Okay, technically, I am still unemployed, which is sub-optimal, but I’m taking full advantage of all the extra sleeping time, so I’m going to go ahead and say this is the best summer ever.
First off, I have a new nephew! And we share a birthday! So we’re like this (making finger-crossing gesture, which makes it hard to type) already! And he’s a cute little guy!
My SIL is Korean and especially in the first pics we got, I thought he looked very Korean and hardly honky at all. So I asked my brother about it. He said that all the Koreans think he looks Korean with his eyes closed, but very western with his eyes open. It just goes to show. Something. My brother says they still can’t tell what color his eyes are. I like that he’s leaving an element of mystery. I mean, since we already know he’s going to be an awesome banjo player and all, once I teach him.
The other big awesome of the summer – Bay Area Rock Girl’s Rock Camp!!! Yay Rock Camp!
I was aware of the original Rock Camp in Portland – it’s existence even softened my zero-tolerance stance on that city, briefly. I loved the idea of Girl’s Rock Camp the moment I heard of it, so when I came across a craigslist posting looking for volunteers I thought to myself “What the hey? I’m unemployed, and I play a ton of instruments! I should volunteer!” And then I did. And it was a great idea! Rock Camp is awesome!
So the deal is, the girls get there on Monday, and they form bands before lunch the first day. Some kids are there with a friend who they want to have a band with, but not everyone is. The only rules for bands is there needs to be at least three people, and there needs to be one drummer – no more, no less. That’s it. Then they go to instrument lessons. Some girls knew how to play something when they got there, but my impression was that most didn’t, and that many were playing instruments they didn’t have experience with even if they knew how to play something else to begin with. At lunch there was a band every day, including these amazing rappers, Las Krudas Cubensi from Cuba, who a) were amazing and b) seemed to be pretty stoked to be playing at noon for a bunch of little kids (the camp is 8 – 18 year olds, but the first session was weighted more heavily toward the younger kids). Then there was either quiet or loud band practice, and workshop. Workshops were on songwriting, zines and the history of women in rock, self defense, image and identity (all the volunteers got choked up when they heard about the return camper who said that, when people were trying to make her feel bad because of who she was or how she looked, she would think about the image and identity workshop she’d had at Rock Camp), and screen-printing. Oh, and Wednesday was Alternative Instruments day, where the volunteers brought in instruments that weren’t taught at camp – since I am the Ruler of Alternative Instruments, I brought a mandola, a lap steel guitar, an accordion and an upright bass. Oddly, the lap steel was by far the most popular instrument – there were actually two of them, and there was still a line. Country music fans take note.
But, alternative instruments aside, loud band practice is where I came in.
I was a band coach, which means that I have music experience but not so much experience with kids, whereas band managers have experience with kids but not necessarily with music. I worked with two bands, both of which were made up mostly of 8 years olds (and a couple of ten years olds). And those girls were awesome, each in their own way. I’m not being a sap, I’m just reporting the facts. They were SO good at working together – at the end of the week one of the volunteers said she thought her band had more maturity than she could ever hope to have at age 27. And really, I don’t think I saw any problems in those bands that I haven’t seen in bands I’ve been in – practice is too long and everyone’s tired, one person isn’t listening to the others, someone hates the lyrics but won’t say anything… I can assure you in my future bands when everyone is tired and bored I’m going to suggest we all go outside and play Duck-Duck-Goose (although we all got to make up our own version, so mine was “something-something-BANJO”).
In one of my bands there was a girl (who was also the second-smallest kid at camp) who was so shy she could barely talk, and another band had a girl who was… I’ll just say she was very energetic and had a hard time focussing her attention. And, naturally, they were both awesome, because all the girls were freakin’ awesome. They gave me a lot of compassion for 8 year old me. It can be tough being eight. One of the rules at Rock Camp is the “right to pass” on anything you don’t want to do. Another one is that you listen to the people around you ( the recommendation is saying “yes, and” instead of “yes,but”). The “right to pass” was really empowering for my shy little friend (okay, and can I just say that she was the most adorable little thing ever, especially when she was playing at the showcase and SMILING while she was onstage), and the “yes, and” philosophy – it definitely took some reminding from the adults, but it seemed like it worked. Kids have all kinds of motives, just like adults (duh), but mainly they’re looking for the path of least resistance, and “yes, and” is a great one*. I am here to attest that Rock Camp is a really good environment for encouraging their native awesomeness – it looked that way before I volunteered there, but now I’ve witnessed it myself and I’m sure. I think it’s not so much playing music as an artistic pursuit as getting to make A LOT OF NOISE. I think that even the girls who, in the long run, will never be in a loud punk band got something from the opportunity to try it out for size. Which is not to say that there was no real music going on – at the Showcase there were a couple of bands that were, like, two practices away from being a “real band”.
The Showcase happens at the end of the week – it’s a real show at a real venue (in our fortunate case, it was at the Oakland Metro Operahouse. It was approximately one hundred thousand degrees inside. I think that may have been the hottest day of the year so far. Some of the kids were complaining that they had to get there WAY before the show started, which meant that I got to school them on being in a band, which is to say, you have to get there before the audience and you have to stay until after the show’s over. (Actually, I had the best success talking to them like they were musicians – albeit very short musicians – then like they were kids. It’s lame to say you have to pay attention even in the part you’re not singing – much better to say that when she’s not singing, the vocalist can help her bandmates by listening and encouraging or making suggestions. Again, nothing I haven’t encountered in the bands I’ve been in**.) I hadn’t seen all the bands at camp and, dude, they were great. Yes, some of them were great in the “it’s a kid’s show” way, but it was a kid’s show where the kids had total control over what they did. Kids have their own take on things, and it’s fucking interesting to see them get on stage and show you it.
Also, I just have to say – I went into Rock Camp with a healthy respect for teachers and people who work with kids, and after a week of it – OH MY GOD. I got there in the afternoon, and I was really only around them for four hours a day, and my main job was to help make sure they were having fun, and it was fucking exhausting.
Which brings me to my other most favorite thing about Rock Camp, which was the volunteers. When I went to the first volunteer training I walked in and had two thoughts – “Oh boy! Punk rock girls! I haven’t been around them in ages!” and “OMG they’re so much younger than me!” I mean, really, SO much younger than me. And they were so fucking awesome and inspiring. (Do I understand why so many of them are dressed like it’s 1985? I do not. But since they’re doing, and they’re the cool kids, you can expect to see it in your local mall in 2-3 years.) I used to be in a cool punk band, over ten years ago, and I kind of walked away from the whole scene – for a lot of reasons, but most of them had to do with just being disillusioned. There was a lot of high-flying rhetoric, but there were also a lot of personalities that got in the way. And there was just getting older and not wanting to go out every night and stuff like that. And, truth be told, there was a lot of “yes, but” from all corners, including mine. At some point (for me it was a very conscious decision), I decided that my highest priority was to have A Job and Make A Living, which is a fine goal, but – maybe a little harsh. I mean, when I decided that, I became a telemarketer for two years. That’s harsh. Then I hung around with hipster cynics, and started to buy what they were selling and think that the whole punk rock thing was bogus (especially since the very bogus version of it is so widely available). So it was downright revelatory to get to work with these women who are coming from a very punk ethic (I haven’t asked so I don’t know how many of them would identify as punk, or if the kids are even doing that anymore) and to see it work. Our first training was essentially on the spirit of rock camp, reminding us that the campers are awesome and empowered and can make their own decisions, and the second training was practical stuff like the schedule, different people’s roles, legal reporting requirements and also a reminder about non-gender-conforming campers, which was also great. And, day to day, I saw a lot of people looking out for each other, looking for things that needed to be done and taking up slack, and supporting each other. Just like with the campers and their bands, it’s easier to do these things over a week than over a year, but I just as lucky to have seen my old punk rock ideals in action as I hope they do have been in a band for a week.
So this blog post is ostensibly about the Best Summer Ever, right? Now, I must have convinced you that my new nephew is awesome, but that was over a month ago. And Rock Camp is awesome, but that was last week, right? DUDE! IT TOTALLY GETS BETTER!!! Because I get to go to Korea to help my SIL come back with my awesome new nephew! AND! I thought that was going to happen during session 2 of Rock Camp but IT DOESN’T and that means I GET TO VOLUNTEER FOR SESSION 2 ALSO!!! I love it when a plan comes together. YES! I get to volunteer at Rock Camp (and, oh hey, the second session has a turntable class, which I would like to pop into, since, as far as I can tell, turntablism is magic.) AND I get to go to Korea and get fed until I pop, AND also meet my new nephew before anyone else (especially those who would want him to learn a mundane instrument, such as mandolin****).
* yes, I know it’s from improv – how lucky were these kids to learn about it without having to wait til they were in high school or college to learn about improv!
** although, to be fair, the singers in the bands I’ve been in who didn’t play an instrument were all really good at listening to the non-singing stuff***
*** that’s also not a secret dig at the instrument playing singers I’ve known. And now, I will quit while I’m ahead.
****Kidding! Mandolin is swell!