May 11, 2009

Band Aid

I was in the marching band in high school.  I actually started playing a musical instrument in 5th grade, for some reason I'm still unsure about, but maybe I thought it would be cool, or as we called it in 1962, "The Bees Knees".  Once I had decided that I wanted to play an instrument, I had to decide which one.  Pianos were too bulky to carry to school, so that was out.  So like any 5th grade boy, I chose the trumpet. But, alas, there were already too many trumpets in the grade school band, so I had the clarinet foisted upon me.  Even at 10 years old, I knew that the clarinet was a bit effeminate, but at least it wasn't as openly gay as a flute.  And besides, I had watched "The Benny Goodman Story" on television, so maybe it wasn't so bad.  I was loaned a clarinet and learned to read music and play.  After a month or so, my parents bought me a plastic Bundy model, which I think they did simply because they didn't like me sucking spit out of a used school clarinet.

I wasn't a real good musician, but I wasn't awful either, so as my band mates dropped out and went on to other things, I continued playing into junior high school, where our most important gig was playing "Pomp & Circumstance" for the graduating 8th graders.  When I became a freshman, I knew I should try to do something to "fit in", and since I wasn't athletically inclined and didn't want to join the chess club (because I couldn't figure that game out for the life of me, and still can't), I decided to stay in band.

To my horror, I was shoved into "Cadet Band", also known as "Loserville".  And for the first time in my life, I did everything in my power to escape.  I whined, wheedled and betrayed others (all the things I would need in later corporate life) and two weeks later, my sinister efforts were rewarded with a seat in "Senior Marching Band", even if it was second-to-last seat in the 3rd Row section (Hah! Someone was still lower than I was!).  Befitting my new status, I lobbied my parents for a new clarinet, and aided by my 5 dollar a week, private music teacher, I shamed them into buying me a 300 dollar (a King's Ransom at that time) Buffet model.

Now, everyone always laughs and makes fun of Marching Band, but let me tell you brothers and sisters, it was fun!  With just a few exceptions (including the assclown Drum Major), we knew we were a bunch of dorks.  I mean, we took it seriously and worked hard when we had to, but it was a good homeroom to have during the four years. Plus, we got cool, dweeby uniforms, which consisted of a green suit coat, green slacks (these doubled for Concert Band season), an overlay with epaulets, spats (SPATS!) and an enormous Shako (look it up) that was so heavy that it always gave you a head and neck ache.

And ... we got to do cool shit!  We went on a bus trip to Bartlesville, OK (where there was some minor Native American trouble), we got to tie up morning rush hour traffic by practicing parade routes down by Fassnight Park, and of course, we got into football games free!  All we had to do was wander around on the field at half-time trying to make formations that spelled out "Go Team", or some other shit that could only be deciphered if you were in an airplane, while we tooted, blatted, honked and pounded our various musical thing-a-ma-jigs to arrangements that vaguely approximated "Proud Mary".

Our band director was a guy named Dan Palin, who fashioned himself a Marine DI, and liked to yell and throw his little directing stick at us. He carried a bull horn that he used to yell at us with on the practice field, and he usually threw that on the ground a lot when he got pissed, which was more often than not.  On stadium rehearsal day, he yelled at us over the PA system, but was unable to toss that in our direction, so instead he made us run laps around the football field when he didn't like something he saw.  I was always running laps because I didn't keep my knees together and my feet at the right angles, which I really couldn't help because I was knock-kneed.  Mr. Palin left after two years and we had a couple of more directors, but I don't remember much about them, except we called one "Bohunk".

Four years went by and I moved on to college.  I was offered a partial scholarship to be in the Marching Band there, but I was going in a different direction then, and band just wasn't cool anymore.

Once in a while, when I'm clearing stuff out of the basement, I'll run across old sheet music that I've saved and, having completely forgotten how to read it, I'll wonder how I ever did it in the first place.

And, like most close relationships in your life that gradually fade, you think back to the good times that it involved and push all of the bad stuff that it entailed to the back burner, and you get this little wistful smile on your face.


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