Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chardon, Portishead, and the Loss of Innocence

Yesterday, a third teenager died as a result of the school shooting in Chardon, Ohio. My best friend, and musical guru, John, grew up in Chardon and graduated from CHS. He knows the families of two of the deceased students. He was yelled at when he wore his ratty, red hoodie to work yesterday because it was the only red item he had available to wear in solidarity with his hometown. Growing up on the West Side of Cleveland, I spent many weekends and summer days in Chardon, having sleepovers at John's. I've been to CHS and other schools in the Chardon system; I can remember going to a Fall Festival at the Middle School when I couldn't have been more than 10 years old.

John was the first person to teach me that there was more to music than what was playing on Jammin' 92 or Q104 (you don't even have to be from Cleveland to guess the music coming from those stations in the mid-'90s). Dookie by Green Day and Smash by The Offspring were contraband that I could only hear by borrowing the cassettes from John: music featuring the "F-word" was not allowed in my house, and would clearly have lead me to juvenile delinquency. To me, those tapes might as well have come from another planet; I was scandalized. I probably wore out the tape during the avalanche of swear words that pours out during The Offspring's "Bad Habit," rewinding that part over and over. The Rugburns, Belly, The Violent Femmes, They Might Be Giants, and Ween were all introduced to me by John in those early years of musical discovery.

Back then, there was no such thing as Columbine. School shootings in a quiet town didn't happen. When I went to Chardon the only concerns I had were how to meet girls in a rural town with no sidewalks, not getting caught listening to inappropriate music, and not getting beat up as we sat on the side of the road giving the finger to passing cars. When I put on the right music, I'm back there, listening to the big, old cassette player in John's room, twin beds with nets full of stuffed animals hanging overhead, whispering the things 12 year-old boys whisper to their best friends... at least until Aunt Sue got fed up with the noise and had to come in and sleep in our room so we would shut up.

Unfortunately, and incredibly, none of the bands listed above show up in the 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die (with the exception of Green Day, whose American Idiot somehow trumped Dookie). I do remember being introduced to Portishead, and other "trip-hop" groups, though, by John. 

Artist: Portishead
Album: Dummy
Recording #30ish
Stream the album here

I have a very strong connection with singer Beth Gibbons' voice and John, and vicariously, Chardon. Although Portishead didn't grow on me like most of the other music John opened me up to, I have a strong emotional connection to this album. The sadness in Gibbons' voice and the melancholic way the music slurs along seem to capture the way this tragic event has affected me.

I think of the music of Portishead as fingerpainting, and Gibbons' voice is a paintbrush; not a particularly fine paintbrush, but one that can bring some detail to the hazy atmosphere created by the music. This is definitely a mood album, and in the right circumstances it has a very somber feel to it. I can't go back. I can't be a kid again, naive to the ills of this world. And worse still, now I have a kid that I have to protect from those ills. And it's not just the malicious acts, like kidnappings and school shootings and war: he could be taken away from me by the thoughtless acts of others, or even just by chance. How can we ever fully protect our children? It's an impossible task and one that every parent throws their full effort into. 

Portishead's song "Roads," in particular, with its bleakness, seems to sum it up: "From this moment/How can it feel/This wrong." In fact, I have just hit repeat on the song for the fourth time. I can't even protect my son's childhood. He will go to school where they do "Lockdown" drills, check IDs, maybe even use metal detectors. He will not have the chance at ignorant bliss I enjoyed. Social media will expose him at breakneck speed to the evils of this world, even if we keep the TV turned off at home. We want our kids to be safe, to "Just say no," not to talk to strangers, and at the same time we want them to be kids. To have fun, to play with abandon, to sit on the side of the road and give the finger to the pickup trucks (ok, maybe we don't want them to do that, but we don't want them to worry that someone is gonna pull out a gun because of it. Although, maybe someone will. And there again is the dilemma). Actually, now that I think about it, "Bad Habit" was about a guy with road rage and a gun. Maybe that was the gift my parents gave me when they were screening my music: protecting my simple view of a safe world.

All I can do is try to carry the load of worry so my son won't have to. I have sacrificed my innocence and my ignorance so that I can have the suspicious mind of a full-time bodyguard, a Superman who is hopelessly inept when it comes to the job of protecting those he loves. And when I need a mental break, I can always put on some music from the mid-'90s and be transported to those simpler times, when my own parents carried that mental load and I lived my life without fear. 

My heart goes out to the Chardon community, and especially those who have lost a child. It's unimaginable and my prayers go out to you.

Buy Dummy on Amazon.
Read Moon's entry here.

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