While riding the high of the Middle School Talent show, Percy and I began to plan our big push for adolescent fame. We played a couple of parties at our friends houses, and I even sang a bad rendition of “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath. I didn’t know how to sing and I remember everyone looking at me funny, as I turned purple trying to sing it. I didn’t know how to breathe correctly when singing back then.
The summer of 1994 was filled with careless freedom. Groups of friends would get together and watch horror movies all night. We’d sneak into the local parks at dusk and smoke cigarettes.
I even remember being with a huge group of friends at what was then called “Geauga Lake”- a little amusement park that smelled like urine and had cheesy roller coasters. Even at the age of 12, I had never ridden a roller coaster in my life. I made up a tough image to make all my friends think I just thought roller coasters were stupid. Percy made me aware during this trip that Alicia, who was one of the hottest girls in our grade, actually liked me. At one point a big group of people went to ride “The Raging Wolf Bobs”, which was the biggest roller coaster there. Percy convinced Alicia to stay behind and hang out with me. I just sat sheepishly on that amusement park bench with her as the others rode the coaster. She asked me; “Why aren’t you riding with everyone?” And I replied with an air of toughness; “Roller coasters are just stupid”.
And as Middle School crushes go, Alicia fell in love with someone else about a week later. I kicked myself for not making the move with her earlier, but the whole world of girls was new to me.
One time, Percy and I were invited to a pool party with all of the popular kids in our grade. This was a truly self-conscious experience for me because no matter how much I rollerbladed I couldn’t shed the large quantities of Cheetos and Dr. Pepper off of my miniature man breasts and oblique side flappers. I again came up with a great ploy to hide my chunkiness. I decided to jump into the pool with all of my clothes on, Chuck Taylor shoes included. Percy had a way of sympathizing with me and jumped in with all of his clothes on too. We even dragged another buddy, Drake, into the mayhem. We all had chuck taylor shoes on and were jumping in the pool with all of our clothes, until the kid’s parents who owned the pool warned us to stop. That was Percy’s way of looking out for me. He knew I felt like a fat kid and wanted to back me up. Either that, or he just liked the idea of causing a ruckus at the pool party. It was probably a combination of both!
At one point I remember Percy being over at my house, and the cops showed up at my door! I’ll never forget when they were there and they grabbed a hold of him and took him away as he cried out to my Mom; “Don’t let them take me away, Mrs. White!” We found out that he had gotten into someone’s house with some other vandals and lit their drapes on fire. Obviously, I could have been incarcerated for many such antics…
Once when I was hanging with some friends and lighting off little rolled up balls of gun powder, I had the brilliant idea to lean down with a cigarette in my mouth and suck on it to light some black powder off that had spilled on a ledge. I was blown backwards like Yosemite Sam in a Warner Brothers cartoon. It had blown a huge chunk of my hair off, singed off my eyebrows and eyelashes, and scarred me with second degree burns. Fortunately I didn’t have third degree burns. I remember when my Mom saw me, she cried out of relief that I wasn’t scarred for life.
Later that summer a dark cloud seemed to be cast over the little town of Hudson, Ohio as I heard some rough news. Percy was going to move to Connecticut. His Dad had gotten some job as a dean at a prep school, and they were going to send Percy to boarding school.
In the Middle of Percy and I’s quest for Middle School rock stardom my G.P.A. for 7th grade year had fallen to a 1.9 average, which was a D+. Percy’s had fallen to about a 0.5, which was an F. Only in talking with him later did I realize that his parents thought that rock and roll was ruining his life. He once was one of the best football and lacrosse players in our grade, and he’d dropped out of sports, let his grades sink and gotten into a lot of trouble since we had started the band. I guess they thought that shipping him to boarding school would do him right, though I’m not sure what it really did for him.
I had no religious obligations as a kid. Sunday was a day where we slept in and ate a late breakfast. I never understood why Percy would have to leave so early in the mornings when he slept over on Saturday nights. His parents would make him go to the Catholic Church in town every Sunday. I think he began to hate it. He was caught in a rock in a hard place, a rebel personality and really intelligent, but bored. He felt that all the constructs put on him were stifling him, and I think he was dying to have his own version of creative expression. Within the highly religious world of the Catholic Church and the pressure of being expected to play sports and be a good student, Percy fell through the cracks.
Percy wouldn’t get to have his creative expression yet. He was leaving town. There was nothing I could do about it. Though I made sure to have him over to spend the night about 3 times a week as the time for him to leave drew near. He was my best friend, my band-mate, and as John Lennon would say “my song brother”.
And then came the day when he was leaving. It was a mild and sunny summer day. I rolled my butt out of bed and on my bike that morning earlier than I ever would have on a summer day, at about 9am. I rode the 5 miles to his house and knocked on the door. His family was putting together the last of their stuff, and the moving van was outside. I still remember him coming outside and yelling, “Benjamin!” and giving me a hug. I didn’t know what to say except that I would miss him, and I hoped that maybe we’d keep in touch. Maybe I could even visit him out there sometime. We said our goodbyes. He had to get going anyways.
As I rode my bike home I do remember feeling the wind in my face on that mild sunny day. I thought of all the good memories Percy and I had, and mourned the thought of keeping the band going without him. Tears began to stream down my face. I had said goodbye to him in person, and on my own I was saying goodbye to him in my heart as well.
There is something about the naïve and innocent love that a young kid can have for a dear friend that understands him. Within it may even lurk a divine whisper of the unconditional.
When Percy left town, somehow the gap had to be filled for a new lead singer of our band “Joker’s Wild”. I had enough experience writing songs with the help of my Dad from age 10 until 13, and nobody else in our group sang often, except our bass player, Jaden. Since I was the one who sang the most and I was the most assertive about it they let me be the new lead singer.
This is when the creative process really began for me. All of a sudden I realized that I was going to be the front man for the band, so I began to write songs like I never had before. My first songs were as cheesy as you could imagine. We had a Casio keyboard and I would play the pre-packaged drum beats into my Fostex 4-Track Cassette recorder on track one, and then track 2 would have the guitar, track 3 would have the bass, and track 4 would have my vocals.
Songs began to dump out of me like sweat out of my pores. I wrote songs about my experiences travelling with my parents to various cities, I wrote songs about girls I was digging at the time, and I wrote songs about my juvenile philosophies of life.
I also wrote songs criticizing my peers. I had a big mouth and couldn’t keep it shut about what the true meaning of them was, so I began to become a bit of a social misfit. Some kind of anger continued to brew in me, and I didn’t understand it. All I knew is that my parents were fighting more than usual in the midst of their busy work lives, and I always felt put in the middle of their fights. I continued to get chubbier and meaner during my 8th grade year from 1994 to 1995.
I’ll never forget the moment when I marginalized myself early on in 8th grade. Jokers Wild was playing at a party, and all the popular kids were there. We played a set of tunes and people were into it, but during our break a bunch of people started to mess around with our equipment. I got all ticked off and told them off, yelling loudly in the microphone for everyone to hear. That was the beginning of a downfall away from popularity for me.
A period of self-examination followed where I realized that people can be hollow and flighty, but there are true friends that never seem to leave you behind. One friend like that to me was Kaden. He was one of the few people that didn’t seem to care what the majority of people thought about my controversial reputation in Middle School.
But with this self exploration came a more inwardly focused life. I wrote music often, and isolated myself from what appeared to be the mainstream of people around me more and more. During this period of time I really moved away from habits I had developed before like smoking cigarettes and drinking. Though I would occasionally partake of things like that. My hunger for partying during this time was sparse. If the company I was with were smoking or drinking I would join them, but I didn’t have any deep personal aspirations to develop any addictions.