I went to the FAME school. The commute sucked. Most of the people I met there didn’t live near me and during that period I didn’t have too many friends that I hung out with outside of school, and never dated anyone from there either. I had friends in school and at programs I did outside of school. But I didn’t really open up to them, with my fears, my secrets (my god, I was a virgin!). Mostly they were drummers, with whom I felt a bond. But I thought everyone else was more confident than I was. I regret that I was so damned shy and always wished I had been a little bit more full of myself (I’d have gotten laid too). I didn’t think the music program was all that great (though the principal would walk in to our rehearsals with people in tow to show off our out-of-tune selves). We had a jazz program that was awesome, the reason I wanted to go there, but I never got to be a part of it. The reasons are varied, mostly because I didn’t try. The top orchestra conflicted with the Junior Jazz band and I don’t know why I would have preferred the orchestra having no aspirations whatsoever to be a classical musician. The fact that neighbors complained and effectively kept me from practicing at home kept confidence in my skills low too, though I practiced when I could. When I chose the High School of Music and Art over the High School of Performing Arts (the other branch of the same school that was technically the one the movie FAME was about) where I had auditioned for Drama, it was a choice that meant that I wanted to be a musician. By the time I graduated, I decided to give it up.
So it was all a waste, right?
I visited NY recently to see a concert put on by 20 years of alumni, honoring the teacher who headed up the Jazz program I wasn’t a part of. But he also taught Jazz appreciation, a class I audited during my lunch hour, and conducted the All City High School Band, which I was a part of. He was a percussionist, so we drummers tended to bond with Justin Dicioccio.
I saw a few of my old school mates, who I had not seen in over 30 years, many of whom went on to be professional musicians, and we reminisced. And after feeling regret for 30 years I realized, talking to these old friends, that we had a lot of fun. One guy, someone I knew, but don’t remember ever having a real personal conversation with, told me that he remembered me being a really funny guy. I told him that I didn’t appreciated that about myself at the time. And that’s basically it. I didn’t appreciate my strengths at the time (or for awhile afterwards). We had fun hanging out in the percussion section, throwing those peanut M&Ms that the french club would sell us into the air and catching them in our mouths, eating lunch, as early as third period, because we took too many music electives to go to lunch (I can’t remember what the lunch room looked like). If or when I had a lunch period, I would spend it practicing in an empty room on a pad placed on a table, to music from my Sony Walkman. We would hang out in the back of Orchestra 8 near the windows of the “Castle on the hill” that was our school (an incredible building), popping M&Ms, while waiting to hit the triangle just once after which we’d wait another 150 measures for our next play.
It wasn’t much, musically, but we were introduced to some good music, even if we didn’t execute it well, and we joked around, and we had fun.
Is it just what we choose to remember that dictates our outlook on life?
Why don’t I say, “I went to the Fame school,” with pride, like it meant I was somebody? It does. Instead I think I wasn’t anybody, a failure. I met people there that opened other doors too. I played after school for the Dance theatre of Harlem’s percussion ensemble. I was the only white guy, which itself was an amazing experience. I learned to play hand drums, and I played professionally with them at City Center and missed school to go with them to DC on tour. I hung out with one of the dancers while in DC, on valentines day. My roomate had arranged it (he hung out with her roomate). I was really too shy to make something of that. But I remember still to this day a conversation we had, in which I told her that I practiced because I sucked. I though it was the right attitude, to think I sucked in order to motivate myself to get better. And she said that’s not why she practiced. She practiced because she “wanted to be the best.”
I was blown away by that and still am. I remember thinking “that must feel so much better.” It has taken me a long time to work towards that, to be conceited, if you will, at least enough to think that I can still surprise someone. If there’s no other reason to look at it that way, then it has to be good enough that it feels better.
You know, I might not have made the most of my life. I may not have fulfilled the potential I always had, but life isn’t over either and I have a lot going for me, a smart, loving supportive wife and three kids. And maybe I quit drums after high school was over, but not really, because I’m playing again, and I can still point to those early years and say, “I did that.” Someone once told me that used to doesn’t count anymore. But it does, sure it does. It’s about seeing yourself realistically, not negatively, not over confidently either, but that’s not my problem. It’s about getting to know people, and letting them get to know you as if you are not ashamed, but rather proud of who you are.
You know how sometimes you take a trip and it’s tiring and hard work and you are miserable the whole time, and then you finally get back, and you need a vacation from your vacation, but then you look at the pictures and you think it was great. In your memory you remember the good stuff. Is that fake? Do you pursue joy just for the memories? Is my negative attitude more realistic, or are there always good times and bad, and can we just forget the bad, and turn the good into who we are? The good exists, does it not? And if not, who the fuck cares? It feels better to think that it does.