Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A True Life Story of Perserverance

Eighteen years in a traveling band
Seen a lot of one night stands
And still I found myself so very much alone

And it took those years to find myself
Wasn't lookin' for no one else
And then I found you girl
But you were there all along

And we'll spend each day like it's the last day of the rest of our lives

I'll be the king you'll be my wife
Gonna make it thru this thing called life
Gonna raise these kids on our own
The very best we can

And sixteen hours is a long, long time
When you gotta love that's on your mind
Can you tell that I'm not right?
I'm a little distraught

And we'll spend each day like it's the last day of the rest of our lives
Everyday we'll fall in love just a little more
For the rest of our lives

Sittin' here in the county jail
Ain't no one to go my bail
I shoulda been there with you
For some sympathy and tea

And eighteen years in at traveling band
Seen a lot of one night stands
And still I found myself so very much alone

Mike Ness... Social Distortion

I was laying in bed last night grooving to my iPod. Well, you really can't groove to an iPod while lying in bed... or could you? Not important really... The point is, I laid awake thinking about my life. You know how it is... Your best thoughts and biggest dreams come to you during insomnia. I had fear of waking my wife and running down stairs to blog about what I was thinking so I waited until now. It struck me to write this story about a life experience when the song above from Mike Ness from Social Distortion's first solo album, came up on my iPod. The country twang, a lightly distorted hollow body guitar and the lap steel guitar and then the words out of Mike's gravelly throat, "18 years in a travelling band..."

18 years. That really hit me. 18 years ago this week, my life changed forever. I have this really solid family. My parents have been married for 40 years. Both of my brothers have good marriages, great kids and fantastic careers. My parents have a lot to be proud of. I married a sweet girl and of course, as many of you know, we're expecting. But what started 18 years ago really is a bit of hardship, loneliness and actually a quite a bit of heartache. It was a very short time in retrospect but back then it seemed like an eternity. My parents moved me and my family from the big city out to the country.

I was 14 and in 8th grade. Our family had roots in that big city. We had friends. We had some family. Jobs, good schools and familiarity. It was all there. But it was the urge in my father to move us out to the "boonies". Life would be better. We had better weather, open space, no crowds, no traffic and no noise. Only one casualty, me...

My world got twisted 18 years ago this week. It's kind of a surreal event really. The first day at the new middle school. Life as I knew it was over. In retrospect it was like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. I went from the hustle and bustle of my former life of skateboards, junior high dances, hanging at the 7-11 playing video games and other debaucherous stuff that I still cannot admit to. I was a mediocre student under achieving at mediocrity as well... Now I was in a country school, with school busses that hauled you 40 miles in two hours to school. New cliques. New cliches. A new hierarchy, new challenges and new peers. Scary shit to put a kid through. I was made fun of 5 minutes after opening my mouth in the 2nd period PE because I admitted to where I was from, near San Francisco. A 14 year old kid moving to the country should never admit to being from San Francisco. EVER!!!

The abuse was on... Getting pushed around, challenged to fights in the school yard, itching powder down my shirt on April Fool's Day, getting tripped, spit on... left out in the cold, pulled off railings, stolen books and back packs only to be found later in garbage cans all over campus... The list goes on and on. And it wasn't just a bully or one kid. It was the ENTIRE student body. The memory carries on. All because of the stigma of being from San Francisco.

It followed me through summer school that year to high school. My mother thought it would be great to take summer school to skip up in math by taking Algebra that summer and for me to meet more people. Wrong!! It carried on there at the high school because someone knew me from middle school. The school bus, upper classman, and PE. "Steve's gay. Steve's a fag... because he's from San Francisco." Times got violent. I fought back and drew blood but they kept coming and coming. I never was big enough or strong enough, just average... I was very good at running fast. I was very good at being scared shitless.

This era 18 years ago or so back, and the subsequent 1 or 2 years that followed could have ended me. I could have been lost forever. I could have gone Columbine. I could have just ended it. I could have gotten into drugs. I wasn't an athlete. I wasn't that smart. I didn't have a religion to run to. Hell, I didn't even have friends. In the Eastwood movie called, "Unforgiven" there is a line Clint says, "It's a shame killing man, you take all he has, and all he ever will have." They literally were killing me. But at least I had one thing still... my music. (okay...?)

Seriously. This whole time I am going through this, I did two things everyday. I went to band at least one period a day at school and practiced my baritone horn at night for an hour or two. Daily. Everyday. I took lessons and had a great teacher who convinced me to sort of reach for the sky, metaphorically speaking. A year after I moved out to the country, I was in my second semester of being a freshman in high school, a place I saw as hell on Earth. Speaking of hell, our school colors were mainly red and gold which was a bit ironic. But a year after living in this foreign world, I had about had it. However, my private music teacher taught me otherwise. He had me enroll in this solo festival they have regionally in California for the California Music Educators Association. Basically, kids from elementary school to high school play their chosen instrument by themselves or in a quartet or something and get judged. Sort of like an American Idol for band geeks but more formalized. So here I am, a year in living hell later at some state college, with my shiny, dented baritone horn, my teacher, my parents, scared to death and totally freaked out about walking up and playing my horn in front of this judge and a small crowd of people. I was seriously terrified and just wanted to GO!!! But I stayed to play. What happens next changes my life forever...

Contemporary band music is kind of different than normal, symphonic type music. You have all these Andrew Lloyd Webber and John Williams wannabes write music for kids to play. They have these random titles and even more random melodies that you can barely associate with any familiarity to classical or romantic period music. The title of the piece I was going to play on horn was called, "Achilles" which now has more irony to this story than ever.

I put my music up on the stand, take a deep breath and begin to play, scared shitless, but playing. Dry mouthed. Shaking. Sweating. Nervous, but screw it, I am playing. Things are going along fine. I get about half way through and the judge suddenly has this very disgruntled look on his face. He stops me from playing. Very Simon Cowell like, he asks what I think I am doing? He asks me to start again without the music because it was obvious I didn't need it and that I was hiding behind it. Also I needed to find the dynamics and emotion (the different sound volumes) in the music.

And so... I was dumbfounded. Very, very scared now but I was sort of pissed. Here at 15 now, I was just standing there thinking to myself, what in the hell did I do deserve all of this? I mean, seriously, the crap at school with the evil children picking on me, living in the boonies with barbed wire fences, rattlesnakes and no cement for my skateboard and now this? This judge? Who does he think he is, tampering with what I have left? He found my Achilles heal! I'd soon show him...

Well, I finished to some applause and the judge was very complimentary with the "new" performance since restarting. They had a rating system. A Good, meant you showed up and knew how to put your horn together. An Excellent, meant you got through the music ok and it sounded good but you missed some things. A Superior, meant you did an outstanding job. The top award, the Command Performance, means you totally dominated the music and judges rarely gave this out during the festival if at all. If you were not the top award, you had to sit and wait for them to post your score. If you earned the top achievement they told you on the spot. As I was putting my horn away and greeting my parents and teacher, and getting all those good jobs and it's ok's people you know give you when you are a kid. The judge turns around in a pretty delayed reaction and says, "I almost forgot... HERE!!!" I didn't know what to say. I was speechless. I went back to the festival three more times during high school and only earned a Command Performance once more time and it was the only one that judge the next time gave out that year.

I was so confident that early spring day, winning that command performance, I signed up for football when I got back to school the next week... Seriously... but that is another true life story, called redemption or salvation or perhaps maybe, isolation... desecration? Let it go... Steve...

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