Every so often I venture forth from my cubicle and encounter the wider world. I emerge, blinking in the unaccustomed brilliance of natural light (to call it “sunlight” would be a little too optimistic in central Ohio), and make my way to educational institutions, usually to speak about music. That’s happened twice recently, once at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio and once at Mosaic High School in downtown Columbus, Ohio. I always enjoy this. As best I can tell, the kids enjoy it, too, although they may just be feigning interest so they can get a good grade on the “What I Thought of the Guest Speaker” paper they have to write when I leave.
OU was a surreal time. I spent four of the best and worst years of my life in Athens, Ohio, and eventually matriculated, my worthless Creative Writing degree in hand. My youngest daughter goes to school there now. So it was a bit weird showing up at Scripps Hall, the journalism school, a place where I spent exactly 0 hours, and speaking to the would-be music journalists about a lucrative future in music journalism. I was joined by Columbus buddies Joel Oliphint and Dana Stewart, who write about music for local rags, and a guy named Jeff, who covers the music scene in Cleveland.
Our panel discussion was fun, freewheeling, and uninhibited. I still don’t think the kids actually believe that they will be working at Starbucks after they graduate. That’s okay. I wouldn’t have believed it at twenty-one, either. Twenty-three, maybe. That’s “Venti,” pronounced “Venty.” Remember the word, kids.
It was a fun social time. I got to hang out with my daughter Rachel. I got to hang out with Leo DeLuca, drummer and corporate Svengali for the wondrous Athens band Southeast Engine. I got to hang out with Chris Pyle, who runs Donkey, the best coffeehouse in the U.S. At Donkey they just say “Large.” I like it better that way. I got to chat with the owners of Haffa’s Records, which was there in Athens back in the Ford and Carter administration days, and which is still there. It was great to spend time with Joel and Dana, and with Joel’s brother Jared.
Then the assembled four music journalists got to judge a Battle of the Bands. A Battle of the Bands? Really? Apparently so, because the aspiring music journalists corralled us all into the Union Bar to listen to four bands. One was a high school version of Fugazi. The other three were decent to good, for different reasons. And eventually we picked a winner, resulting in crushing disappointment that turned into surly booing on the part of the fans of one of the bands that didn’t win. Remind me not to participate in a Battle of the Bands again if the bizarre notion ever enters my head. To the fans of that losing band: It’s okay. It had a good beat. You could dance to it. I’d give it an 82.
Mosaic High School, a week later, was a more concentrated version of Athens. I met high school English teacher Steve Shapiro, who plays in a rock ‘n roll band and reads Paste. That was great fun. I talked with an insanely bright group of high school juniors and seniors. I played some songs and talked about them. I read something I had written. I fielded questions. I had kids reviewing the contents of my iPod, trying to determine if I actually knew what I was talking about. I had aspiring songwriters and band members ask me to listen to their material. I talked to a poor, deluded young woman who wants to be a music critic. Perhaps I’ll see her down the line in Athens. It was a blast.
The kids are alright. I actually hold them in great affection, even the ones who organize Battle of the Bands contests. I’m thankful to be able to venture out occasionally.