Sometime in 1986, a lady named Beth walked into the rathole where I went to grade school. Beth worked at the rathole where I would later attend high school. She came that day to tell the children in 6th, 7th and 8th grade at St. George Roman Catholic School about something called junior band. Junior Band was a program run by the local all-boys high school, Northeast Catholic. All of these places were located in a rathole called Philadelphia.
Now that I’m thinking about this and writing it down, I’m already confused. The purpose of junior band was to ferret out the kids that might have some musical talent and give them discount music lessons so that they might one day play in (and thereby glorify the holy name of) the marching band (and therefore the football team) of North Catholic. But, since North (as it was always shortened to) was all boys, did they not invite the girls to join junior band too? I’m having trouble already with this one fucking detail.
Anyway, whatever. What I do remember, was that Beth had nice legs. I remember thinking she was kind of pretty, but that her legs were really lovely. I stared at them and focused on them and got lost daydreaming about where they led as she reached into a hard case and pulled out a trombone. She told us about it’s various attributes as a member of the brass family, about how it was the only member of the brass family that you could slide up and down on. Then she licked her lips and put her mouth on the trombone and blew a few beautiful notes that echoed throughout the dingy basement.
I had an erection.
One by one, Beth passed through the various instruments that could be learned in Junior Band. I remember thinking the trumpet was a tart little bitch of a horn. Short, sharp, and shocking, it’s nasty tone echoing off the dark gray walls of the desolate St. George basement, a place that during my 8 years in that dickhead place served as a lunch room, assembly area, movie theater, coat room, immunization clinic, nurses station, hopscotch field, gymnasium, halloween time scare house, and whatever else they needed it for. It clanged loudly for some reason having to do with the radiator system. The pipes were wrapped in asbestos. I was amazed that anyone could make enough notes to play a song on that bitchy little horn with it’s 3 shitty buttons, or valves as I later found out they are pretentiously called. I didn’t yet know about Miles Davis and Chet Baker, so I thought the trumpet sucked. Still Beth played it with grace and skill.
Next was the clarinet. I had issues with it as well. It reminded me of a black dick. Haha, just kiddin.
It reminded me of a licorice stick. These days, I like the sound of the clarinet plenty, but back then, I couldn’t relate. It’s tone was woody and corny to me. It was a woodwind, Beth told us, as if that had some kind of meaning. It had a reed, she said. Like any of us knew what a fucking reed was.
Let me stop for a moment to talk about something that this brings up. My whole life this has driven me fucking nuts. CONTEXT goddamn it! Every fucking teacher I have EVER had has been PISS POOR at establishing any kind of CONTEXT! A reed? what the fuck is a reed? You can’t educate people by talking about things as if the people you are talking to already know what you are talking about! How fucking hard is that to grasp as a concept? Yet over and over that seems to be the way it works How about telling me that a reed is a tall, slender-leaved plant of the grass family that grows in water or on marshy ground. and that out of those plants you can shave off a slice and dry it out to make these little popsicle stick looking things that vibrate a certain way?! While you’re at it give me a heads up that you’ll be teaching me algebra in a couple of years so you can smoke out the abstract thinkers in the group and show them how to bullshit around finding missing values and graph them. I’m missing plenty of values, motherfucker. But no, It’s just, “this is a woodwind ’cause it has a reed” and we all nod like idiots as if we know what everything is.
At that point, Beth got to what would end up being my instrument, the alto saxophone. It was also a woodwind, even though it was made out of brass, she said. Again with the moronic nodding from all of us, like that made some kind of sense. Here’s why I think the sax appealed to me: I knew about the sax. Nick Rhodes played the sax in the video for Rio. The G.E. Smith looking dude in the Modern Love video played the fuckin sax. Some jerk in sunglasses was always playin the sax somewhere under a streetlamp. Huey Lewis had a sax player that, like him, wanted a new drug. They may have both been woodwinds, but nobody was playin the fuckin clarinet on Friday Night Videos. When Beth licked that reed, and blasted a few soulful(?) notes, I wanted to cum, even though I didn’t know what that was yet.
I think she might have had a snare drum there with her and some other marching band drums that she demonstrated for us, but she had me with that sax. If she had a full drum kit set up and played a wicked beat, it might have all gone differently for me, and I’m sure she could have. Beth’s musical prowess seemed to have no limits. But she didn’t. It was all too obvious that the drums were in service of marching, of walking down the street in a bad hat with a drum strapped to you playing for the glory of turkey day, or worse, as de-facto cheerleader, on a football field, banging out rhythms to get the quasi military, latent homoerotic football heads all juiced up. No thanks.
Here’s the thing about me. I’m no joiner! I’m not gonna join anything. I am now and have always been a one-off. there’s only one of me and I’m not a member of anything. I had never played on any sports team or anything like that. My parents were countercultural, so it was cool with them for me to be an outsider. But Beth had me with that sax. For the first time in my life, my desire for something outweighed my instinct to stay outside the walls. I took the form home and asked my folks if I could join junior band and take sax lessons.