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Friday, September 21, 2007

Notes From Underground - #16
Songs for the Days


It was a horrible flashback, the likes of which I should not want to experience again. For those of you who don't know, my day job (i.e. the one that pays) is High School English Teacher. I teach mostly seniors and my homeroom is seniors as well. Today we were gathering nominations for the class of '08's 'class song.' Dutifully writing down their suggestions, I wasn't paying a ton of attention to the actual songs until a girl squealed out "Oooh! How 'bout Boyz II Men's 'It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday?'"

Immediately I was transported back in time to two places at once. First, to middle school, the time of my life when Boyz II Men actually seemed to matter in the larger pop-cultural narrative. I remember sitting in front of my television and watching MTV, hoping for something productive ("C'mon, Cracker's 'Get On This!'") and seeing those four, Philly-bred would-be-heirs-to-Motown just singin' up a storm from video to video. I didn't have anything against Boyz II Men at that point. Nor do I now, really. It's harmless, inoffensive, background R&B. But then, flash forward to 1999, the year of my own high school graduation, and rather than taking advantage of our obvious, God-given right to, for the first time ever, legitimately have Prince's "1999" as a class song, we blow it and select "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday." Sentimental, downer, crap.

To be fair, I didn't help matters. My nomination had been the Replacements' "Anywhere's Better Than Here." That didn't go over well, so I had re-submitted Pulp's "The Day After the Revolution." References to Sheffield, England and such aside, I (at the time) thought it not a bad representation of what I saw in our graduation. So I voted for it. I mean, read the lyrics. It's not bad. "Tomorrow you will wake up to find that your whole life has changed. Although nothing looks different a revolution took place" is a great line for summing up a high school graduation.

I'm not bitter. Just disappointed, I suppose. The idea of a class song is to hopefully select something that will remind people of their high school experiences, will cause them to pause in that smokey bar when it comes on the jukebox, or on the radio in their car. Something to give them pause, just for a second, smile a wry smile, and go back to what they were doing. I know it's impossible to pick a song that would elicit that moment from every member of my, or anyone's, graduating class. I'm sure there are people in my class who hear Boyz II Men and actually do think back on high school with the reverence of someone looking through the burnishing haze of passing years. But not me.

For me, it's driving down Weddington Road in my 1988 Chevy Suburban, my good friend Andrew in the front passenger seat, Dylan's "Tombstone Blues" on the cassette player.

For me, it's riding shotgun with my friend Brad down International Drive while a live version of Danzig's "Mother" plays, and the guitar solo hits and Brad shouts out "John Christ on guitar!" The notes fill the car with bristling excitement for a reason I still don't understand.

For me, it's playing guitar in a coffee shop, some of my best friends and other onlookers singing along to the Ramones' "The KKK Took My Baby Away."

And countless other moments beside. None of those songs are emblematic of high school, but they represent my memories far better than a Boyz II Men song ever could. I have college songs, relationship songs, car songs, trip songs. They're all there as a soundtrack to my life.

If my students end up voting for Boyz II Men, more power to them. Hopefully it'll give them one of those moments like I mentioned. But for me, the teacher, the perennial person at school, who doesn't leave after four years, the last bittersweet lines of the Replacements' "Left of the Dial" comes to mind: "If I don't see you 'gain, well, I'll know why."

So, what are your songs? Share them in the comments.

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3 Comments:

  • At 11:26 AM, September 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Okay so, my Governor's School song from 1992 was the "classic" "it's so hard" but that not withstanding:
    High school songs for me were anything on the Jane's Addiction Nothing Shocking album, wearing lots of black and hanging out in the back of Matt Nelson's van with 7 other people. Then there was the pure joy of liberation when I was allowed to drive myself home in my very own car, windows down blasting Four Non Blondes' "What's Going On." It was "Fun and Games" at the Connells concert with Virginia and Leslie.

    And prepare to be jealous. My class chose a song that was not sentimental, but said "Hey world! We can think for ourselves and Screw You! Generation X RULES!!!"
    That's right, our song was "Whatcha Want" by the Beastie Boys.
    _Helen P.

     
  • At 11:56 AM, September 21, 2007, Anonymous S. said…

    Our class song or whatever in high school was.. I can't even say it, it's so awful. It was that horrible Vitamin C song. I don't even want to talk about it. Then they sang "Good Riddance" by Green Day at graduation. Canned. Lame.

    I'm not sure that songs take me back to a particular place and time normally, but some songs do lead me to envision a particular person every time I hear them. I do have a couple of bar exam songs that transport me back (though I reckon I'd rather they didn't). "What can you see from your window? I can't see anything from mine.." resonated pretty well at the time. And I'm sure will again in February. Actually, listening to "Grey in L.A." by Loudon Wainwright immediately transported me to my new house for awhile, but that feeling seems to have expired. Oh, and I guess when I hear "Girl in the War" it brings me back to when you finally let me screw around with your mp3 player in the car, and it was playing, and in this indignant tone, you were like "I hope you selected the entire album. Not just this song." Other than that though, I s'pose I associate songs with people more than places.

     
  • At 2:30 PM, October 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well good sir, you know I share your pain of the class song. I do say that I can't remember what I voted for but it wasn't that. I think since I knew you had nominated the Replacements and doing such a stellar job of educating myself to them, I was gonna do that. Can't remember if I ever did....
    I will say though, the only good thing about that song was that it made me laugh my ass off that we were walking out of that gym to a song that is better placed at a funeral full of people who were crying because they'd see everyone tomorrow.

    and it's only the true one's that stayed man.

    and it had nothing to do with boys to men (thank god).

    get some scott biram on yer site man!

     

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