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Entry date: 4-17-2024 – Flying By – Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,

 

It really seems like April is flying by. As a teacher, you learn to start counting days. Students count days, too, of course, but not as much in the elementary years. Oddly enough, most of my class seems kind of bummed that our days together are numbered.

 

I guess I should take that as some sort of compliment. For the most part, I really like every kid in my class. That’s the truth. Some of them drive me crazy sometimes, but even the ones that make my days hard, I still like’em.

 

The Cocaine Baby let me know today that he’s probably moving back to California for the summer and will leave school early. I don’t know if I believe it, but that is the pattern he’s been in every year he’s been at our school. If what he said is true, I’ve got about a month with him left. I’m going to help him improve his math skills if I can. The poor kid and numbers just do not get along.

 

I’ve learned that patience is one of the things that most of my kids who struggle in math seem to lack. They want to know the answers right fucking now or they get irritated and down on either the assignment, themselves, or both.

 

Yesterday we were working on adding and subtracting fractions with different denominators. This was pushing the envelope a bit, but many of my students were ready for it. I’ll dial it back for everyone else for the rest of the year, but it was fun to see many of them go for it. I have a good handful who are more than ready for 5th grade math.


*****  

 

Madison Heights is an elementary school at the base of a peak in Phoenix that used to be called “Squaw Peak.”  Unbeknownst to me at the tender age of eight when I was a third-grade student there, to call the popular hiking spot “Squaw Peak” was disrespectful to Native American women. I had no idea.

 

Now it is called Piestewa Peak after a US Army soldier named Lori Piestewa who was killed in Iraq. I’m totally fine with it, of course, but in 1977, I didn’t know a lot of things. I was eight.

 

My teachers were Ms. Myers, Ms. Orr, and Ms. Wendt. Could have been Meyers, now that I think of it, but either way, there were three of them and we had this big kind of open class room where three classes all kind of intermingled with each other. I’m sure it was very experimental in those days. It was the 70s, after all.

 

I have only fleeting memories of what that environment was like. I think I’ve blocked a lot of that time out for some reason. I was kind of an angry kid, I think. One of my only memories of that year was when Ms. Wendt, I think, taught me a lesson in empathy.

 

We were playing football at recess and one of my fellow students did a poor job of hiking the ball to me, so I started hitting him in the face. He was pretty messed up and I remember Ms. Wendt asking me to look at his face, showing me the welts that were rising up, and appealing to my sense of decency and empathy.

 

I’m sure I visited Mr. Nelson for that one. He was the principal. I wonder if he was listening to Wire’ first album, Pink Flag. It came out in November of 1977 when I was a third grader. I remember thinking he seemed like a hip guy.

 

Probably not. I’m guessing no one who went to Madison Heights in 1977 had a copy of Pink Flag at home. How cool, though, if that would have been the case. I’d love to picture my second-grade teacher, Ms. Grimstadt, jamming out to “Three Girl Rhumba” at home. She had to be about 70 in ’77.

 

I loved her a lot. She’s probably the deep-down reason I wanted to be a second-grade teacher, at least until I spent a year teaching second grade and now I kind of like 4th grade a little better. She was a good one.

 

Now, when I first realized that Pink Flag came out a few weeks after my 8th birthday, it hurt my soul a little bit. I was probably in my early 20s when I discovered it and more towards my 30s when I actually looked at when it came out. Knowing that I had coexisted with the record in high school made me sad. I could have been enjoying it and using Its strength for a lot longer than I have been.

 

Pink Flag is an amazing record.

 

I had no idea who Wire was until I started listening to Minor Threat. My buddy, Mark, convinced me at some point during senior year of high school that it was okay for a non-straightedge to listen to a straightedge band. I really liked “12XU” and discovered it was a cover song.

 

It was a few years later before I picked up a copy of Pink Flag on CD and it was not that long ago when I finally bought a reissue of it on vinyl. Luckily CDs don’t wear out easily if you take care of them as I have put many a mile on Pink Flag over the years. The whole Wire catalog is worth a listen, too.

 

When Wire came to town in 2017, I got an interview with Colin Newman. He couldn’t have been more cool and when he realized I was driving to work while we chatted, he insisted that I pull over so he wouldn’t be worried about me crashing. This was a totally sincere gesture on his part and our conversation was awesome.

 

Newman ended up asking me about myself and I told him about The Father Figures and what we were about. I think he probably checked us out like he said he would, and I think he gave me two extra guest list spots so I could bring them. Before the show, which was at the Crescent, he came out and sat with us for a bit and chatted us up, too. Then they played a great set.

 

There are 21 tracks on Pink Flag and every one of them is excellent. Only three of the twenty are longer than 3 minutes with “Strange” clocking in at 3:59. Like many people, I first heard that one as a cover, too, when R.E.M. put it on their 1987 record, Document. I bought that while I was in Georgia at Fort Benning. It was one of my favorite tracks on Document.

 

“Strange” might still be my favorite Wire song, although that’s a hard one to decide. “Three Girl Rhumba” is a great one and so is “Ex Lion Tamer.” The Father Figures flirted with “Ex Lion Tamer” for a minute but decided we could not do it any justice. Hell, that might be my favorite song from 1977. Any song taking the piss out of TV is good by be (even though I love TV).

 

Pink Flag is a must for any discerning fan of post-punk music. Because of songs like the ones I’ve mentioned and also the sheer economy of the record itself. There are no wasted notes on Pink Flag. Every song was created, seemingly, with great care and thought. It’s amazing, too, because this was their first record, but if you listen to Wire across multiple albums, you realize that they had no interest in not giving their very best effort.

 

As much as Pink Flag is a strong candidate for the post-punk Mt. Rushmore, it’s also a great punk rock record, too. The attitude and riffs are definitely there. “The Commercial,” for example, is a great punk rock riff. So is “It’s So Obvious,” too, and “106 Beats That” must’ve inspired about two dozen great English bands that aped the sound.

 

I’m also super partial to “Fragile.” The edges are a bit softer on this one and it reminds me of being young and kind of dumb in the ways of being suave and debonair (or swave and de-boner, as people used to say). “Mannequin” is another good one, too. Super catchy and rad.

 

“12XU” closes it out after the excellent “Feeling Called Love.” After hearing Wire’s version, sometimes I forget that Minor Threat even did it.

 

*****

 

See you tomorrow.



Fractions.

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