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“Be True to Your School, Homie”

I’m writing this post partly out of sentimentality and partly out of this new, creeping sort of feeling I have. This feeling regards the university I attended, Indiana at Bloomington, and what based on my intuition is the general sense that attending such a big state school entails an experience that’s generic, mundane or “run-of-the-mill,” if you will. Just yesterday in work this dude asked me what college I’d gone to and I answered IU Bloomington, after which came this unprecedented and totally new sort of insecurity surrounding such a discussion.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Indiana University houses the second-ranked music school in the nation. Of course, I’ve met people who seem to carry this staunch habit of insisting that it’s not the first, proclaiming “THAT’S JULIARD, ISN’T IT?!!??” Uh, yes, it is Juliard. Nonetheless, right away, in my freshman year, in a class that I think was called “Music for the Listener,” I had this professor who was a world-class pianist, advocate of erudition full of references to new books we should read, like Technopoly, and also a member of a jazz band that would perform in a bar across the street from campus. Toward the end of certain class lectures he’d say, “Hey, I’m playing at Bears tonight… come check it out if you want.”

And that’s pretty much how the general atmosphere was around town. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a concert that was going on. In terms of the local scene, you could say there was a steady stream of noise rock, hardcore punk, metal, jam rock, hip-hop, jazz (which was mostly academic, meaning performed by students and faculty, but lively and pertinent nonetheless), pop-punk, DJ, and whatever else you could drum up. I would say there were maybe some country artists but they might have been scared off by some potential “I’m-not-mad-I’m-disappointed” stares from the student body and populace. So for country you had to go to the next county over and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Indiana (yes, I think that is a total attempted clone of the venue in Nashville, Tennessee, for any interested parties). For pretty much every other style of music, though, you were set, right there in Bloomington.

And I mean, it was just WEIRD. You know those bumper stickers that say, like, “Keep Austin Weird,” and “Keep Asheville Weird,” etc. I can say for one that I’ve lived in Asheville and it’s an ultimate exercise in normalcy compared to Bloomington, where, my freshman year, I was walking back for class this one Friday and saw a dude dressed up all like Billy Idol, in a leather jacket and pompadour, carrying a boom box that was blasting “White Wedding.” And there was no reason for it. There wasn’t like an ’80s convention going on or any type of local establishment encouraging the image, like the witches you see walking around Salem, Massachusetts. It’s just what this individual had chosen to do on this day and maybe every day, although I don’t recall seeing a repeat performance of that type of thing. 

But I mean, I can’t say for sure he didn’t, because IU is MASSIVE. The sheer size of the student body, around 40,000 circa 2006, was something I never truly got acclimated with, right through my graduation. With this being the case, I was a little overwhelmed, and tended to gravitate to my partying friends I’d grown up with in high school. In my dorm room, I’d chill and smoke weed laced with this black tar opium we’d get and my favorite song was “Little Martha” by The Allman Brothers Band. There were lots of pickup basketball games, with various black dudes walking around smoking joints in plain sight of everybody (not to give the impression that Bloomington’s laizes-faire on marijuana… in fact the opposite is truer), and then chill-out, drinking and video game sessions in their dorm room would always be met with an eclectic array of downloaded music, usually from that trusty ol’ platform of Kazaa, which anyone from that era will surely remember. The variety would include artists as spectral as Phish, Jay-Z, The Smashing Pumpkins, as well as this one dude who would forcibly take over the music selections and would immediately, without thinking, put on Al Green and 311’s contemporary hit “Amber.” 

I worked in The Village Deli and for some reason these girls took an interest in me and wanted to “pick my brain,” so to speak. They asked me what the last three CD’s I bought were (yes, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that everybody bought at least three CD’s per month… if you didn’t you were put on the level of George W. Bush in terms of coolness, more or less). I must have answered something like k-os’ Joyful Rebellion, Spoon’s Gimme Fiction and Nobody’s …And Everything Else. And they asked, “Are you into that DJ stuff?” and I just answered “No, that’s just what I happened to buy.” And that’s pretty much how it was down there — it was understood that the average person would tote with them a composite, survey understanding of the general musical landscape, appreciate all types of music and denounce anyone who failed to meet these standards. To be honest, I haven’t really spent too much time down there since I graduated 15-and-a-half years ago, so I’m not really sure what’s going on now that the materialization of new genres seems to have hit somewhat of a standstill. Let’s just hope there’s the drive and the gumption to always go after a new sound and to not get too semantic of negative, even amidst all the bullsh** we’re seeing nowadays, unless one can pull it off in a way to leave it light and playful enough to be enjoyable. Just back in 2016, anyway, I was stopped in Bloomington on a Greyhound trip from Terre Haute back home to South Bend for Thanksgiving. In the bathroom in the station, I saw this illustration of this little fishy dying, by which was written the caption “Fish Lives Matter.” And so, I think, even the prospective of all the little “fishies” of Bloomington’s oddball culture dying should entail a pretty solid harvest of juices, oils and filets for us to maximize and enjoy, for at least as long as makes sense. 

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