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Chasing The American Dream

November 23, 2005


“A long, long time ago. I can still remember how that music used to make me smile…”
Opening lyrics to the song, American Pie, by Don McLean.

He didn’t act like a typical High School English teacher. Oh sure, he was smart, made us translate Shakespearean sonnets, made us learn and spell words we couldn’t even pronounce, made us read English lit classics like David Copperfield, and taught us the utterly worthless theories of Transformational Grammar. And believe me; I struggled to keep up with the Salutatorians and Valedictorians in that 11th grade Honors English class. But I had one advantage in that class.

It’s what set Walt Baxter apart from any teacher I’ve ever had. His love for music history and his willingness to teach us about it up close and personal. Mr. Baxter was definitely a baby boomer, a member of the 60s generation. These amazing roots he brought to class. “They,” the brainiacs, probably thought the subject matter was boring and couldn’t wait to breakdown a sentence into S= NP+VP TREL, TDEL, & TNM or whatever the hell those Transformational Grammar formulas were.

In 1979, I was 17 years old. Most kids were thrilled with the current bands at that time like Kansas, Boston, Foreigner, Journey, The Cars, etc. Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that classic rock genre, but I was more a student of the music that inspired those bands. I loved the 60s. I loved how The Beatles transformed music into a completely new direction. I loved the British Invasion, the folk movement, the anti-war and protest movements, the birth of The Stones, The Doors, Bob Dylan, and Simon & Garfunkel. Sans my best friend, the rest of the class had not much of a clue with this early music. That is, until Mr. Baxter taught them.

He brought in records to play. Yes, those black circular things they used to call albums or LPs. He brought in Beatles, Byrds, Simon and Garfunkel. I was totally in my element. His teachings were, for me, affirmations of what I already knew about rock history. And to think, we were actually tested on this stuff. Like I said, it was my time to shine for a change. My A’s on the music stuff offset my C’s in sonnets and T-Grammar. I have a lot of glorious memories of Mr. Baxter, but two stick out in my mind.

The first was spending two weeks in class breaking down my favorite song, American Pie. I didn’t need to take notes. I already knew the song was inspired by the horrible plane crash with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson (Big Bopper) aboard. I knew the hidden innuendos about Bob Dylan, the Stones, Janis Joplin, and The Beatles. But I never thought I’d hear about such things in, of all places, a High School English class. Mr. Baxter knew his stuff. As he played the song, he told us the meanings and the significance of practically every line. Acing these tests was a given. Getting higher test scores than Derede Arthur was unheard of.

But my greatest memory was when Mr. Baxter decided to put a concert on for us. True. We spent one afternoon in the school auditorium listening to him play his acoustic guitar and sing these wonderful songs of the 60s and early 70s. He sang us Dylan, Beatles, Stones, and Simon & Garfunkel. He even had a soprano singer come in and sing the Canticle part of Scarborough Fair. It was amazing. I so appreciated what he was doing for us. Most kids couldn’t give a crap. They were just grateful for time away from class, talking and not paying attention. I even wonder if anyone would even remember Mr. Baxter’s concert. I guess it matters none.

What does matter is the indelible memory my favorite teacher left on me some 26 years ago. Memories as clear today as they were then. Mr. Baxter, wherever you are, thanks so much man. High School sucked, but I recognized then and I recognize now just how lucky we all were to have you for Honors English class. . I wrote my college English term paper on “American Pie,” and I’m writing about you now. I still have a long way to go to make us even.

November 22, 2005


Honestly. I cannot believe I’ve been blogging here for a year now. I don’t think a soul read this when I wrote it a year ago. Since then, I’ve made countless friends and a few enemies. There are so many of you to thank. This isn’t an Oscar speech, but I’d like to thank my early readers for sticking with me for a year. You guys know who you are. You started something truly special. Thanks to all of you who read this blog; it has become a really nice community. (I know amp is nauseated right now with this sappiness, but what the heck).

A lot has changed in a year. I certainly have. This medium has given me the voice to air my random thoughts and cleanse my crazy mind. I’ve also gotten a chance to read and learn who you guys are, too. You’re all so talented in your own right so keep writing. I hope next year at this time, I can report that I have a book deal. I can’t even imagine how great that would feel.

November 17, 2005


Voila! An American Dream.
Yeah, we can travel, girl, without any means.
When it's as easy as closing your eyes
And dream Jamaica is a big neon sign.
Just think Jamaican in the moonlight.
Sandy beaches, drinking rum every night.
We got no money, mama, but we can go;
We'll split the difference, go to Coconut Grove.

Lyrics by The Dirt Band from the song, American Dream

It’s official. It’s sad. It’s time. I’m moving out of Plantation. The three hours of commuting each day is too much. I found a place about a five minute walk from work. As the song so eerily states, the American Dream is indeed moving to Coconut Grove. It’s about 40 miles Southeast of Plantation near downtown Miami. I’m not real happy about having to move, but I must retain my sanity. Driving the South Florida highways in rush hour traffic is not the way to retain one’s sanity. I may not be living here, but it will forever be a part of me. Can’t change the name now, right? I mean what else would you call me? Coconut? CG? The artist formerly known as Plantation? I think I’ll just stick with Plantation. I’ll miss living here, but I’m looking at it this way. My days just got three hours longer.

November 16, 2005


I think I may have just wasted one month out of my life. For the past four weeks, I think I made a valiant effort at studying for this lousy exam. 75%. Easy enough, right? That’s all I need to pass. I dunno, three out of four is harder than one would think. There were 125 multiple-choice questions. We were given 3 ½ hours, but I didn’t’ want to spend more than 45 or 50 seconds per question. I just didn’t want to mull over each question going back and forth changing my mind. The test started at 8:30 so I wanted to be done by no later than 10:15.

I think I got off to a good start, but as I turned to page 8 for question 39, I realized my brain had already had it. It was only 9:15 and I wasn’t even a third of the way. I was tired and bored. Not a good sign. Now, instead of this being an exam, it was almost like a marathon to me. I wondered how the heck I was gonna be able to answer another 80 some-odd questions. I really hit a dry spell in the middle. None of the material was familiar and I felt the word, “pass,” flying out the window. I was hoping to get on a hot streak and get about 10 or 15 in a row that I knew. The streak never came, and I became disinterested. I barely even read those really long questions. I tried to buckle down and get the last 10 right, but couldn’t do it. Too many unfamiliar questions requiring guesses.

I kinda laughed to myself as I buzzed out of there before 10:15. No one had else had finished. Too bad this wasn’t really a marathon, I would have won. So now I just sit and wait two months to find out if I passed. Honestly, it will be close. If I don’t make it, I’m not sure I can do this again. I don’t think I can prepare any better or know the material much better. It’s disappointing. I used to be such a good test taker back in college. Aaah, but that was many a year ago, and this old brain just can’t retain accounting-related minutiae anymore. Song lyrics and bands yes, but not anything work-related. I think it’s time to hang up the old test-taking badge because after taking this exam today, I think I agree with what Sgt. Murtaugh (Danny Glover) once said in Lethal Weapon, “I’m too old for this shit.”

November 09, 2005


Their website couldn’t have described them more perfectly. “Yellowcard isn’t your typical young punk band -- starting with the classically-trained violinist in their ranks.” That’s the first thing that struck me when I saw Yellowcard in concert last week. You just don’t see many bands having a violinist play such a prominent part in the band’s overall sound. But Sean Mackin’s violin does just that. And combined with Ryan Key’s guitar and vocals, the music offers great flexibility from fast-paced hits such as Way Away and Ocean Avenue to the more ballad-laden Only One.

The concert was a great relief for me and the stuffed-in crowd at the Culture Room. It may have been our first real opportunity to get out and do something other than wait in line for ice and water.
I arrived late but just in time for the band’s arrival on stage. They were greeted with a tremendous roar and a lot of pent up hurricane energy. The band wasted no time playing their popular Way Away. Again, what caught me off guard was the fury and talent in which Macklin played that violin. Throughout the one-hour set, the band offered sympathies regarding Hurricane Wilma and dedicated a few songs to the entertainment-starved crowd. They explained to us that due to the Broward County curfew, they had to be off the stage by 10 p.m. which meant no time for a traditional encore. Instead they just played straight through for an hour. They played most of their songs off their successful album, Ocean Avenue as well as some new hits including the title track off their upcoming CD Lights and Sounds.

The concert was over before I knew it. But the energy in that one hour was really amazing. It made me feel good to see these four young guys from my old stomping grounds of Jacksonville, Florida make it big. At least now, after all these years, Jacksonville music can be known for something other than Southern Rock bands Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, and .38 Special.

November 02, 2005


My lunch spot has a different view these days. So does the view from my apartment. Feel free to click away on link.

P.S. Regular programming will resume shortly.