Forget What Sucked

I went to the FAME school. You know, the movie? The TV series? The remake? Too young to know what I’m talking about? 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 was friendly with people, 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 believed their lies.

I regret that I was so shy and have always wished I had been more full of myself (Maybe I’d have gotten laid too). I didn’t think the music program was all that great, though principal Klein 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 thought to be awesome, the reason I wanted to go there, but I never got to be a part of it, 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 low, though I practiced when I could. When I chose the High School of Music and Art over the High School of Performing Arts which was the other branch of the same school, technically the one the movie FAME was about, I also chose music over Drama, what I was admitted there for. 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. 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 remembered, talking to these old friends, that we had a lot of fun. One guy, who I 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. But 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 original Sony Walkman. We would hang out in the back near the windows of this “Castle on the hill,” popping those M&Ms, counting measures to hit the triangle just once after which we’d wait another 150 for the next note of some kind or another. And we shared these tasks.

The castle on the hill

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 a lot.

Why don’t I say, “I went to the Fame school,” with pride, like it meant something. Actually it impresses people who didn’t go there.

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 a broadening experience. I learned to play hand drums, and I played professionally 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 roommate had arranged it (he hung out with her roommate). 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 that I sucked in order to push myself to get better. And she told me, that’s not why she practiced. She practiced because she wanted to be the best.

I remember thinking “that must feel so much better.”  What if you had a goal of greatness that you could believe in? If there’s no other reason to see it that way, then it has to be enough that it feels better. But it also must be more effective. 

I might not have made the most of my life. I may not have fulfilled the potential I had, but life isn’t over either. Someone once told me that used to doesn’t count anymore. But it does.  What you started once is something you can finish, Who you were is what you can be. How you looked at things, can still be looked at another way.

You know how sometimes you take a trip and it’s tiring and hard work and you are miserable, and then you finally get back, and you need a vacation from your vacation. Then you look at the pictures and everyone is smiling, and you think it was great. Is that fake? 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? It feels better.

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