'round the dial
Wednesday 01 October @ 12:05:00
by Tom Hallett
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I don’t think that music is going to make you go out and bomb a school, or whatever. Maybe you have to start with the assumption that your kid is smart enough not to do something so stupid.”
—Scott McDonald of Arcwelder
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Avalanche”
*Note: RTD’s ongoing CD reviews series will continue next week.
“When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school/It’s a wonder I can think at all...” So goes Paul Simon’s ’70s Top 40 smash “Kodachrome,” a song, despite its uber-commercialized title, that’s more about what’s (or who’s) in the picture than what device took it or what paper it was printed on. That particular line, which rings out as clear and true today as it did back in 1973, says more in 21 words than modern schlock-rocker Marilyn Manson’s entire recorded catalog to date. No offense to ol’ Marilyn, but he’s right when he says it’s not his fault that kids are bringing guns to school and nonchalantly blowing away their schoolmates these days. It’s not the (lousy) soundtrack to these kinder-killers’ lives that inspires them to drop the pen and pick up the sword, so to speak, but rather their lonely, empty, tormented lives.
Last Wednesday, at around lunchtime, a freshman kid walked into the gym area of the Rocori High School in Cold Spring, Minnesota, pulled a small-caliber handgun from his pocket, and opened fire. Although the story still isn’t completely out in the open, it seems he was after one fellow male student who’d been relentlessly teasing him, but he ended up shooting two people. The first, a fellow freshman, was shot in the head and chest, the second, a senior, was fatally wounded. As of this writing, the freshman was still tenuously clinging to life in a St. Cloud hospital. The senior was already in a morgue.
And though this is the first lethal school incident we’ve experienced in this state, as tragic as it was, we actually have to consider ourselves lucky the death and injury toll wasn’t much, much higher. Remember, we are the state that just passed conceal and carry laws so all the kids’ mommies and daddies can legally carry handguns. And that’s just one more symptom of a very, very ill society that’s not only tearing at breakneck speed to isolate and arm its citizens to protect them FROM EACH OTHER, but is blindly ignoring the fact that their children are losing their souls, hell, their very identities, while the parents happily buy into a rotting infrastructure and salute politicians who are siphoning away theirs and their children’s futures one law, one bill, one vote at a time.
Despite early reports from WCCO anchorman Don Shelby that the admitted murderer had been routinely teased, publicly humiliated, and tormented by fellow classmates, by the time Wednesday evening news programs aired, those comments had all but ceased. Understandably, the folks at the TV news shows wanted to allow family members, friends, and students a chance to soak in the horror of what had happened that day without seeming to give aid and comfort to the child who had perpetrated the crime. But as the first days of fall began to quickly slip by, it became apparent that the real question of why this tragedy had hit another high school—this time one a lot closer to home than Columbine or Ohio—was going unasked.
Why haven’t parents, schools, the media, and law enforcement officials teamed up to handle the frighteningly proliferating problem of school bullying with the same vim and vigor they have gangs, drugs, sex, and even graffiti? Sure, the St. Paul paper added a sidebar, almost as an afterthought, telling parents what they should do if they suspect their kid is a bully or a victim of bullies. But there were no serious attempts, on TV or in the paper, to really come to grips with the heart of this problem. It doesn’t take an educational specialist to realize that the time-worn tradition of “jocks” (athletes) and “preps” (well-off, fashion-inspired goody-goody types) tormenting and razzing less-than-popular students (sometimes referred to as “dorks,” “losers,” “fags,” “dexters,” “crater-faces,” “stoners,” and many other derogatory terms) has come to a deadly head. In the ’70s, bullies were entities that one invariably encountered by the time fifth or sixth grade rolled around, and though they were just as cruel, heartless, and mean-spirited back then, there were outlets for the kids on the wrong end of the jerk stick.
Back then a kid had cousins, or other nerdy pals, or bad TV shows and movies, or weird heavy metal or new-wave music, or—surprise!—attentive, caring parents, or SOMETHING to take their minds off of the source(s) of their torment. That doesn’t mean that the jock/nerd system being tolerated in the schools and homes of America was any more right back then than it is now—it wasn’t. It just means nowdays, with kids addicted to violent video games, sick and dangerous online fantasy role-playing, brutal movies and music, and mainly, with access to serious FIREPOWER, that parents, teachers, law enforcement, and the community as a whole must come together and finally, forcefully, intelligently DEAL with this horrific problem.
One point was brought up over and over last week by local TV pundits: the Rocori school system has ONE OF THE BEST ATHLETIC PROGRAMS IN THE STATE!! Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but how could it be one of the best programs in the state if it encouraged, or even turned a blind eye to bullying and peer denigration? Isn’t the mark of a great athlete still honor, or has that too gone the way of good manners, sportsmanship, and class? Our system, from our government to our educational curriculums, to our sports programs, is designed upon the ancient Roman system. It would have been considered weakness, and below one’s status as an athlete or a warrior, to prey upon the weak and defenseless that your very prowess, agility, and ability DEMANDS you protect. I guess when they train these top-notch athletes in today’s U.S. school systems, that little nugget of wisdom is left out of coach’s pep talks, huh?
Don’t get me wrong, it was great that the coach of the weightlifting team scared that kid into dropping his gun before anyone else was hurt, but think just for a minute how different things might’ve been if the coaches had encouraged the kids to be tolerant, and understanding, and sympathetic, to those with differences. I’m no trained expert or qualified government official, and even I know that introducing the chess team, with their studied knowledge of war-like moves, to the football team, who NEEDS those moves to win a game, probably wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Why the separatism? Why the isolation? Why the ignorance? I guess it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the majority of high school coaches were (surprise!) JOCKS in high school, so it’s no wonder so many of them don’t seem to have much empathy for non-athletic types. These kids who pick up guns and take them to school aren’t being picked on because of their race, or their religion, or their political beliefs; They’re being picked on because of their APPEARANCES. There are clubs and organizations for African-American kids, Jewish kids, Catholic kids, gay/bi kids, even future farmer kids, but there is no after-school club for kids who are considered unpopular or unattractive.
Before you start picking up your pens, jotting down angry e-mails, or plotting some other wicked form of retribution, let me stress the point that I, in no way, shape, or form condone the act that was perpetrated at Rocori High last week. KILLING PEOPLE IS WRONG! Despite what the Old Testament tells us, violence as a form of retribution against violence only begets more violence. In other words, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth obviously leads to a bunch of people with no eyes, no teeth, and very likely, no heads. That doesn’t sound like a real smart way to deal with situations like this. There are surely factors here that I know nothing about, and some that are still kind of hazy, and some that are certainly important (like the fact that the kid who did the shooting has a law enforcement official for a parent), but I’m no expert on the finer points of psychology.
I do know, however, that we’d better start making some real serious changes in our schools/athletics programs, before some angry, acne-scarred kid climbs the scoreboard at a home game and wipes out the whole damn football team. I’m equally saddened by the death and injury of the victims, even if one of them might have been a little bully. Nobody deserves to die that way, especially so young. And let’s face it, these were just kids, they had their whole lives in front of them. Plenty of time to grow, to change, to make amends for the ignorance they practiced as youths. Change is not going to come easy, though; many of the solutions to these problems are going to take years, decades, even generations to overcome.
But some of the solutions are simple ones, and easy enough to put into effect today. Parents need to realize that they can’t raise their children to believe that athletic prowess, physical beauty, and easy social skills are the only positive traits worth cultivating. They need to stop goading their sons and daughters to be absolutely THE BEST at everything but being a HUMAN BEING. They need to preach that excellence in reading, writing, art, music, science, technology, history, and mathematics are equally admirable gifts/skills to possess. That having some spirituality and compassion doesn’t make you a weakling. They need to break the ugly cycle that they once lived through and are helping to perpetuate by saying nothing, or saying the wrong thing, or pretending like it’s OK that little Billy is kicking the living shit out of some weaker, smaller kid down the block every other night.
Let’s start by praising and developing INTELLIGENCE with as much gusto as we do athletics, politics, and looks. Let’s be the generation that brings the kids together, instead of trying to keep them categorized, homogenized, and desensitized because we’re afraid that if they do ever all get together, they’ll see what a great, grand, glorious fuck-up the whole mess is and weed US out and start all over. Then again, maybe that would be for the best, eh? We certainly don’t deserve any mercy from them—we’ve made it abundantly clear that we see them only as commercialized sheep put on this planet for the sole purpose of breeding, working, buying, and dying, haven’t we? We’ve sucked the very soul out of sports, music, art, entertainment, religion, and society, left them with vapid music, vapid stars, vapid government officials, vapid teachers, ridiculously overpaid administrations running the school systems, and vapid, vacuous, money-grubbing social climbers for parents.
Of course, I’m generalizing—there are plenty of great parents, teachers, coaches, law enforcement individuals, and maybe even a few caring government officials left out there—but there’s a reason why kids in Texas prefer “Fight Club” style knock-down, drag-out fights in parking lots to watching, say, Mork And Mindy, or even sitting in their rooms with black lights and a doobie and listening to music like our generation did. And there’s a reason why Columbine, and now Rocori, high schools were hit with the tragedies they were. WE ARE THAT REASON. Even if you don’t have children of your own, there are certain things that you can do to help initiate change. Start by SEEING young people, not just looking through them and hoping they go away or don’t ask you for change or don’t assault your insulated, electronically-cushioned little world by asking you a question or for a little advice or just a ride to the store. Think about what you can do in just one minute—how your response might affect another member of this tribe we call human, how it might alter the course of their lives forever, a tiny sacrifice to make for the perpetuation of the species, methinks.
If you’re a music fan (and I assume you are if you’re reading this column), you probably attend an all-ages show at least once in awhile. Next time you do, instead of hiding in the “21+” area and slamming expensive imported beer, head to the thick of things, hear the music the way the kids are, feel it, soak it in, understand at least the concept. And above all, listen. Listen to what the kids are saying to each other. When they talk about how bored they are, or how empty life seems these days, or how they feel betrayed by the older generation, they’re not talking about the people who nearly ran this country into the ground during Vietnam and the Nixon administration. Nope, THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT YOU AND ME!
And as much fun as it is to joke about the hippies, yippies, and peacenik demonstrators from the ’60s who sold out and bought into the suburban American dream by the ’80s, the truth is that those people did a helluva lot more for the country, and the world, than our generation has ever even dreamed about doing. We’re listless, lazy, irresponsible, selfish, greedy, scared shitless, and downright nasty to deal with from every little detail of life like waiting in a line to driving down the freeway to reacting to a miscalled Little League play by punching the referee in the nose. No, I don’t condone that kid blowing away his schoolmates, but I think I can understand how it’s gotten to this point in our society. And if it doesn’t change now, it’s only going to get worse.
There’s plenty to be learned from what happened at Rocori High, that is, if you don’t find it easier to just throw this paper down and forget about it, lose yourself watching some inane game on TV or searching the ’net for the best deal on suit coats, or just ignoring the kids one more day while they either turn into rotten little bullies or are picked apart and denigrated to the point that they become the ultimate bully themselves—one with a gun. These days, “Revenge Of The Nerds” just isn’t funny anymore. It’s deadly. Remember that next time, it could be your kid, or your niece or nephew, or your best friend’s kid. Pay attention, help solve problems, introduce radical new ideas, or just give a smile of support or approval when you see a kid doing something positive. You’ll know when the time comes—it’s up to you to make a difference, and it’ll be on your conscience if you don’t.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with another Paul Simon quote, one which, if parental support was as larger-than-life as it was 30 or 50 or a hundred years ago, would surely shine with Truth today for the kids of America: “When I was a little boy/And the Devil called my name/I said, who do, who do you think you’re foolin’?/I’m a consecrated boy/Singin’ in the Sunday choir/Oh, my mama loves me, she loves me/She get down on her knees and hugs me/She loves me like a rock...” It’s time we all decide to be a rock for some kid in our lives—before they lose what little faith in us—and society—they have left. Are you ready to rock?
That’s it for this week—tune in next time for more local and national CD reviews, rants, and raves. Until then—make yer own damn news.
If you have local gigs/events that you’d like to see listed in this column, or you’d just like to share your own thoughts on the above subject, send replies to: TMygunn777@aol.com.