Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Surf Dude WIthout Attitude...

In 1992, NBC announced the expansion of its Saturday morning “kid-friendly” programming while simultaneously dropping its cartoon line-up; instead they boasted a companion piece to the already popular Saved by the Bell, which was sadly on its last legs and making way for a new freshmen class that could never quite capture the shine of the original. Also set in a fictitious Southern California high school, California Dreams took off where SBTB only dabbled: in the creative and entrepreneurial talents of its lead characters. Sure, Zack Morris was always looking for new get-rich-quick-schemes, but the Dreams gang managed to find an outlet that worked to not only bring them together as a group of friends (whereas Zack’s exploits usually had the rest of his buddies mad at him for a time before “Aw shucks”-ing and playfully punching him on the arm) but also to show me that unsigned musicians were sometimes worth taking a second look.

To this day the “Zack Attack” episode of SBTB is my favorite of the series, hands down, if only because of the somewhat badly lip-synced original songs. California Dreams, though, featured a “performance” in every episode, and these were teens who were playing outside of the comfort of their own garage and at the real (and moderately trafficked!) arena of a local restaurant. They showed no reservations, and they were always in it for the fun-- despite cousin Sly’s best efforts to get them paid gigs-- and that was the kind of “laid back” cool that I wanted to be around. They were comfortable with themselves and their passions, and they were uninhibited about sharing them with the world. That was something I strove to match. Problem was: I had no musical talent whatsoever-- though after tireless afternoons of rewinding my The Little Mermaid soundtrack cassette to “Part of your World” over and over, I’m pretty convinced I nailed those vocals!-- and my personal collection consisted of all fancily-coiffed and packaged artists like NKOTB, BSB, Madonna, and Mariah Carey. I wanted a lifestyle I didn’t think I’d be able to truly adopt unless I brought someone else in with me—someone else who had the ear that I lacked.

My Second Boyfriend (trademarked, like My Little Pony!) was in the school band. For someone who admittedly has a pretty limited and specific library of personal music interest and knowledge (“to answer your earlier question, we’re straight-up hardcore gangsta rap”), the irony of how many musicians (no matter how small potatoes) with whom I have hooked up is most certainly not lost on me. It wasn’t exactly the Dreams-- My Second Boyfriend played the unsexy instrument of the flute-- but it would do.

In my simple and stereotypical checklist of tall? dark? and handsome?, My Second Boyfriend earned three solid check-pluses. The problem was that we were well into high school by the time we starting seeing each other, and such a sophomoric grading system would just no longer cut it. Luckily for him, he had other musical aspirations, even if his own band, in which he planned to be shredding guitar, wasn’t fully-- or even partially-- formed. Like me, he scribbled furiously in class, and again like me, his notes were all lines from original pieces he was working on. He sometimes doodled musical notes in the margins of his notebooks, too, but since I couldn’t actually read music, I assumed they were nothing more than a bored kid’s drawings, the way I sketched eyes or hearts with arrows piercing them on my own sheets of looseleaf. For all I know, though, he could have been composing hit melodies in second and third period.

My Second Boyfriend was not a burnout by any means, but he did hang out on The Wall (a quite literal concrete slab just in front of the tennis courts next to my school where most kids went when they needed to meet their dealer), guitar case slung over his shoulder, even when he wasn’t playing it. Though his Upper West Side (and Upper Middle Class) Wasp-y last name begged to differ, whenever I looked at his shaggy, sandy brown hair and lightly freckled face, I saw a west coast bohemian—one who belonged on the boardwalk of Venice Beach, strumming the same guitar in the same carefree manner. In fact, My Second Boyfriend first caught my eye when he slid into the desk opposite me in our semi-circle set-up of English Humanities class because he looked like a lighter-haired Brent Gore, the lead singer in the fictitious California Dreams band, and I even started humming the theme song in the halls on my way to that class for a full two weeks before he finally came up to me to ask if I’d want to see a movie sometime. As a non-threatening and somewhat shy guitarist, My Second Boyfriend was one part Matt Garrison and one part Mark Winkle, and just like the easy success of Paradise Cove's resident entertainment, it felt slightly unreal.

(an excerpt from my upcoming collection of personal essays, "My Life, Made Possible By Pop Culture."

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