Stressed Out: Can’t get enough Hip Hop

I was hanging out and having a beer with an old friend who just moved back to Maine from Key West. We had on the music OnDemand old school hip hop channel and this funky little diddy came on.  It sounded very familiar but new. I love the organ flourishes and generally dig the old school production vibe. The Bulldogs did not sound familiar which is unfortunate. 

It’s been a stressful week and hip hop tunes have been helping me through it.  Last Tuesday, my 91-year-old paternal grandmother broke her leg while volunteering at an old folks home, the irony of which doesn’t escape any of us. I’m very close with my grandma and probably hyper-sensitive to most things since last Thursday was also the three-year anniversary of my father passing away which my brother mentioned in a post on that day. Seems like things happen in waves because just a few days later, one of my students ended up in a mental facility for some reasons I’m not going to share here and although she is physically ok, I’m not sure when she will be joining us again. Things are high stress right now and one thing that has been helping me is continuing my quest for new hip hop songs.

I think the big reason hip hop is a welcome distraction is I haven’t listened to it a lot again until recently and it’s like a three and half to four-minute respite from the current difficulties of life. I feel calm while listening to sick beats and I try to not think about any of the problems going on while it’s playing. This rarely works, but I get at least one minute of mental peace per roughly four minutes of music. 

Of course, some people have much bigger problems like extreme poverty, disease and violence. This fact doesn’t make me feel better.  My Grandma is already in a rehab center, I can’t do anything about my dad passing away except mourn him and continue trying to live well and I will support my student when/if she returns in every way I can. Of course, I can say these things until I’m blue in the face but it won’t erase the pain I feel or the regret from being able to take more action. So, I’ve been taking short mental vacations via hip hop and I try to just focus on the rhymes and beats, analyzing why one song works when another doesn’t. A pleasant surprise has been how much I’ve enjoyed listening to Kanye West, especially this epic jam.

I know he’s egotist and I know he’s a shameless self promoter, but I think I like him. His music is good and I suspect his whole act is a perfomance art type of thing not unlike Lady Gaga or any of these other pop stars doing weird shit to gain attention. The difference is that I like listening to Kanye’s music. I also kind of want to “run away” from some of these issues and I also think some people in my life who could help out more with stuff are douche bags. But of course, you can’t control anyone but your self and the best thing to do is lead by example. You can’t control what anyone does but yourself.

There are positive notes. My band was asked to do a benefit for four kids in high school whose father and his girlfriend just died in a car accident. I feel lucky to be able to help someone by organizing a show and playing bass.  I got my principal, a far more seasoned musician than myself, to come open for us and share in some jams. The whole community came out to support the cause, including many of our fellow teachers. The total money raised that day was something along the lines of $22,000 to help cover everyday bills for the kids and to do some repairs they needed on the house they just inherited. Like the irony of my Grandmother hurting herself while helping people younger than she is, I don’t lose the message that three years after my parent died traumatically, I got a chance to really help kids half my age deal with the abrupt loss of their parent.

Hopsin has some ill jams and I keep finding new ones I can vibe to. I do need help and I’m getting it to some extent, but hip hop helps me beau coup right now and I’m happy I’m able to find little things like listening to these jams that assist me when I am stressed

My grandmother has spent her life helping others around here, creating a center of calm in a sea of chaos. I have encountered no one else yet in my life who can be so solid in their help of others with no desire or expectation of anything back. It tears a fucking hole in me to see her in this position of weakness because she has been one constant, perhaps one of two consistent ones, in my life. When my brother was away or my parents were unable, she was there to tell me how to be a good person and how to solve whatever problems came my way.  I sat with her and the dietician yesterday and we gently hassled her for not eating much at all and how she can’t heal up right if she doesn’t eat. I assume she will come out of this as she has survived multiple wars, two dead husbands, a dead son and a dead step daughter. She’s the toughest person I know and I’ve been to a lot of dive bars.

Believe it or not, Granna has seen the band several times. She gets a standing ovation whenever I announce my 91 year old grandmother is in the crowd and the one song she always requests is this jam by Dick Curless. Even though she grew up in the mid-west, she loves this song about the woods up in Maine and all the truckers who perished on the wintry roads.

It is possible that Granna doesn’t want to eat and probably not even the hand of God will change that if that is the case. My brother brought this point up to me last night, much to my chagrin, but he is a voice of reason as usual. As tough as the woman is, if she’s done fighting, then that is how it is and no amount of my tears or fears will change that. I will be there for her regardless, just as I was there for my Dad, there for my student who is in the hospital and the way my band was there for those kids in need. Maybe I take too much on but when my time is up, I want to feel like I did everything I could to be a good person and attempted to leave the world a better place than I found it.

This is my favorite song ever, at least in the instrumental format. I think I wrote on it a little on my post on guitar solos because Duane Allman is probably my favorite guitarist ever. No this isn’t hip hop, but it is very soothing to me and definitely what I want at my funeral if I ever have one.

Songs for Teachers

My brother recently wrote about his struggles in working with middle school students. He and I talk a lot about education (even though we come at the topic from very different perspectives) and I have tried to commiserate with him, but I know that he has one of the hardest jobs in the world. Now, this post isn’t just an excuse to ramble on and list some of my favorite songs about teachers, but it is a recognition of the important connection between music and education as well as the critical work that teachers do.

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Who is Molly?

A friend who plays fiddle with my band suggested David Lindley to me a while back and has a portrait of the man in his living room where I often occupy the couch while jamming late into the night. This song gave me a very real feeling of closeness to my Father because I know he would have loved it since he held an affinity for religious tunes. Also, it’s so much better than the music I am subjected to on a daily basis as will be seen.

I have talked recently about how I have a new job. I am the long term substitute for the head of an alternative education program in the 8th grade. Both of the two teachers in the program had to leave (the last quickly), so I was shoved to the top of the ladder and suddenly had my own program.

I don’t want to get into specifics, but it has been a hard transition for everyone, most importantly the students. Most of these kids come from broken homes and have never succeeded in the traditional classroom due to a myriad of social, mental, and chemical reasons that cause them to exhibit some non-traditional behaviors. They love this song and I am constantly shutting it off throughout a normal school day on their iPads, iPods, laptops and cell phones. What happened to the Sony Discman?

The kids think I don’t know this song is about drugs. I asked them one day, just to mess with them, “Who is this Molly girl?” Although I never took this drug, whenever Disco Biscuits or Sound Tribe Sector 9 or Phish came through town in Vermont, there’d be a lot of it around and all the dread locked white kids (wookies) would be spinning around the campus greens. I was always more of a beer guy. For those not in the know, “molly” is pure MDMA, which is the active ingredient in Ecstasy and I believe a few other designer drugs. 

Some of them allegedly do drugs, which is a shame at their age and for their already suffering thought processes. Of the 16 kids in my class, I bet at least half of them have smoked pot or currently do, with half of those claiming to also do other drugs. I continually am explaining why the consumption of any mind altering substance at their age, molly or otherwise, will help to stop the development of their brains because their young minds are still forming. They almost always answer that this is only the case with hard drugs like molly or acid or cocaine and that weed and alcohol are ok and, in fact, legitimate stress relievers. I hope they don’t learn this from their parents, but I am sure they learn a lot of  it from Lil’ Wayne.

I had to explain to my assistant principal what Kush was when they played this in the gym while we shot some hoops at our daily gym time right after lunch. This is one of the things I instituted when I came in because I feel one of the issues is the kids don’t get their energy out in a positive way. He quickly shut off the stereo when he realized what the song was about but as soon as he left, back on it went while I was across the gym working on my free throws. I play the turn down or shut off game while one of them reverses it all day long.

I have never liked Lil’ Wayne, always being more of a fan of old school gangster rap like Biggy and Tupac. So much of his vocals are auto tuned and I just find that noise to be incredibly annoying. Furthermore, I find most of his messages are be about getting messed up and treating women badly which none of my students need in their lives. Now, there are many many misogynistic lyrics in the rap I like too but I didn’t listen to it in 8th grade and I could surely separate reality from fiction at that point in my life. I suspect that my students can too, but when engaged in an argument with a student on him attending French class last week, I said he was acting like a baby for refusing to go. In response, he swore at me and said  “Do babies snort coke off of strippers asses?” I almost responded  with “No they don’t and you don’t either because you have no money and can’t even get into a strip club” but my good sense prevailed and I just walked him down to the principal’s office to cool out. There is one song they play that is from my generation, albeit still kind of stupid but at least having a good beat and funny lyrics.

This guy was huge in my home state around freshmen year of high school, but it was “Cause I got High” and “Colt .45” and I don’t think I ever got through the album enough to hear this little diddy. I obviously can’t allow them to listen to this, but of the songs they listen to, this has the best beat and the most amusing lyrics.

I shut this song off at least ten times a day while the kids dance around to it and yell the parts with profanity louder than any other lyrics just to show people they can yell swears and attract attention. One of my favorite/worst students is a kid whose mother is dying of cancer in their trailer park while the step father does very little to help and the father having died when my 8th grader was in the 6th grade. This kid basically only has control over anything while at school so he mostly spends his days disrupting other classes and driving me nuts and occasionally sitting down and talking with me about why he acts the way he does.  Yesterday, he ran into a classroom in the sixth grade and yelled “sugar tits” and then slammed the door, prompting an email sent to me within two minutes of the crime committed  Dealing with that took up the best part of third period,  but he ended up not getting suspended and driving my stress levels up the rest of the day.

I am trying to get  a job in this school district next year so I deal with these kids as best I can to various results. My bosses think I’m doing a good job and some days I do, but I worry about these kids succeeding in the high school and in life in general. It’s more social conditioning than anything else so I wish I could play them this one rap song which will roll at the end of this paragraph. If they learn nothing else from me this year, it’s that you can’t play obscene songs in public areas and you need to use your words calmly and not yell at people. In other words, express yourself!

I could actually use this, it’s got clean lyrics! Plus, Dre says something about a subject and a predicate right?