Installment #1:  John P. Strohm, Jenn Halter Prenda, Karen Balcom

We all have memories of high school that are inexorably tied to music, right?  (Hey, I’m pretty sure about this one–wrote an entire book based on that idea.)  So, I’m starting a new feature on the blog, five questions about music and high school, answered by anyone who wants to take part.  I’ll be posting these in blocks of three.  Let me know if you want to take a stab at it or if you know someone who should take part.  Just send me an e-mail at karen [at] karenbalcom [dot] com.  And since I’m going to be a good sport, I answered the questions in this first installment.  Have fun!

John P. Strohm

Bloomington High School South, Bloomington, IN, Class of 1985, Currently:  musician, entertainment lawyer

Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school: TV Party by Black Flag.  When I first got into the punk scene in my town, there weren’t any all-ages shows or other organized events.  We had parties.  I started going to punk parties when I was in ninth grade.  The parties were thrown by older kids – juniors or seniors in high school – but they were mostly in my neighborhood so I could walk there on my own.  Usually I’d go without my parents’ permission, but my older brother was usually around to rat me out.  Nevertheless, these parties were so much fun I’d have risked being grounded forever.

I remember hearing Black Flag’s Damaged album at one of these parties.  I picked it from a dozen or so LPs scattered around the floor.  I’d heard of the group, but I’d never heard their music.  The first song I played was TV Party.  “We’re gonna have a TV party tonight…ALRIGHT!”  When I hear that now, it’s almost as if I can smell the spilled beer – it’s transporting.  It’s not that it’s a particularly good song; there are plenty of punk songs I like better…plenty of Black Flag songs I like better.  But that song just works that particular magic in my brain, no matter how many times I hear it.  I can feel the excitement of being young and finally finding my place in the world, my people.  It brings back so many amazing memories.

Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) from high school: I have a Minutemen T-shirt I had in high school, but that’s about it.  I’m lousy about keeping things from those days.  My favorite post-high school memento I have is the test pressing from the first Blake Babies album.  Holding that in my hands for the first time was such a thrill.

Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: U2.  I don’t so much hate U2 now, though I never really caught the bug.  But there was this guy named Oly in my high school who I thought was a total asshole.  And he liked U2, so I associated them with Oly.  Also U2 seemed so self-important and humorless.  I loved REM, but for some reason I felt like U2 was the anti-REM.  I can kind of see that now.

Best high school make-out song: One of the first dates I went on with my first girlfriend (Freda, we were together 8 years) was to the movie Valley Girl.  We both loved that song I Melt With You by Modern English.  It was obscure back then – didn’t become a “hit” until years later.  That sort of became “our song,” and we’d listen to it often when we managed to find time to be alone.  That did the trick.  The first time I made out with a girl – summer before 8th grade, 1980, was to “Time” by Alan Parsons Project.

Most memorable show or concert you saw in high school: I almost exclusively went to punk shows in high school, with the odd exception (lots of Police shows early on, Psychedelic Furs, Stray Cats, Go-gos, etc.).  We used to have these punk/hardcore shows in rented rooms – an empty loft above the Salvation Army store, an unused church in Indianapolis, the old library in Bloomington (the unused building across the street from the new library, built in the mid-70s).  But although we had national touring acts, the same one or maybe two hundred kids showed up every time.  You’d see a little polite slam-dancing, lots of bro activity.  But it wasn’t really violent.

While visiting schools in D.C. during my senior year (late 1984), I went to see a show at this place called the Wilson Center.  Government Issue and Marginal Man, a couple others.  I swear there were 800 kids there, and they were going berserk.  I associated D.C. with straight edge, but many of these kids were drinking and getting high.  As soon as the first band came on, kids started stage-diving, one after the other – a dozen for every one-minute song – into this massive pit.  I stood along the sidelines for the first hour or so, finding my courage.  Then I totally went for it – jumping in the pit and stage diving during the Government Issue set.  It was a huge rush.  Strangely, that was one of the last hardcore shows I ever went to.  After that night, I’d sort of had enough.  But man that was fun.

Jenn Halter Prenda

Kings Mountain High School, Kings Mountain, NC, Class of 1993, Currently: Mommin’, Marketing and Advertising

Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school: Yes, 
Pearl Jam, Matthew Sweet, Peter Gabriel, haha the Black Crowes (Shake)

Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) from high school: gosh I have no idea, I didn’t save much music wise from then…I have a Yes poster…I’m sure there’s others but nothing stands out

Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: Barenaked Ladies or maybe Sugar Ray

Best high school make-out song: In Your Eyes (Peter G) seems about right

Most memorable show or concert you saw in high school: The only 2 shows I saw live while in HS were Yes (10th grade) and Lollapalooza w/Alice in Chains, Arrested Dev….(12th)

Karen Balcom

Park High School, Cottage Grove, MN, Class of 1986, Currently: writing, being mom

Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school:  I would have to say U2, anything off of the Unforgettable Fire.  I used to go to school early every morning my Junior year, and I would sit on the floor in front of my locker, with my Walkman, and listen to that tape over and over.  I was not a very happy camper that year, not completely sure why, and that music left me suitably depressed and feeling like there was good reason for it.

Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) in high school: The thing I wish I still owned more than anything is my black Suburbs t-shirt (lost in the fire).  One of my fave Minneapolis bands, and such a cool shirt.  That was the first band I would regularly go into “the pit” for—mostly because there were lots of cute guys in said pit, but they weren’t dangerous like they were at the “real” punk shows.

Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: Everybody in my school loved REO Speedwagon and they made me feel like throwing up.  I can’t even look at dude from REO without feeling sick.  My friends and I used to call them Oreo Chuckwagon.

Best high school make-out song: Hmmmm…”Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” by the Smiths (although I suppose “Reel Around the Fountain” is more appropriate…fifteen minutes with you, I wouldn’t say no…) or “Girls on Film” by Duran Duran, but these would only be if I could go back and orchestrate the circumstances.  I don’t remember any good music and I certainly don’t remember being given the option of picking something to listen to.

Best show or concert you saw in high school: Violent Femmes at First Avenue with my BFF Jane.  She and I were so into it—dancing around like crazy and everyone else was so lame.  At least it felt that way.  Some guy flicked a cigarette ash and it went in Jane’s shoe.  I remember the day Jane bought the first album, her mother was absolutely horrified by the lyrics.  I think she actually stormed out of the room crying or maybe that’s my overly-dramatic adolescent memory.

I read an article about a woman who was shocked when she looked at her husband’s  iPod while he was in the shower.  Sounds innocent enough, but she found something, or someone, that disturbed her, deeply–Debbie Boone.  It took her weeks to get over it; her husband’s manly mojo was erased by “You Light Up My Life”.  Personally, I would’ve laughed my ass off if I found Debbie Boone on Steve’s iPod, so, I was wondering–what’s the most embarrassing song on your iPod?

I have spent the last month on the emotional tilt-a-whirl of querying literary agents.  I would say rollercoaster, but that’s way too linear.  The tilt-a-whirl, with its undulating vortex of disorientation is a much better analogy.

It’s a process, I suppose I could say that it’s flawed, but I don’t have a suggestion as to how to improve it.  It’s all about who you know, just like in music, and since that’s a world I’m highly acquainted with, I understand why things are the way they are.

As a novelist, you’re expected to write a query letter, which will sell your story to an agent, make them want to read it, and hopefully represent you.  Those three paragraphs end up being the measure of your work, just like the first 15 seconds of an unsigned band’s demo.  I wish I could take back every snide comment I ever made about unsigned bands.  I’m sure this is all coming back to me somehow…

I’m supposed to get a bunch of rejections.  Rejections are good.  It’s one step closer to finding the right fit, a move toward the ultimate reward, which I guess is supposed to be publication.  I still feel like writing the book was the ultimate reward—all of this other stuff is what you do when you’re a grown-up and you’ve put so much hard work into something.  I’ve already started writing the new ultimate reward, as a means of keeping my head together during the query process.  I’m happy to say that’s it’s mostly working.

I’m thinking that I will design some sort of rejection badge, first for myself, and then for my fellow writers who are going through the same process.  We can all get a sash (brown, of course) and I will sew the rejection badge on everyone’s sash (because I am good at sewing) and we can wear them in public, as a sign of being a real writer.  Real writers get rejected.  Here’s to being a real writer…

Hubby Steve and I went to see the Black Crowes last week—Steve and the band have been tight since the late 80s and I came into the fold a few years later.  We all stood around backstage, looking at each other, and somebody said, “How in the hell did this happen?”  We’re all forty.  Or older.  I don’t feel forty.  I don’t even think I feel thirty.  People my age don’t drive around in their car listening to Superchunk, singing at the top of their lungs.  But wait…those guys are getting old too (notice I used the word getting…I don’t want to bruise any feelings, especially not Jim’s…and have you heard the new record?  It’s awesome!).  I guess music keeps us young, because my mom friends and I were shocked when we figured out how old Rick Springfield is.  Sorry, Rick—you still look great, babe.

I’ve been trying to decide when a person becomes old.  We don’t want to describe ourselves as being old, although sometimes it’s fun, just to have someone say, “Oh, no.  You’re not old.”  Forty was the new thirty a few years ago.  Now fifty is the new thirty.  How about if we just come up with a new system?  Like, you’re old when you can’t wear a tube top anymore.  Oh, wait, that ship sailed a while ago.

Rob Sheffield is probably a genius.  That’s no reflection on him that he’s only probably one, it’s just that I’m not qualified to say who is and who isn’t.  What I can say, with certainty, is the reason why I think he’s probably a genius.

I loved his latest book, “Talking to Girls About Duran Duran”, because Rob manages to conjure the exact way it felt to be a teenager in the 80s.  Some might think that would only take a mention of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and a Rubik’s Cube, but that’s not it at all.  Rob was a guy growing up on the east coast and I was a girl growing up in the Midwest, and yet he perfectly captures the essence of adolescent experiences during the age of day-glo and rubber bracelets.

When he talks about wishing he could have been the one male member of the Go Go’s, I totally related.  Of course, there could be a male member of the Go Go’s and of course, Jane Wiedlin would fall in love with him.  I used to wish that I would be called up on stage to replace a suddenly ill Belinda Carlisle so that I could be the lead singer.  A boy once told me at a Suburbs show (Mpls band, for those of you who don’t know) that I looked like Belinda Carlisle.  I was sure that meant he was in love with me.  I’ve since wondered if that was 80s boy code for “you’re a tad pudgy”.

I annoyed everyone in the house when I read Sheffield’s description of Journey’s “Separate Ways” video—I was laughing too hard to even explain it.  The chapter about being the ice cream man is wonderful and I couldn’t help but be touched by the chapter about The Replacements.  There are also some tender moments—enough to make you cry, especially the parts about his grandfather.

Highly recommended—won’t make you cringe over all of the stupid things we did or the clothes we wore.  Quite to the contrary, it will make you realize that you were lucky if you grew up in the 80s.

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