Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – Fire Lake (1980)


My mom got remarried between my 3rd and 4th grades of school – and that included a move from Albuquerque to Circleville, New York. To say that Al wasn’t my favorite would be an understatement – quite honestly, I was always scared of him, but while this may have been the case, being closer to Greensburg was definitely a positive in my book.

1980 was an interesting year for me, to say the least. We lived in a small spot that seemed as though it was in the middle of nowhere. And that was new for me. Neighbors weren’t nearly as close as what I was used to and things were just so…different.

While I had always loved listening to music, it become a lifeline to me in 4th grade. It became an escape and I found myself really listening to the lyrics and just wanting to be able to leave. I don’t remember us having a record player – I don’t remember what happened to my Supertramp album – but I do remember what I got for Christmas that year, which was an 8-track player as well as copies of “Breakfast in America,” The Beatles’ Red and Blue Albums, The “Grease” Soundtrack, and Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band’s “Against the Wind.”

While I reminisce fondly of listening to albums, I can’t say as I have these same memories of listening to an 8-track. Trying to fast forward to a song – or hearing that click as it switched over to the next program or channel or whatever it was (?) was a pain. For whatever reason, Seger’s “Against the Wind” became what I needed to get to sleep at night. I certainly didn’t have a sleep timer on that thing, and I’m not sure how many times I had fallen asleep, only to be woken up by that loud click, but I think I had to come close to wearing “Against the Wind” out.

I’m sure it sounds crazy, but I found myself running away with those horses. As bad as things got at times in Albuquerque, I can’t say as I ever thought about running away, but there’s not a doubt in my mind that I thought about running away from Circleville – and Al – every single day I was there.

I had no clue what the “Horizontal Bop” was at that time, but I knew every damn word of that lead off song, I can tell you that. Things slowed down after that with “You’ll Accomp’ny Me,” but then revved right back up with “Her Strut.”

Just an aside – between “The Horizontal Bop” and “Her Strut,” Seger was getting after it. Coming on the heels of the Disco era (you won’t hear anything negative about that from this guy), these songs had to have just flat out been a shot to the system, bringing back some pure, unadulterated rock and roll.

And that’s where things seemed to get real to me.

Between the ever restless crowd
And the silence of your room
Spend an hour in no man’s land
You’ll be leavin’ soon

I’m telling you, I can smell “No Man’s Land.” Images of running away were only stoked by Seger’s words.

And while I loved it and “Against the Wind” as well, I truly looked forward to “Betty Lou’s Getting Out Tonight,” not because it was my favorite – not even close – but because I knew that “Fire Lake” was up next.

I have no idea what it is about “Fire Lake” that I’ve loved so much – it’s just always appealed to me.

Who wants to take that long shot gamble

And head out to Fire Lake?

There are so many stories from that year…

Take the Long Way Home – Supertramp (1979)

So this will take some time to get to what I’m driving at, but so be it.

Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America” is the first album I ever owned. And I had two copies of it – one in Greensburg and one in Albuquerque. I have no clue what it was about Supertramp that appealed to me – the iconic cover art maybe? – but this was an album that I couldn’t get enough of and listened to front to back any chance I had.

Originally, the copy that I had was in Greensburg, and I vividly remember returning to Albuquerque after being with my Dad for the summer and DEMANDING that my Mom stop on the way home from the airport in order to get a copy. To my surprise, I didn’t even have to really put up a big fight – even though I was prepared to – in order to get her to stop and get one. I found out in time that she loved them, too, and we spent a lot of time singing “The Logical Song,” and “Goodbye Stranger,” and “Child of Vision,” which I really didn’t like at the time and looked at as a four minute break between “Breakfast in America” and “Take the Long Way Home.”

That day of return actually was always a rough one for me. Leaving my Dad and all of my friends in Greensburg always, always sucked. Knowing that it would be another nine months before I returned was incredibly difficult. I couldn’t get it through my head why my brother, Jantson, was always so happy to get back to Mom. Looking back on it now, I get it. But perspective wasn’t something I had a lot of when I was eight. (Incidentally, I think there are stories and stories and stories locked in there about why – exactly – one child sees things one way with one parent while another sees things completely differently with that same parent – and I don’t say that as a criticism of anybody involved in that equation).

But from my point of view – looking back on things with almost 40 years’ worth of perspective at this point – I know that that day of return was also a good day for me. What always started as a miserable morning typically turned in to some fun. Looking back, I know that this is because my Mom was always in such a great mood to have us back. As a result, she was on her best behavior for a week or two as well.

Our August return almost always included in a new trailer or apartment when we got back. Whether in Rio Rancho or somewhere off Juan Tabo, it was almost never the same place as when we had left for Greensburg in June. And that meant a new school, once again a new beginning. While some people may enjoy that, for me it was starting all over and I hated it. I still have so many friends from my summers in Greensburg – I have none from my school years in Albuquerque.

But that specific night, after landing and stopping at Coronado Mall to pick up a copy of “Breakfast in America” – remember me saying that she was at her best, too??? – we stopped to eat at Pizza Hut, finding that they had almost the ENTIRE album on the jukebox. My Mom gave me enough quarters to play everything they had – I have no idea how much that meant in 1979 – $1?, $2? but I can assure you that I loved it. And I loved – and was surprised that my Mom knew all of the songs when we sat at the table and scarfed down our pizza.

Which brings me to a tangent about Pizza Hut itself. Pizza wasn’t a huge thing in Albuquerque. In fact, I remember eating at Pizza Hut or getting a slice at Godfather’s. And that’s it. It just wasn’t part of the typical things we ate there.

For all I know there were plenty of other shops – but I don’t remember any of them. For the life of me, I certainly don’t remember us ever getting one delivered. And that’s so foreign to me compared to what it’s like in Greensburg, where we have a serious abundance of great spots to choose from (with the notable exception of a true Neopolitan pie – can somebody PLEASE get on that so I don’t have to drive to Pittsburgh for it???).


My mouth is seriously watering even looking at that (it’s from Il Pizzaiolo, btw).

Any time that we had the opportunity to go out to eat, I almost always begged to go to Pizza Hut – but it had to be THAT Pizza Hut, because the other one in Albuquerque didn’t have those songs on the jukebox (the gall!). And that caused problems at times depending on where we lived and what kind of mood my Mom was in. Things weren’t always as great as they were that first week after we returned…

What brought this on, you might ask? Did I randomly hear a Supertramp song? Did I eat at a Pizza Hut last night? No and no. But I did drive past one that had been converted to a pawn shop and that got me to thinking about all of this.

And it also got me to thinking about this: is there a more iconic building design than Pizza Hut? I mean, every single one of them looks the same (I know that’s not that crazy), but when they’ve gone out of business and converted to whatever else, you STILL know what it was – and I’m not sure that we can say this about every other place? I mean, McDonald’s has the golden arches, but not every McDonald’s looks exactly the same. And I can’t remember ever seeing a McDonalds that went out of business and became something else.

Is there something to be said about this, or am I just making too much of it? Yeah, probably the latter, I know. (I actually just googled “converted Pizza Huts,” and found this right off the bat, so I guess I’m not totally alone in this).


I know, all of that from driving past a converted Pizza Hut. Welcome to my head.



Left of Center – Suzanne Vega (1986)

She didn’t really hit big until the following year with “Luka,” but Suzanne Vega caught my attention with this gem from the “Pretty in Pink” soundtrack. And while Luka certainly brought her that attention, it might actually be my least favorite of her songs (I’ll take “Left of Center” and “Solitude Standing” any day of the week).

But that’s not really the point of this post – if anything, this is simply the medium to get me talking about John Hughes, specifically his use of music in his movies. Quite simply, Hughes was simply masterful at finding some up and comers – especially in the Alternative or New Wave fields – and then using them to fully complement the angst he had on the screen.

And, for my money, he did it nowhere better than in “Pretty in Pink,” a top three soundtrack for this guy (“The Big Chill” and “Garden State” are my others – scores are a different story…).

It’s very easy to focus on the hits from this movie – OMD’s “If You Leave,” and The Psychedelic Furs’ “Pretty in Pink,” or even New Order’s “Shell Shock.” Don’t get me wrong, I love them all – and Hughes used each in a spot that makes perfect sense to me. But, to me, he’s never used a song as well as he did with New Order’s “Elegia.”

And that’s where I actually have to admit something, so if you’re still reading, well, you’ll learn something about me. For the longest time, in my head, I’ve thought Hughes used “Elegia” during the scene where Duckie sat in the rain after unloading his soul and love for Andie as she was about to go out with Blane.

Yet I was wrong about that – in fact, I have no clue what song that is playing in that scene. But I was SO convinced that it was “Elegia” playing there. It makes perfect sense that it would play there! Yeah, no clue what made me mis-remember that for so many years. (In reality, it really is used well, just not until much later in the movie, when Andie is crushed over Blane blowing her off).

Perhaps it’s that I always associated with Duckie? I really don’t know. And that brings me to another issue. Trust me when I tell you that I had my Duckie moments in high school. And there was absolutely an Andie to that Duckie – and man, was I unfair to her. It took me a REALLY long time to realize how shitty that actually was. Perhaps if this article would have existed back then, I would have understood this better (or maybe I wouldn’t have, who knows?) And this the crux for me:

Instead, a generation of American male teenagers, me included, saw themselves in Duckie—charming, quirky and overlooked. Duckie belonged an elite gang of best friends “Pretty in Pink” screenwriter John Hughes made the beating heart of his ’80s teen filmography—Cameron Frye in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” Farmer Ted in “Sixteen Candles” and Watts in “Some Kind of Wonderful”—characters who embodied the pain of being young and not yet able to be honest about your own desires.

And yes, I also saw myself in Cameron and Watts – and yes, I know that says incredibly horrible things about my angst at the time…

“If you want me, you can find me, left of center off of the strip.”

Perhaps that line from “Left of Center” is really what I’m trying to get to with this post? Perhaps it’s about coming to terms with being so in love with somebody and projecting the world upon them and how absolutely unfair that can be. I know for a fact that I was rotten in this regard – and I have worked hard to atone for that. I wish that I would have been more willing to stand off on my own rather than trying to be somebody I wasn’t – but that was high school in a nutshell for me. And my 20s.

Incidentally, if you’re looking for it on the soundtrack, you won’t find it, as it wasn’t included. You’ll have to go to their “Low Life” album, or, if you really prefer, you can click here for the 17 minute extended version of it.


Say It Isn’t So – The Outfield (1985)

Quite simply, this bad boy has it all! Everything the 80s encompassed in cheesy video can be found in this one.

Spinning drumsticks — check

Mullets — check

Wifebeaters — check

A hottie walking around town in a trenchcoat — check

A lead singer pining for said hottie walking around town in a trenchcoat — check

A “concert” setting with no cutaways to show the crowd; the lead singer pointing directly to me (!); said lead singer give periodical sideways glances to a conveniently placed secondary camera — check

It has it all, I say. Seriously, I love The Outfield. Notice the tense I used there – it’s present. I STILL love The Outfield, and while some people may look at “Your Love” as being a One Hit Wonder, for me that was just the song that introduced them to me. “Say It Isn’t So” is my fave of theirs and I can’t help but jam out to it when shuffle grants me a listen.


So, for those of you who may actually be reading, thank you. Hearing this song recently is what really prompted me to get going with some writing – however short – again. I’m not sure how long I’ll keep this up, but I’m going to house these entries here and who knows what ends up becoming of it. If nothing else, I hope it sheds some insight into what’s going on in my head when I hear a song (or see a video), and takes you to that spot of yours as well.

It’s been a long time, blah, blah, blah…

Yeah, I know – and I also know I’ve said that before. Having said that, I’m hoping to use this more regularly in order to work toward putting everything together in some sort of compilation.

So yesterday I got to thinking about just how important music is to me – and a broad spectrum of music at that. My plan is to explore a different song or video per day…

We’ll see how this goes…

Guest post for McGraw-Hill Education…

This post originally appeared here, as I served as a Guest Blogger for McGraw-Hill Education. Honored to have been chosen…

“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”  — Art Williams

 It’s just not possible, I said to myself, over and over and over. While sitting at my desk after hitting submit on my last set of grades for the 2015-2016 school year, it truly set in that I had just finished my 18th year of teaching. 18 years. No longer would I be working with students who were even born when I first started this journey – and make no mistake about it, it’s definitely been a journey.

It was at this point that I also thought about just how much I’ve seen change through those 18 years – and without getting too sentimental, what I’m really referring to here is the change in me.

About 10 years ago I literally almost threw punches with a colleague who had the nerve to tell me that part of our job description was to be both a friend and a father to our students. I was on fire at this suggestion and, if my memory serves me correctly, I believe I actually laughed it away in order to deal with the stress associated with this debate. There was just no way that he could be correct in this line of thinking.

That’s not my job. I’m here to teach English and get them prepared for college, no more, no less. That’s the Spark Notes version of what I had myself convinced was my purpose. And I believed it wholeheartedly.

And then the massacre at Sandy Hook happened. It left me stunned. It left me searching for answers about just about everything. And it left me searching for a better understanding of what my purpose is as a teacher. I just couldn’t get it through my head that somebody could be driven to believe that nobody cared about him and that shooting up a school was a reasonable answer to anything.

We can argue about guns until we are blue in the face and our jugular veins are bulging from the side of our necks – or we can come to the realization that a way we can work to prevent these types of tragedies is by simply letting kids know how much we care about them, that what they do matters, that they aren’t alone.

My high school created an Advisory period three years ago (30 minutes, once a week) after we decided that we needed to build a better community within our school. We decided to try to be proactive, to mix students amongst grades, and to try to create a core group of kids who would have the chance to see that they’re going through many of the same things – that they aren’t on an island when they think it’s all coming down on them.

I was so excited about the possibilities that this period of time presented us. I had all of these mini-lessons planned. I couldn’t wait to get this going. And then we started – and I pretty much fell on my face. The kids didn’t want to be there. There was rebellion, distrust, complaining, questioning, and just an overall lack of effort on (seemingly) everybody’s part. What I found out more than anything was that it was hard.

And that’s what brings me to my reflection on those 18 years. I wish that somebody had sat me down when I was just starting out, so full of enthusiasm and fire, and let me know that this is going to be hard. It’s going to take a ton of work, and even when you dig in and do that work, you’re going to have days that seemingly never end. You’re going to have days when you think it’s not possible to do anything right. In fact, you might have nine of those days in a row. Your lessons will fall flat, your interactions with students will fall short, you’re going to get a headache that won’t go away, and you’ll wonder why you chose to enter this profession in the first place.

And then you’re going to go to school the next day and everything will just click.

Your kids (and make no mistake about it, they are your kids) are all over your lesson and they’re demonstrating that they get it. You get a thank you card from a student for helping with a Senior Project. The little ding goes off and there’s a notification that you’ve gotten an email – and find that it’s a kind word of thanks from a parent who appreciates that you’ve pushed her daughter beyond where she ever thought she’d be willing to go. It’s jeans day (c’mon, aren’t things always better on jeans days?) and Chick-Fil-A is delivered to your door for lunch (I’m not kidding about that one, we do this as a fundraiser for our Red Cross Club).

I’d love to tell you that every day is a jeans day and that Chick-Fil-A will be delivered to your door on a daily basis, but we all know that’s not going to be the case. I’d love to tell you that I’ve made meaningful connections with all of my students or all of the members of my Advisory group. I’d love to tell you that I’ve become more of a friend or a father figure to all of my students. I’d love to tell you that I won’t get frustrated when a student isn’t willing to produce at a level that I know is possible – because it’s hard. I’d love to tell you that after 18 years I won’t make any mistakes next year – but we all know that’s not going to happen.

You get the idea…

And I’m just now starting to get the idea because I’m trying to take the same advice that I’ve given to my students in the form of the poster hanging in the front of my room – the one with Art Williams’ words on it. The one that reminds me that nobody said this was going to be easy, but it’s definitely going to be worth it.


GS Advanced Art & Portfolio Show 2015

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the opening of this annual show, however, I did get the chance to stop by to see the incredible work produced by some truly talented GS Art Students. I’m constantly amazed by the work that our students are producing and their talent level. I’m also constantly in awe of the high interest assignments and the guidance that are provided by the members of our Fine Arts staff – some really, really hard working teachers are working tirelessly to foster these talents.

After seeing last year’s show at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art’s temporary location, it was great to see it back to being housed in the newly renovated Museum’s Community Room. It was also pretty cool to NOT be at the opening show when I was viewing the pieces, as there were several members of the community there at the same time that I was who had no tie to the artists or the school. I must freely admit that I did a little bit of eavesdropping while I was there and it was great to hear the unbelievably positive comments and compliments directed toward our students. Several were, appropriately, in awe of the work.

cantilever2 cantilever1


The following are but some of my favorites – and the phone photos and crops do not even come close to doing them justice.










One of the interesting parts of the show, for me at least, is to read the artists’ statements. I’ve been fortunate to work with many of these students in the English classroom, but it’s great to see them put into words where they’re coming from, artistically. And while Sara certainly does a great job of explaining her motivations, I was struck by this portrait – I’m not sure that I’ve seen many that better capture what I see in a kid.






And I had to share this one as well. I love when an artist is able to make a statement and I also love when she is able to poke a little fun at everything going on around her. I think that this artist did exactly that when she created this piece:


Once again, bravo to all of the students and teachers who took part in this tremendous display of their talents!



Caesar Raps…

This is an oldie but a darn goodie from not too long ago. I’ve always liked the assignment – update to modern language either Antony’s or Brutus’ funereal speech from Julius Caesar – and do it in rap form.

For the most part, the kids do a great job with it; they have some fun and demonstrate that they get it at the same time. Admittedly, most of the students aren’t that talented when it comes to rapping, however!

So these are two of my favorites – you can definitely tell that they got into it – but pay attention, the content is king – and both really impressed me with their content!

(I mean, she deserves props just for that outfit!!!)

And for the second, these ladies decided to channel their inner JT to create “Bringing Caesar Back.” Just don’t try to cut them short!

And do you know what I love the most about these? I guarantee that this has stuck with them. I think they had some fun with it, but they got it, too, and isn’t that what it’s all about?


To just have an ounce of this talent…

To just have an ounce of this talent…


Last night I had the chance to check out the Advanced Art Portfolio Exhibition (I think I just made that title up, so please don’t hold that against me!) at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art’s temporary location. To say that I was blown away would be an absolute understatement.

I’ve been to plenty of Museums and I’ve seen a ton of great art, some famous and some not so famous. I love walking through a gallery and then just being crushed with a piece in front of me. It’s hard to explain what my taste is in art, but when I see it, I just know.

We have an extremely talented group of artists at our school and several had the opportunity to show off their work – some of it I had seen before, but some was completely new to me. It was also really cool to get the chance to read the artist’s statements – some really took the time to examine what has brought them to where they are now. In addition, we also have some incredibly dedicated teachers who’ve worked extremely hard to foster this student talent (thank you Kelley and Renee!)

I was absolutely stunned at how many pieces just stopped me in my tracks — almost rendering me breathless at times. These were just a few of my favorites from the show. Please keep in mind that these are pics from my phone and some were taken quickly with horrible angles – so don’t hold these against the artists!






Just so much talent.

I’d also like to take a minute to thank the Westmoreland Museum of American Art for enabling our students this wonderful opportunity. By no means do they have to do this, but I can assure you that it’s appreciated.

If you aren’t aware, the Museum is currently undergoing major renovations – exciting things are happening for sure. It was also great to see a small section of the temporary location that is dedicated to this construction. I can’t wait to see the new building once completed.