Ask An Alternative High School Teacher


Today we’ll speak with someone who has seen the future that is our children. The future sez “Start buying krugerrands now!”

So…the kids these days. What are they listening to? How bad is it?

I think teenagers’ taste in music are as all over the place as they always have been, only they’re typically listening to the derivatives of derivatives. Very few of the students would be able to tell me who M.I.A. is, but they all have about 13 different songs that sampled her second album liberally.  Then you have some students who genuinely confuse me because they like groups that are just so…odd. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony? Really? Or like if a student tells me they LOVE Nine Inch Nails; I really have a tough time understanding how anyone under the age of say, 21, might even know who Trent Reznor is.

Then you have the “Guitar Hero Generation,” as in, kids who are into really shitty rock music that should have been forgotten over a decade ago, but has resurfaced via plastic toys. It has to be from these “music” “games” or from their live-at-home uncles who blast hair metal at their basement-white-power meetings.

Or maybe both. So, in short, it’s pretty bad.

I think you’re underestimating the majesty of Bone Thugs:

As someone with good taste do you find yourself offering suggestions to the wee ones in the hopes of being the cool older brother tastemaker figure you never had?

Absolutely, yes. It never really works out, though. I think my taste in music has become so obtuse at this point that I have trouble understanding what might be “too much” for most people. I think it’s like spicy food for me. At a party, my friend asked me if the Tostitos salsa was hot. I told her it tasted like tomato sauce, but then she tried it and proceeded to cry while dousing her mouth with beer.

So when a student tells me they’re into “metal” or “hardcore” and I proceed to put on something like Lightning Bolt, it has yet to really work out.  The recommendation makes sense to me, but I tend to forget that, even though Lightning Bolt is loud and aggressive, the lyrics are fairly inaudible and generally never talk about how parents are mean.

I’ve always been tempted to try to get some of my more open-minded students into Coil, but I’m currently untenured and afraid of lawsuits.

Lesson plans – what’s a good soundtrack? Or is the sound of industrial education the dead silence of John Dewey’s crypt?

I can’t tell if you’re speaking literally or figuratively, but I’ll just answer this in whatever way feels right.

I’m the type of person who has trouble doing any kind of writing while music is playing.  Music with lyrics, at least.  So whether I’m revising version #396 of that short story I’ve been writing or I’m attempting to create the most intricately-woven and spectacular lesson of all time (that encompasses every NY State Educational Standard), it has to be something driving, repetitive and not too much of a distraction.

Rapoon works pretty damn well in this regard or sometimes Godspeed You! Black Emperor.  “Motherfucker = Redeemer” tends to be my “get shit done right now” song.

On that note, is there a modern industrial music, i.e. something meant to contain, encompass and reflect the emptiness – real or imagined – of our culture? (I think so and its name is hip-hop)

While industrial music was pioneered by artsy people with artsy feelings about their not-so-artsy world, hip-hop is not only a reflection of current musical aspirations, but is the thing-in-itself.

But on a less mean note, I tend to think that this whole push towards noise in the current “underground” or “indie” or…well, whatever the hell we’re calling decently popular but not extremely popular music these days, is the logical extension of industrial. I don’t really think it’s a conscious thing so much as it’s the result of a generation that has become increasingly desensitized to melody and structure.

On a scale of one to ten, how hardcore is your crush on Trent Reznor? How were the NIN shows? You went to several dozen.

I’m going to have to go with a 9.5/10 on this one.  If I’ve had multiple dreams involving someone I don’t actually know, I’m going to have to assume I’m crushing on him big time.

The NIN shows are a bit hard for me to gauge. It’s always nice to seem them play, but none of the shows felt quite as “awesome” as shows in previous years had been. I partly attribute this to getting older, partly to having seen the band so many times, partly to an increasing lack of tolerance for ugly, large, sweaty and smelly fans and partly to a rather unchanging setlist throughout the years.

NIN is a band that has occupied a very undesirable space in the music world for a long time, I think. Trent is the kind of guy, I imagine, who really is in this gig because he loves to create and experiment with music, but his band is far too popular for the shows to be an all-out mind fuck. The majority of the people want to hear “March of the Pigs” or “Head like a Hole” and all the other popular songs. They aren’t bad songs at all, but there comes a point, for me at least, when I feel like I’m not sure how amazed I can be when I’ve heard a particular song live for the fifty-millionth time.

The last show I went to had some songs that had never been played before, some remixes and some covers. This was neat, but, in general, the shows lacked a certain amount of spontaneity that I’ve come to appreciate from concerts moreso than hearing a band play “that song.”

On that note, what’s the best show you’ve seen all year so far?

A father loves all his children equally, Mike.

Ok well we know that’s not true, so…let me think.

Hmmm…it’s pretty hard, considering I’ve seen a ton of great shows this year.

But…I’m going to have to say it’s a tie between Michael Gira and HEALTH. Both shows absolutely floored me in a punch-in-the-gut kind of way, but for wildly different reasons.  They were the type of shows that help reaffirm why I continue to seek out music and see it live.

Final question: juggalos. What is your perspective on the problem of the Insane Clown Posse? Are they merely Kiss but somehow shittier?

I think the Insane Clown Posse would be much less of a problem if it had more of a sense of humor about itself.  The fact that so much of it is deathly serious (to some fans, at least) makes it hard to see the group as anything other than a giant waste of time. ICP is like Tool, but like, the 99-cent Store version.

But knowing the type of kids who generally get really into them, in some ways it appears like the most structured thing that exists in their lives.

And that’s a bit more realistic than I was hoping to get with these questions.


Filed under music

4 responses to “Ask An Alternative High School Teacher

  1. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

    And that video makes me wonder what BET is like these days.

  2. well, there’s a few things wrong with bone thugs, though they did have good outfits.

    that they’d still be popular now is kinda baffling.

  3. So yeah, I’ve pretty much given up on having direct influence over the snackstealer’s musical taste. He’s going to like what he likes, and some of it will be shitty, and some of it will be awesome, and some of it he might pick up from me based on my musical selections in the car. But overall, his musical taste will be his own. The only sure thing is that he’s going to be mildly embarrassed by some of his current musical choices, and stick defiantly by others, and some will just stick with him into the future.

    Kids’ taste in music sucks. Seriously, there was a time in my life where I frickin’ loved that Footloose song, and didn’t change the station when the Rickroll song came on (partly because there were only two non-country/religious and non-NPR stations I could pick up from our house).

    I think that worrying about what your – or any other – kid likes is a bit like worrying that they might hear swear-words at school. It’s gonna happen, it’s gonna be stupid by adult standards, and they’ve gotta do it to grow up.

  4. granted. i just don’t want no fucking juggalos in my house.

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