'92/'93 by Michael Channing


by Michael Channing

They were good years, 1992 and ‘93. I had friends. I had freedom. The music was great, literally made for me. I was seventeen, then eighteen in those years.

In the summer of ‘92, I attended the Governor’s School for the Humanities in Tennessee. Wrote a lot of stories and poems and songs, only a handful any good, but one of my teachers said I had promise. Used a computer mouse and a Macintosh for the first time. That was my first introduction to modern word processing. The stuff I wrote and the RPG character sheets I created, I printed on a fancy laser printer. I saw Amadeus and Dead Poets Society for the first time and realized I really liked prestige films. On a night walk, I told a story to some folks, and one of the girls who was present wrote about the experience of hearing me speak. I watched two dozen girls gather round a guy playing acoustic guitar. They hung on his every note. From that moment on, I wanted to play guitar. That year for Christmas, I told my mom I wanted a bass guitar. I figured four strings was easier to learn than six, and it probably held the same sex-appeal right?

After the summer we moved back to my hometown. My mom brought us back so I could graduate with my friends. There was Joe and Craig and David. We used to play D&D and Heroes of Olympus before my Tennessee excursion. We picked that up again, but now we each had a car and weren’t reliant upon adults to take us to important places.

During the school year Joe and I joined the Quiz Bowl Team. Joe’s specialty was history, mine was mythology. A few memorable moments came from our handful of games, of which we won exactly one. When asked the name of the condition in which a child is born with bluish skin, Joe answered “Smurf?” That was incorrect. I was asked the name of the German war strategy that translated to “lightning war.” I had just given a string of incorrect answers and was feeling frustrated and angry with myself. But this one I knew. I slid the microphone across the table, making a loud and prolonged scraping noise, and said, “Blitzkrieg” as if I were the singer of a death metal band. The other guys on the team were all into drinking, but I was not. However, I came up with the “intelligent” slogan of “We don’t get drunk, we get inebriated.” The gang thought that was pretty clever. Then there was the time we went exploring the building where our last meet took place. We ended up locked in the stairwell with nowhere to go but up. On the roof, we looked out on the city at night, the empty streets, the abandoned shops, the parking lot full of police cars below. That’s how we found out we were on top of the city's police headquarters.

Then there were the nights spent wasting time, roving back roads and whatever stores were open at two in the morning. Joe, Dave, and I once sat around a table all night trying to think of as many words as possible that rhymed with “station.” Why not? We were young, the world was on hold. Some nights we sat in Joe’s garage and played Battletech, some nights we drove aimlessly, turning onto roads as we discovered them. We knew time was short. Someday soon, the world would require a lot more than the easy hurdles of high school.

During all those simple, silly times, music played. Screamed from car stereos, tamped down to a low roar from a boombox in the corner. Pearl Jam and Nirvana and Soundgarden and Soul Asylum and Alice in Chains and Pantera--and Rush because I had just discovered them and it was usually my radio. As I said, that music was made for us. We were The Youth, the prized demographic, reaching back for the cultural baton as our parents reluctantly passed it on. The entire entertainment business was busy keeping our ears full. And we were hungry.

After graduation, in the summer of ‘93, Joe and I drove to Walnut Creek amphitheater for Lollapalooza. We discovered some new bands and added them to the eternal playlist.

Rage Against the Machine opened. I first heard them from just about every car window we passed on the long trek from our parking spot to the front gate. On stage, when they got to that part of “Killing in the Name,” (you know the part) the crowd pogoed up and down with all middle fingers raised. Of course I did, too.

Fishbone was my first mosh pit. After about five minutes of lecture from the lead singer on how racism wasn’t welcome at a Fishbone concert, they finally kicked out the jams. They played a song just for us, “Swim.” “This is for the ones on the back lawn,” the singer said, and we gave a mighty yawp. “You know what you’re doing.” The pit was not the brutal experience I had expected. We orbited, jumped, yelled, pushed, picked up anyone who fell. No one was truly hurt, and all racists were shown to the gate.

At the end of the night, as Primus closed out the festival, Les Claypool showed me I seriously needed to up by bass guitar game. The singer of Fishbone came on stage for a jam session and brought his piccolo trumpet. The crowd, and the guy from Fishbone, chanted “Primus sucks!” It wasn’t true, and all we all knew it, but it was tradition. The band didn’t seem to mind.

Even counting some of the best music of my generation (Rage, Tool, Alice in Chains, Primus), the best thing that happened that day was meeting up with Brian. He was also apart of the Quiz Bowl team and had followed the siren song of alternative music just as Joe and I had. We hung out all day, saw some side-stage bands, watched the adult puppet show which was incredibly stupid but gave us the inside punchline “Pete Rose!” It’s not worth the explanation, but we repeated that all year long. After the show, Brian’s ride left without him, so he drove home with me and Joe. We ended up at my house playing Axis and Allies straight on through dawn. Thus began a long friendship. So many nights we played game after game and drank rivers of soda, scarfed bushels of Doritos and potato chips, Brian and Joe consuming cigarettes by the bandoleer. Always with the music volume pushed as high as technological limits or house etiquette would allow.

There's more. Of course there's more. I took a very privileged semester off right after high school. My mom thought I was lazy, but I didn't want that time to end. Almost every night, usually after midnight, Joe and Brian would roll up to my house, tap on my window, and we'd drive or walk somewhere and be stupid and profound. No plans, just playing the cards as they fell. Our trips were monumental to us, meaningless to everyone else. That's how life is for teenagers. The adults want you to heft a hammer, tie on a uniform. You just want to drift a few more months, lose sight of the shore, dream a little longer of the magical island you used to read about and believe in. But that dream recedes, and all the world can offer is a dollar at the end of a line.

Music and Me

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Chokes and Warbles
Now Available

Chokes and Warbles, a collection of essays and poems by Michael Channing

November 1, 2019