on this and it’s one of the best teacher songs ever. We totally opened with it Saturday night and there was some beautiful saxophone and keyboard work, my first time performing with either one of those instruments. 

I’ve been able to use music in my class all the time, from developing a Great Depression assignment having my students write their own blues songs to actually playing during our structured hobby time on a daily basis. I like my job and where my career seems to be heading, both in teaching and in actually playing with my band which is getting a lot of new and different gigs. Life is good in a lot of ways and I need to keep pushing myself. It’s not as easy without the big brother who was my main motivator for so many years, but everyone has to fly on their own sometime.

I learned this song once to play for a girl I really liked and I never got a chance to show her cause we stopped talking before I got the chance. I include it here because it’s a beautiful song with a powerful message of how living the real and righteous way is to fly. Yeah, I’ve wasted a lot of time in my almost thirty years, but I’m not gonna be depressed about it. I’m going to keep trying to fly.

The Elder was right in that we have spent a lot of time talking about our Father in this blog. The most recent post was one I don’t think should have been shared, but this is not my decision to make. His point seems to be that we remember him in a rosy light a lot and not enough do we remember the bad things about him which could doom us to repeat some of his mistakes. While I agree that the best way to honor our late father is to try to push ourselves to our fullest extent, I don’t agree we need to air our dirty laundry to the world even if this blog is anonymous. What’s done is done and we have to move on. I want to do better in everything in life from my music to my teaching to being a solid family member to writing this blog. I owe to myself more than anyone else. Please keep reading and to the Elder J, I owe you more than you will ever know.

Payback to myself.

 

 

 

I broke up with a Girl over Limp Bizkit: Music. Status. Identity.

Note: I find myself beginning a chaotic and promising semester. I can’t say I won’t blog as much, but I can say that it won’t be as consistent. I can also promise that after two years of writing pretty heavily, we may re-post some oldies (but goodies?) on and off. Here is one of my favorite (because every horrible world is true). Yes, Bakhtin and Limp Bizkit. 

“There is neither a first nor a last word and there are no limits to the dialogic context (it extends into the boundless past and the boundless future). Even past meaning, that is, those born in the dialogue of past centuries, can never be stable (finalized, ended once and for all)—they will always change (be renewed) in the process of subsequent, future development of the dialogue…Nothing is absolutely dead.” –M. M. Bakhtin
“I did it all for the nookie / C’mon / The nookie / C’mon / So you can take that cookie / And stick it up your, yeah!!” –Fred Durst

I once broke up with a girl because of Limp Bizkit. Seriously. And this wasn’t some ephemeral or disposable relationship. We had been a couple on and off for over two years throughout high school—which is, in high school terms, practically being married. How did this happen? What does this say about me?

The mid-nineties were a heady time for music lovers, especially for adolescent malcontents. Before the debuts of Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten when alternative music went mainstream, college music stations, independent record stores and word-of-mouth were the primary avenues to “coolness” for those who were otherwise barred by ability, class or disposition from conventional approaches. Even more crazily, for a brief period the worlds collided—in the mid-nineties, nerd chic was all the rage. At my high school, football players new Weezer’s “Sweater Song” and cheerleaders wore Dinosaur Jr. Shirts. Which, of course, made isolating and securing the “cool” that much more difficult. Today, the internet, with its damnable democratizing power, can put anyone “in the know” within a few mouse clicks. Social networking disperses “cool” like fluoride in public water. Does this dispersal make it too diffuse? How do geeky adolescents gain the higher ground any more?

Even after Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” won a VMA and bands like Butthole Surfers and Jane’s Addiction were in the day-to-day rotation on MTV, there were still subsections of alternative music that remained on the margins. Sometimes, late at night, you might catch a They Might Be Giants video; but seminal bands like the Pixies and real warriors like Fugazi were still part of the realm of the select few. During these years, what and who you listened to helped to define who you were; or, whom you chose to allow people to know you listened to was an important part of the creation of self-identity. To be lame was to listen to anything in the top forty.

My circle of friends was organized by the (1) aesthetics of the obscure and unknown (Red House Painters), (2) the almost-cool but turning mainstream (Green Day), (3) the ironic but still earnest obsession (Elvis), (4) the almost lame but sort-of acceptable mainstream (Dave Matthews, Blues Traveler), (5) ‘connoisseurship’ (Pre-1990 R.E.M.; U2’s Boy but not Joshua Tree and certainly not Achtung Baby), (6) the geeky but cool (Dead Kennedys), (7) the intentionally offensive (Gwar) and then me. I couldn’t commit to one pose long enough because of my fear that any purchase on ‘coolness’ was temporary. So, I decided to hate everything (or at least almost everything).

Wanted to be Frank Black, but was really Fred Durst

The girl in question in this story just loved music—she could listen without irony to Madonna and Michael Jackson in 1994 (which, for those of you who don’t remember those days, was an accomplishment). But she also espoused the insider’s pose of knowledge as she proudly claimed to have bought Live’s first album before they were cool or as she included Fremke and Smashing Pumpkin B-sides on mix-tapes. I guess in the end it was my own continual uncertainty and insecurity that did us in. If someone loved everything and showed no disdain when it came to music, how could her opinion on more important matters (read: me) have any significance?

In truth, the relationship had been heading south well before the Limp Bizkit incident—I was going to college and, in my own mind, had stayed with her primarily because of convenience. But, when on some weeknight at her house I sat at the kitchen table and saw the brand new Three Dollar Bill Y’all$ still in cellophane, I lost it. Now, this was one album before the world learned about what Fred Durst did for the “Nookie”; two years before violence and sexual assaults at the nearly apocalyptic  Woodstock ’99, but from even my tangential knowledge, I knew that Limp Bizkit was musically impoverished, tonally challenged, wannabe hardcore.

To wit, I have no problem with hardcore, but without an ethical and aesthetic center, it is nothing but noise. Again, great artists don’t necessarily need to be musically talented. But, in retrospect, a phenomenon like Limp Bizkit was the death knell for mainstream alternative rock (if that oxy-moron makes any sense), the only nostrum for which was the several years of boy-band pop hell that descended around the same time. To give Durst his due, he was a great showman and his cover of George Michael’s “Faith”, for the time period, was genius.

In all honesty, at the kitchen table on that evening, I knew very little about Limp Bizkit. I knew I didn’t like the name; I knew I didn’t like the cover art; and I had a vague idea that ‘posers’ and ‘losers’ liked them. I asked the girl about it, perhaps hoping that it was a lame gift for or from a friend. But, to my chagrin, she said she bought it and added that she was really excited about it. I said “what?” She told me that they were “cool”. I don’t have the best memory about what happened next, but it may have started with “we need to talk”.

Of course, none of this reflects on me too well. And it shouldn’t. If anything, she was being genuine in pursuing what she liked regardless of external associations (and, regardless of my standards of ‘taste’). I was judgmental, narrow-minded and an overall prick.  I broke up with a girl over Limp Bizkit; all I can say to console myself now is that at least I didn’t “do it all for the nookie”.