Bouncing Around the Classroom
It’s every student’s nastiest nightmare. It’s the type of trauma that keeps teenagers up until just before dawn, pondering seclusion until that sweet school bell strikes. At times it’s a test of evening endurance, weeding out true weekend warriors from failed social explorers. For all parties involved, it’s an utterly awkward moment; a life altering adventure that manages to make men out of boys and turn casual consumer trips into potential pupil casualties. Somehow I avoided it throughout high school and college, but now, six months since my academic emancipation, it’s finally happened. Yes, I’m talking about the lifelong trauma of seeing your teachers in their civilian state.
Like many young adults, it’s among my greatest fears. Perhaps it’s the shock of seeing my proctors in their weekend attire, or maybe it’s the fear that they’ll catch me peering away from my academic endeavors, but I’ve always found it an utterly bizarre experience to observe my teachers outside of academia. So you’ll pardon my shock and uneasiness when I ran into a former high school government professor at Roseland Ballroom during Vida Blue’s latest visit.
At first, a strange sedateness overcame my normally bouncy-body. It was almost as if I’d been caught skipping school by the high school principal: a strange mix of uneasiness, annoyance and threat of impending detention. Given that I haven’t seen this man for five years, I also felt at a loss of words, unable to ask him the usual concert icebreakers (somehow the phrase "so how many shows are you hitting up this tour" didn’t seem appropriate). But, most of all, it seemed surreal, as if his image had just walked out of a two-dimensional painting. After all, the older I get, the more my concert going experience resembles a giant game of Where’s Waldo.
Whenever I attended a jam-friendly event, there are certain characters I except to see. Sure, many of them I don’t know by name, but their personas seem to pop out of any concert’s cluster of unknown faces. Some people do things to make themselves stand out among their Phishy peers, draping themselves in everything from Hula-Hoops to designer worthy Henrietta Dresses. At one point during my summer concert trek, I swear I spotted some dude wearing the same Abbey Road T-Shirt for twenty-one shows straight. And there is always the kids department in concert-going attire, a mix of DMB tie-dyes and band sponsored summer tour t-shirts, I’ve affectionately labeled the hipplet look. (just don’t ask me to explain the baseball-cap angle distinction between heady and hippie.)
But observing my former teacher outside his typical territory proved to be a particularly daunting task. After all, academia has never been my most comfortable setting and, following a few minutes of alumni updates, I felt myself slowly reverting back to a pre-collegiate caricature of myself. Sure this man isn’t prone to patchwork pants or heady hoodies, but for all intensive purposes, he is still a part of the greater musical mosaic. Yet, at the time, it seemed like my teacher arrived solely to spoil my Saturday night. Sure he could spew stories about Jazz Mandolin Project all night, but this man just didn’t jive with the evening’s activities. Throughout high school, I suspected that he spent weekend nights determining demerits and figuring out creative ways to assign Fs, speed bumps in my fast-path to collegiate paradise. Not only that, in spite of my place on the Relix masthead, I felt I had to prove my self through particularly pretentious prose (at one point the evening’s activities was even likened to a "water-downed mix of Fela Kuti and Herbie Hancock.") But despite his tour-ready resume, what made my teacher stand out so much from his surroundings is that he didn’t have the generational jamband look; a cool fashion sense that tries hard not to try hard at all.
Bowing to my music-geek tendencies, I also started to question my own image within jam nation’s shadows. For many years, I yearned for my own concert characteristic. Perhaps, I pondered, I’ll find a particularly jam-friendly shirt or homegrown necklace to define my promotion to professional concertgoer. But, following to my usual path of fashion faux pas, I soon realized not even Heady Eye for the Straight Guy could turn my disheveled look into acceptable tour attire. First, I tried to recycle an old Rusted Root t-shirt, a relic from my first jamband show, into my uniform, only to find its cotton lining unconducive to life on the road. I then began to sport a ubiquitous Skidmore-college sweater, only to find the smelly garment akin to kryptonite when it came to meeting girls. But then, one day, I realized I didn’t need to acquire a concert signature, I needed to embrace it.
Since I spent too much time in Fisher Price’s "Jolly-Jumpers" during my formative walking years, my feet movements are prone to resemble a subtle bounce. For most of my life, I tried to hide my odd wobbly walk, embarrassed by its effect on my lower leg movements. But since growing into groove-music, my walk has delightfully been mistaken for a perpetual dose of the jamband bobble. Despite my sober state, at the Adirondack Mountain Music Festival, a potential consumer even mistook my two-step for another sort of elevated state ("Dude, I always look for the kid bouncing the highest before buying.") At one point during college, I tried to turn my bounce into a work of short fiction, yet my peers mistook my pounce for some sort of personal symbol ("a work of magical realism, a metaphor for life’s ups and downs").
But, after returning home from Roseland that evening, I still found my close encounter of the academic kind a bit disconcerting. It was almost as if his presence alone removed me from my rock and roll experience entirely. Yet, since people watching has always been among my favorite concert pastimes, talking to my teacher shouldn’t have stood out to strongly from a standard show. In fact, during last summer’s cross-country concert trek, I casually described myself as a social anthropologist, observing Phish’s various facets of fans. With a pen and paper in my pocket, I picked up where Jack Kerouac left off, hitting the road, escaping responsibility and trying to figure out how Red Bull and rest stops add up the American Dream.
So why did the presence of this former teacher change my concert experience? Well, in my neurotic mind, it seemed as if he had full-on invaded my world, grading my jamband genealogy and nit-picking my Grateful Dead knowledge. But as I pondered the previous evening over breakfast, things started to sink into my granola-induced mind. Much to my self-loathing chagrin, we both fit into this concert collage; only this time I was assigning the grades. In fact, most likely, I’ll one day grow up into an aged academic, allowing some disheartened youngster to observe my out of place persona. But, let’s just hope, he goes easy on grading my geezerly bounce.