Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Art Appreciation 101

My parents didn’t see much of me while I was in high school. Why? Because most of my time during these four “crucial” years of my development was spent away from my parents’ home (I recall being at home to sleep and to eat some kind of sugary, not-so-good-for-me cereal the next morning before school). My time spent away from my family home was spent, rather, in the home of the Young family. The Young family was comprised of parents Greg and Barbara, twin sons Kevin and Paul, and an adorable Pug named Rocky (who I was told regretfully passed away some time ago). In addition to the core members of the Young household were the teenage riffraff who could often be seen rummaging through the house at any given hour (myself included). When you’re in high school, most of what you do when spending time with your friends is called “hanging out.” If this term still means to high schoolers what it did to me between 2001 and 2005, it essentially means that you and a group of your friends spend countless hours being completely immobile while processing some sort of media that has very little to do with the schoolwork you were assigned in class (which, after having completed graduate school, I can attest to being completely worthless). It seems to me that adults spend a decent amount of time reflecting on their times of “hanging out” as teenagers, often arriving at the conclusion that it was completely worthless, perhaps even counterproductive to the human beings they eventually became. This sort of thinking most likely pleases their parents, who probably literally were counting the days until their children came to the realization that they were always right about how they should be spending their time. If asked directly, I’m sure even my parents would claim that I wasted much of my adolescent and teenage years “hanging out” and allowing precious brain cells to be lost. Unfortunately for my parents, they are going to have to wait until another time to pop the “I told you so Champagne.”

While it is true that I spent many hours during high school as an immobile, media junky sloth, I can say with full confidence today that these times were some of the most productive I ever had for becoming who I am today. It was the time I spent at Young Manor (not a name we ever used back then, but seems fitting as I type this) that provided me with the initial footing for appreciating arts and media.

I became acquainted with the Young family through a friendship with Kevin. Although our friendship developed during our freshmen year of high school, I believe we initially met when he and I accidently switched backpacks after P.E. in eighth grade. When I opened my bag to retrieve my homework for my last class of the day, I noticed that my binder (not quite a Trapper Keeper, but pretty close to it) had been replaced by a loose collection of papers and drumsticks. It was this moment that clued me into precisely how Kevin prioritized his interests. After sorting out the incident, he and I remained acquaintances through the end of middle school and into high school. While I forget how the invitation was initially extended, I ended up at Kevin’s house one day after school. I’ll never forget the first time I walked into the Young home... it exposed me to a type of media-based junky-ness that I had never before known. Where the reasonably sized television should have been was a giant projection screen (backlit when necessary). Rather than having a single stack of CDs, Kevin’s parents had thousands of them perfectly catalogued. Apart from storing the physical recordings, Kevin’s dad had the family’s entire musical collection stored on a shared computer hard drive that could be accessed from any computer in the house. It is important to understand that at the time, I came from a household that was close to the least technologically savvy you could get. While I was revered as a sort of technological messiah by my own parents, navigating through the Young family labyrinth of media clued me into just how naïve about the whole thing I really was. And, as if such an absurd collection of music wasn’t enough, the Youngs had done quite a decent job of collecting DVDs. Their collection was stored in quite an intimidating fashion, against a wall in the living room (yes, the collection basically took up the entire wall). All in all, I was overwhelmed with astonishment as I realized that I had discovered a safe haven for my fellow geeks and myself. Over the course of the next four years, the Young home proved to be our Jerusalem.

During my time as a frequenter of the Young home, I spent large quantities of time sitting on a leather couch in an almost pitch black room, being exposed to films, actors, and thought processes completely foreign to me. It was in this room that I was first brought to tears by a motion picture. It was in this room that I was placed in a state of awe over an actor’s performance. It was in this room that I learned to focus on film as an art, rather than simply absorb it as sensory stimulation. It was also in this room that I realized the mediocrity of microwavable popcorn (thanks to Barbara for concocting copious amounts of her homemade popcorn). Although I am plagued to this very day by an offensively sluggish metabolism, I don’t for a second regret the willing immobility of my teenage self. The time I spent sitting in the Young’s home theater was time very well spent… it forced me to focus attentively on the visuals in front of me, and to think critically and creatively about them. I became so enthused about my newfound “filmbuff” identity that Kevin and I created our own audio movie review show. Essentially, we were the most vulgar versions of Siskel and Ebert fathomable. While my vocabulary widened extensively in the direction of vulgar terms and phrases, the process of communicating my thoughts and opinions about a given film into a five dollar computer microphone helped me to establish the critical thinking and communication skills that eventually got me through graduate school (and a handful of collegiate film studies courses). For this reason, I wouldn’t take back a second I spent recording those offensive reviews.

Today, my friends and family will testify to the fact that movies aren’t the only medium to which I have a special affection. I also have a love for music. Although an affinity for playing an instrument never seemed to be “in the cards,” I adore many kinds of music. However, just as my appreciation for film didn’t truly develop until my teenage years, my obsession with music also took some time to develop. While my love of Motown and other such genres is rooted in the time I spent with my father, most of the other genres of music I have come to love came to me by way of the Young family. It was Kevin who first introduced me to progressive rock, the genre that I will most likely always consider to be the closest to my heart. My exposure to “prog” bands came about simply by hanging out (there is that infernal term again) in Kevin’s room, while he freely sifted through what seemed like endless musical files stored on the family’s network. As I sat patiently waiting, he would open a program called Winamp (remember that one?!), and simply click and drag musical files into a playlist until he was content with the selection he had made. From there we simply sat and listened. Most of the music I expose my friends to today was exposed to me first by Kevin and his family. Artists exposed to me then that are especially meaningful to me today are: Spock’s Beard, King’s X, Dream Theater, The Flower Kings, Pain of Salvation, Mr. Bungle, Oingo Boingo, Devo, Tool, Opeth, Rhapsody (thanks go to Brian Rudloff on this one…), Tori Amos, Kansas, and countless others. Kevin took music very seriously. In fact, upon purchasing a new CD, he had a tradition of listening to it all the way through on headphones, before he would share it on the family network. To this day, no way of listening to music compares to sitting comfortably with headphones on. It was with the Young family that I also experienced some of the best concert experiences of my life. And while Kevin was surely my primary liaison into the world of music appreciation, his family and friends most definitely aided in this endeavor. His parents should be singled out in this regard, for it was they who taught me the value in maintaining a household where some kind of music is playing almost all the time. Also, I would be remiss if I went through an entire blog post about the Young family’s influence on me if I didn’t at least give Paul Young credit for teaching me how simultaneously brilliant and irritating it is to hear someone whistle rock/metal songs.

I give my own parents credit for teaching me how to love people, but the Youngs taught me how to love art. Although we rarely see each other or speak these days, it was important to me to give credit where it is surely deserved. I only hope that one day my own children will spend inordinate amounts of time with friends who can teach them something as worthwhile as what was taught to me… during all those hours of hanging out in the dark room of a house tucked away on Citracado Parkway.

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