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Song of the Month #17 - “High School”

album cover(Track #9 on the Home Town CD)

 

                                  Lyrics:  If your web browser does not support the Flash Player* included with the Lyrics, or you are uncomfortable allowing/downloading the plug-in/add-on, you can still listen to this song while you read.  Just go to our Downloads Page and click on the link, “Buy Home Town Songs from Napster”.  Then, click on "High School."  You can listen to it for free (not available outside the USA).

                                                         *Not being a techie, I use the term “Flash Player” loosely.

 

In the fall of 1974, I started teaching English at the local high school in Canandaigua, New York.  Like most young teachers, I entered the job thinking every kid would eat up my pearls of wisdom with great alacrity.  Well, needless to say, I was wrong.  In fact, if I did make the priority list of any kids, it was way down at the bottom of page two or three of their directory.  Before me, of course, came sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, sports, parties, dances, jobs, cars, clothes, etc.  At first, this rejection was very hard to take, but as time moved along it was mitigated by one simple truth.  I really enjoyed being around these kids, and I sensed they enjoyed being around me.  I often found myself deeply engrossed in their horrific and hilarious stories.  Hey, who wouldn’t!  A description of a fight at Sonnenberg (the local park) easily had it all over a lesson on coordinate conjunctions.

 

Despite my intense desire to just hang out and share stories with these kids, I worked as hard as I could at keeping us both on task in the classroom, and while I was not a great teacher, I was a fairly good one.  Tom Brina, a close friend of mine from college, describes me as a great “utility player,” and I thoroughly agree with his assessment.  For those of you who are not into sports, a “utility player” is the guy who fills in for A-Rod or Jeter when they are injured, or runs for Giambi in the late innings after he gets a single.  Tom also describes me as a great guy to have around the clubhouse, another accurate appraisal.  According to Tom, if I were in the locker-room with the Yankees after they were swept by the Red Sox, I would be the guy who could make them double over with laughter.  Therefore, if you understand Tom’s analogies, you will understand my roll as a teacher.  I taught whatever needed to be taught, and I kept the spirits of my kids and colleagues up whenever I possibly could.  I was good, but not great.

 

“High School” could and would not be written by a great teacher, because a great teacher would not experience the events that generated the song.  A great teacher would rarely hear, “I don’t know.  Would you please repeat the question?  I didn’t read the assignment.  I left my note cards at home.  My book is in my locker.  When are we going to read something interesting?  I hate English.  Why do we need vocabulary?  What is a verb?  Why do you have to ruin every story by making us search for the theme?  Why can’t I put on my makeup during class?  When is this class over?”  In addition, a great teacher would seldom hear his or her voice echo from the back wall of a classroom filled with a group of students who looked like a herd of deer caught in the headlights.  Conversely, a good, average or below average teacher experiences these conditions on a daily basis.  As a result of being part of the latter group, I was able to take these details and turn them into a song.

 

One afternoon in the late ‘70s, I was practicing my guitar in my classroom well after the students had gone home for the day.  While I was playing I thought about some of my friends who went to SUNY New Paltz, a college about thirty miles south of my home town in Saugerties, New York.  When they were there, they developed a little ditty that went like this:

“New Paltz, New Paltz, that’s the place for me

New Paltz, New Paltz, that’s where I wanna be

I don’t wanna work, and I don’t wanna study

Just wanna party with my buddies

New Paltz, New Paltz, that’s the place for me.”

Jokingly, I replaced the words New Paltz with the words high school, and I started singing it.  For a laugh, I began to scratch out some verses to go along with this corny little chorus, and in no time, I created five verses.  They reflected comments I had heard kids make about their classes.  In jest, I played this stupid little song for my classes a few days later, and it was a hit.  In fact, most of them sang along with the chorus, a behavior rarely demonstrated by most adolescents.

 

“High School” is pure Americana.  It is a country folk song that brings a smile to your face and easily elicits a chuckle or two as you listen.  While the lyrics are not profound, they are unforgettable.  Lightheartedly, they poke fun at the high school scene, a place that evokes both good and bad memories for nearly everyone.  With a guitar, a banjo, a bass, drums, backup harmonies, and a variety of sound effects, John and Joe Dady help me in creating a healthy dose of irony in this humorous presentation.  While not coming close to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” it moves along in a similar style.  Hope you have time to check it out!  I like it, and I hope you do, too.

 

When I recorded the song, I did not dedicate it to any one person or group for one simple reason.  I did not want to insult anyone by honoring them with such a commonplace piece of writing.  However, although it is not a great song, it’s one many still want to hear after all these years.  It’s the one you find yourself humming for days after you hear it.  So, I still keep it in the repertoire.  In reflection, I suppose I should have dedicated the song to the hundreds of kids who made it happen.  Their flippant, witty, and sometimes painful comments were the catalyst for its development.  Today, even though three decades have past, I am still subject to their frivolity and humor when I meet them in the local taverns around Canandaigua.  But, things are different now.  I no longer have to try to get them to do something.  I can just sit and enjoy their stories.  They have become the family Siobhan and I never had, and we cherish the time we spend with them.

 

I recorded this song in 1993 at The Garage, a little studio in Rochester, New York.  The Garage, as I have told you before, is owned and operated by John and Joe Dady, two quintessential musicians.  When you record with them, you can always count on great coffee, good stories, and an aching stomach from laughing.  I highly recommend John and Joe if you are interested in recording.  Also, The Dady Brothers, John and Joe’s group, have many recordings of their own, and they tour the United States and Ireland.  Check them out on the web at www.dadybros.com.

 

Well, there you have it.  I’ll have another song of the month for you next month.  If you have any comments or suggestions, please pass them on to me.  This is a work in progress, and I am always looking for new ways to improve it.

 

 

(E-Mailed 8/18/08)

 

 

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