Where: Sierra Madre Boulevard northbound at Foothill
Who: My father
Weather: Partly cloudy
Book: Lord of the Flies
For some reason in high school my father wanted to know absolutely everything I was doing in class. It was perhaps this unhealthy interest in uninteresting things that led him to drag me around town buying groceries for seemingly no reason except to angrily interrogate me on what I was reading for English class. I told him Lord of the Flies as this song came on. The discussion of nuclear war blended well with the ominous synth bridge of the song.
Next: Fellas, I’m ready to get up and do my thang…
When: October 2004
Where: La Canada-Flintridge
Who: My mom, the band Nural, and several strangers
Weather: Cool, breezy
Last year, The AV Club asked the question, “why is music from the ’90s on classic rock radio?” A better question would have been “why is music from the ’90s on new rock radio?”
KROQ is the modern rock station in the Southland, and like almost all stations of that kind, it fell into the trap of playing less and less new music. Leaving out the 80% of the airtime devoted just to The Offspring and Sublime, you’ll mostly hear Grunge. Green Day was no spring chicken at this time, but for a few brief years it wasn’t the least bit unusual to hear this nine-minute monstrosity in your car.
Back at Bosco, Mr. Thompson was working very hard to keep the school newspaper running, and the end result was really good. One of the articles was about this very phenomenon. There was a new radio station, Indie 103.1. It was the best radio station in Southern California, characters on TV could be seen waking up to it, and KROQ was starting to play more and newer music to compete. Eventually, 103.1 folded and things went back to normal, but so long as I was in high school, this was the case.
I was in La Cañada attending a Nural concert. I was so taken with them after my 8th grade graduation party that I wanted to see what the fans were like. I have no idea why I liked them so much, they weren’t very good, but I did get to talking with some of the girls. Mostly about Xavier Lopez-Ayala, Bosco Tech’s resident artist and Youth Governor of California. We swapped NorCal band demo discs, and I returned home.
Next: Wasted hearts and nuclear war.
When: October 2004
Where: Don Bosco Technical Institute
Who: Several people
On a random Wednesday, a family friend and classmate named Elliot Cuite told me to come with him to one of the shops. It was my first meeting with Tiger TV, our school’s technologically outdated live Friday news show. Before long, I was a cameraman, and I lived for those mornings. After a while, this became our regular theme song. It was by U2, and it wasn’t horrible, so I suppose it was worth a shot.
Next: Pasadena and Los Angeles’ only new rock.
Freshman Year of High School was a serious downer. Firstly, I had an anger problem. Secondly, it seemed to be dark all the time. Thirdly, the bus. Oh, the bus.
I went to Don Bosco Technical Institute in the middle of nowhere, and as a result had an hour’s bus trip home through a poorly-maintained, perpetually gridlocked old country road. Worse, school left out at 3:30, and the bus only arrived for an hour, meaning unless we were very lucky, we wouldn’t get home until 6:00 PM.
Matt Kook and I were serious adversaries at Barnhart, and we would have our differences later, but since we were the only people at this school either of us knew, we had become partners of circumstance. On one particularly grueling traffic jam, it was only September and already dark, and I began humming a tune to myself.
Matt looked to me and said “I know the song you’re thinking of. It’s stuck in my head too.” I self-consciously stopped humming.
He reacted badly with Barnhart’s coddling approach to education, and his acidic, bullying style didn’t mesh well with my underdeveloped sense of humor. But now in catholic school we were free to be ourselves and essentially do whatever we wanted. And though we wouldn’t really hang out together, both our heads would cool with time.
Next: “Sam, meet television.”
When: July 2004
Where: Gauss House, Crown College, UC Santa Cruz
Who: Several people
Book: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
At some point, I was recruited by the Center for Talented Youth to take a summer class in Santa Cruz on mystery novels. What they didn’t make clear is that not only would I be stuck there, I’d be forced to have fun. At best, I got to watch Hitchcock movies and write comics all the time.* At worst, I had to listen to everyone singing along to Don McLean with their own special added lyrics, all spontaneously from people who had never met each other before.
One morning, I woke up to what sounded eerily like John Corbett on the radio, I got out of bed and looked out my open third-story window onto the residency square and saw some guys playing Bob Marley, so I went down and checked it out.
Though mysteries were not my style, my instructor appreciated what I did with the material. When the program ended, I was eating dinner in town when I caught him and his TA Celine on the four-block line to see Fahrenheit 9/11.
His name? Jonathan Goldstein.
*My comics were inspired by American Splendor and would continue until school started, when my dad angrily forbid me to continue out of lack of respect for the genre and general compulsive rage.
Next: Our gloomy freshman year.
When: 12 June 2004
Where: Alhambra Street near Alameda and Ord
Who: My father
Weather: Warm, dry
The weekend after graduation, my dad dragged me out to the Inland Empire to watch this:
Afterwards, we went to Philippe’s downtown. When we parked on Alhambra Street (before it was beautified), this song was on. It was the last time I would willfully spend time with my father.
More important was Elliot Van Nest’s graduation party with special guest Nural. I was thrilled to see them in my friend’s aunt’s backyard, and spent slightly over a year attempting to popularize them.
Next: Santa Cruz: The unexpected journey.
When: May 2004
Where: Foothill Boulevard westbound between Highway 19 and Michillinda Avenue.
Who: My mother
Weather: Hot, dry
And so we have arrived at the end of middle school. The first time I heard this song, it was brand new and I hadn’t heard anything like it. Suddenly I had a feeling where things were going musically.
The second time I heard it was a few weeks later on the way to graduation. I’d brought my friend Chris Macquarrie as a guest and we arrived mid-song. I imagined us walking into the Santa Anita Church in slow motion to it. After a particularly awful rendition of “Drive” by Incubus I was out there with my classmates. It was over, I was going to Bosco.
I don’t know what it is about my memory that makes the first half of the year seem so colorful. I can remember sunsets with purple and green, and it’s possible I wasn’t imagining it, because many of my drawings from that time show the same thing. It was a good time to be fourteen. After graduation, my family, Chris and I went to Bella Italia to celebrate. The Lakers were playing, and Chris was not enthused. “We’re all Americans,” he said, missing the point. The Lakers wouldn’t win the playoffs this year either.
Next: The final goodbye (for now)