Monday, June 21, 2010

Class of 77

(I wrote the initial version of this in 2007 rt before our 30th class reunion. This weekend, there will be a gathering back home of several dozen of us. So, I dusted off the 07 version & updated it ever so slightly. Enjoy! Or something...*smile*...Mike)

The Class of 77. (30 years later…)
Mike Madaris

We graduated during a time of some national confusion. Watergate was still working itself out. The Viet Nam war had ended, but the scars were only beginning to heal. The presidency was in a state of disgrace; President Ford’s presidency in escrow had just ended, and Jimmy Carter’s optimistic-but-deeply-flawed presidency was beginning.

Musically, we were torn between the radical protest music of the 60s, the softer music of the 70s, the continuation of the hard rock movement, and the arrival of disco. Those of us into jazz were confused by what Miles Davis had become and were electrified by Al DiMeola and Chick Corea.

Socially, drinking and other things happened, but they were still ever-so-somewhat taboo. We had graduated from fairly strict dress code enforcement during junior high to fairly loose standards in high school. Our yearbook photos provide evidence of this…

During our school days, we had witnessed a man landing safely on the moon and returning--an early 60s president’s challenge fulfilled. We saw the escalation…the massive escalation…of the Viet Nam war. Dads and brothers shipped out and fought. Some didn’t come back. We also saw the end of the war and the suspension of the draft. We saw integration, though it was not much of an issue in NW Florida. We saw political murder multiple times. We saw the launch of the political careers of a lawyer named Hillary Rodham and a Viet Nam veteran named John Kerry, though none of us knew then the roles they would play years later. We saw Viet Nam fall, and helped in various ways with the massive influx of refugees. Some of us even played patriotic tunes out at the relocation camp at Eglin AFB.

Ours was a huge class. There were well over 600 of us. We were musicians, artists, athletes, surfers, scholars, and regular folks. We were hippies, preppies, burnouts, and fishheads. We loved Mrs. “Mama Jo” Yeager and Mrs. Almond, we respected Mr. Jones, we laughed with (or was it “at”?) Mr. Kelleher, and we disliked a few too. We guys grew our hair long, thinking that made us cool. The girls wore dresses short & tight, thinking the same thing.

We went to football games, basketball games, baseball games, and the occasional track meet. We hated Vikings—the cross-town rival, not the ancient warriors. We went skiing, we went to the beach, we went to Victor’s and the Hog’s Breath, though we lied to our parents about those last two. Of course, we went to prom and to post-game dances. We fell into love and back out of love. Largely, we had no clue what love was. But we sure thought we did.

And then we graduated. Some went to college at Florida, some at Florida State. Some went out of state to various places. Some of us got scholarships; others of us didn’t.

Some took jobs and began their work life earlier. Some went into the military. We got married, we had children, we gained weight, we lost hair. Some moved away after college or due to work. Others stayed. Many of us who moved away wish we had stayed put. Or could come back.

Regardless of the bends in these past 30+ years’ roads, we remain somehow connected by time spent at a place called Choctawhatchee High School. For good or bad—mostly good in my case—we remain influenced and impacted by teachers, administrators, friends, and others we encountered there.

When I left high school, I arrogantly said I’d never come back. That lasted until the following Fall, when I ventured home & went to the stadium for a football game. The oh-so-familiar drum cadence began, and the buzz of anticipation raced through the crowd. I still love that anticipation and excitement, even after my own son’s playing days on another football field have come to an end. Just a few years ago, I once again marched with my brother and his son in an alumni Style Marchers band. And loved it. I still love to watch live jazz; partly just for the music, and partly because it reminds me of my days of trying—unsuccessfully—to master to art while in the Modern Jazz Ensemble at CHS.

We remember those who are now absent...teachers, parents, and classmates. They are missed, and their value and impact is somehow magnified as life progresses. At least part of who we are is traceable to them.

So, now we gather again. 33 years...not one of the "official" years for a reunion, but we have always done things that might not have been officially sanctioned...*grin* 33 years ago, we thought that people our age were desperately old and hopelessly out of touch. (Indeed, I am now older than my Dad ever became, which is a mind-boggling reality to grasp.) Now, we realize that having been out of HS for 33 years does not equal “old.” Well, not real old...

Oh, sure, the waistline has expanded, and the hairline is now receding in multiple directions, and “40 time” is now related to how many traffic lights my car must stop for rather than how fast we run. And, yeah, there are pills to take that help with “old people” things like cholesterol and blood pressure. And the days of baking in the sun on purpose throughout the day are a distant memory, buried somewhere on the other side of sun-related cancer surgeries & treatments in my case. And our music is now played on “classic” stations, or, worse, in elevators and dentist offices. Wierdly, though, it also shows up on our children’s IPODs too. Which is at once comforting and unsettling.

But somewhere in the midst of this life I lead is a smallish, uncertain guy with horrible-looking long hair who never imagined being this, um, “vintage.” Who still remembers the difference between 8-to-5 and 6-to-5 marching…who still remembers the formula for “Cosine of a Sum” thanks to Mrs. Almond’s “songs” in class…and who still remembers some of the words to the CHS alma mater…who still remembers giving speeches in Mrs. Yeager’s class, and being amazed to discover that he actually enjoys being in front of a group!…who still remembers the opening tenor sax part to Glenn Miller's "In the Mood"...and who still lets his freak flag fly in between mortgage payments, college tuition, Dr. visits, career moves, and that sort of thing.

Emerson, Lake, & Palmer said it best back in our day all those years ago: “Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends!”

It’s class mini-reunion time! I can’t wait. See y'all Saturday night!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


"I often dream of nights I'd sit, and watch the rising sun..."

Maybe it's just me, but I doubt it.

There are songs that are utterly autobiographical. Sometimes this is true in the case of the songwriter, like, say, former slave trader John Newton's incredible hymn "Amazing Grace."

And then sometimes a song written by somebody else is autobiographical for a listener. Maybe because it connects during a particular season of life. For example, I first discovered the great song "Be Unto Your Name" that we sing at church in the summer of 2008 while I was eyeball deep in my cancer surgeries & IL-2 treatments. Thus, two years later, I've almost reached the point where I can sing the second verse without falling apart ("we are the broken, you are the healer..."). Almost, I say. *smile*

"And I spoke to you of life, and of the battles I had won..."

Recently, I was cleaning off a hard drive on our ancient, nearly-obsolete, seldom-used laptop. This particular hard drive contained data dumps from other totally-obsolete computers from a few years back. Earlier today, I was sorting through files found there and happened upon one of my all-time favorite songs in the form of an mp3 file. I had forgotten that I had recorded this years back. What a treasure!

"A warm wind blowing memories makes me long for home..."

This particular song is just over 30 years old now. Late 70s. Gainesville, FL. If you know my story, you might recall that this was not a particularly, um, successful season of life for me. Flunking out of college...Still VERY angry at God & at life because of my Dad's death just a few years earlier...Most uncertain about the ultimate things (like many 19-year-olds of course, but I took it to a whole new level)...No real life vision or direction...

"But a cold wind blows much harder, and makes me wanna roam; let me go from this lonely land before my dreams all vanish like water in the sand. Let me run from this lonely place before my dreams are shattered by love I can't erase..."

And yet, there in the midst of the darkest season of my life in so many ways, I made some great friends. A number of whom are still great friends today, all these long years later. Some of the guys were facing their own struggles, but by the common grace of God we endured. And eventually triumphed in various directions. I'm actually getting together w/ a couple of these guys over the 4th in FWB, and am very much looking forward to it.

"I search to find the meaning of the path that I am on, and I hope that my direction will not make me walk alone..."

A bunch of us used to go watch & listen to this smokin' hard rock band called "Axe." Five guys kicking out some great jams. We saw them many times. So many times that this afternoon I was picturing their exact stage setup; where they keyboards were, how Edgar's mike was always high up so that he had to raise his head & look up in order to sing; Bobby's tough-guy look & sneer as he sang & played guitar...

"I stumble for the answers to the questions that remain..."

Axe went on to some modest success. Recorded a few albums. Opened for some big-name bands in the early 80s. They recorded a superb very hard-rock version of the old Motown tune "Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch" that was just amazing live. One of the crowd favorites was "Rock & Roll Party in the Streets" which will be my motivational music tomorrow morning as I prepare to take the hill in my exercise program.

"Around the world, I've touched the sun; now I'm back again..."

But the words you've been reading are from their incredible anthem "Battles." If I had a dollar for every time I fired this up back in the late 70s & early 80s, I'd be a wealthy man. As cheesy & corny as it sounds to admit, this song & its lyrics pulled me through a bunch of dark times and gave me hope that there would be a future for me that was brighter. For that, I will always be thankful to the guys in Axe.

Plus, Bobby's guitar solo at the end of "Battles" is just awesome...*smile*

Thanks for the shows & the songs & the memories, guys. And thanks for hope.

Rock on,

p.s. - here's the song in its original version. The video is just one image, so don't focus on watching. Instead, just picture this kid with long hair and very few clues jamming out to this through some evenings...sometimes jamming with a tear or two in his eye. And enjoy!

(p.p.s. - There actually is a band touring now as "Axe." But based on video footage, they're not even close to the quality of the original lineup. Just so you know...)