Velvet Revolver, “Slither”

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.

Franz Ferdinand – “Take Me Out”

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)

Maroon 5 – “This Love”

When: 16 April 2004
Where: Neil’s house
Who: Several classmates
Weather: Warm, dry

When my classmate Neil invited the entire eighth grade class to his birthday party, I was thrilled. I was new last year, and not invited, but a year later my place was secure. The house was big, as was the yard, all built on an irregular lot at the foot of Mount Wilson. I yearned to have a house like that. But as I walked through the arbor, I saw someone I didn’t expect.

My friend Annie and I used to sit on the sidelines of the schoolyard every day at lunchtime. It was she who first coined the phrase “that’s so random,” referring of course to me. Also, she was very tall, and ended up being quite attractive while the others became orange weirdos.

So we were fairly close and it surprised me very much to find out she’d taken Neil as her boyfriend over Christmas break. They were even voted cutest couple by the yearbook committee– the devout Buddhist basketball star and the shy Jewish malcontent. Before the yearbook came out, they broke up. Annie, in the tradition of jilted women of all ages, got a short haircut and avoided talking about it.

When the news broke, everybody took sides. In a mindblowing instance of lack of sympathy or tact, I took Neil’s side (a) because I understood where he was coming from, (b) to demonstrate my masculinity after hanging out with girls all the time, and (c) to distance myself from whatever feelings I might have had for Annie. And none of this actually mattered in the long run because it was an eighth grade romance and who cares. I had only hurt myself.

Which is why I was surprised to see her there. Why I chose this moment to take a mental picture, I don’t know. But one day, all of this would return to haunt me.

Next: On reconnecting, and failure thereof

Smashing Pumpkins – “Zero”

When: March 2004
Where: Home Ec, Barnhart Middle School
Who: Several Classmates
Weather: Clear

Mrs. Hall was a nice old lady, but she let us listen to our music when we did our sewing. This wasn’t always a good thing. Sometimes a song would come on we weren’t sure she’d approve of, and in our embarrassment we would start conversations and keep the volume up until the song was over. Such was the life of the private school student.

Once it was a particularly objectionable song– a soft and cuddly cover of a gangsta rap– and we ended up all yelling at each other. When it was finally over, this song came on, and we could go back to normal.

Next: Muse arrives, aggravates.

No Doubt – “It’s My Life”

When: 18 December 2003
Where: Barnhart Middle School
Who: Several Students
Weather: Cold, overcast

Earlier that month, two of the girls at my school invited me to their combined birthday party. I nearly missed it, I had band practice earlier that day, but I arrived on time in the pouring rain. On the advice of my mother, I’d brought journals from Papyrus. Unfortunately, my good friend and landswoman Annie had also bought them both journals from Papyrus.

But I wasn’t discouraged, because during that same trip to the Santa Anita Mall I’d discovered a bright yellow Lakers cap. My attraction to bright yellow things would cause trouble in the future, but when their friend Alex came in, she asked if she could wear it while she danced. I was smitten, and the great drama that dominated 8th grade began.

A month later, I was playing StarCraft after school while this song was on. It was the last week, and I noticed one of my friends IMing this Alex girl. Much to their protest, I managed to get her screen name, but was to embarrassed to use it. For now.

In this manner, the freewheeling, hard-rocking year of 2003 was already over. 2004 had come, and as vivid and colorful and it might have seemed, the waters would be treacherous.

Next: One nation, united under a single song.

Background Music, 2003
No Doubt, Barnhart

Nirvana – “Sliver”

When: 21 October 2003
Where: Somewhere on King Street, Alexandria, Virginia
Who: Elliot Van Nest and David Paez
Weather: Rain

With all the benefits of going to a private school, I got to go on a class trip to Washington, DC. It was a tradition at our school for 7th-graders to go to Yosemite and 8th-graders to our nation’s capitol, one that had been pre-empted or postponed in recent years by 9/11 and the Beltway Sniper. Hurricane Isabel nearly killed it for us, but we got to go right on time anyway.

Our trip didn’t start in DC, though. First we switched planes in Charlotte, my first taste of the South, thence to Norfolk, where we met up with our regular driver Kurt. The first days were to be spent at Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, and I fell in love with Virginia. It was just so different, and it was old and pretty.

After visiting the battlefield at Yorktown on Tuesday, we pulled through the evening to Alexandria in the pouring rain. While my roommates slept, I couldn’t help but stare out the window and listen to my Nirvana CDs, euphoric from the alien landscape. I wasn’t in the west anymore. I was in America.

Next: Fighting fire with Fire

Rancid – “Time Bomb”

When: 10 October 2003
Where: Crescenta Bowl
Who: Several Classmates
Weather: Warm, dry

As it turned out I was quite good at bowling. Here I was, at the same party, when I heard the birthday boy getting overly focused on the lyrics. First Jed the Fish, now him?

“White shoes, black coat, black hat? Very strange.” Neither he nor I knew the significance of these clothes in third wave ska-punk culture, which we were too young to have been aware of. His birthday was in April anyway.

Next: Journey to the East