My recent blogs have been longer than usual, because, as you might suspect, I’m talking about myself. This is an indulgence provided to me only through a Weblog and so I take advantage of it. If any of you are bored of this, change the channel. If you are reading it, I would appreciate feedback. So far, only Sleetse, Tak and Fooky have bothered (thanx, dudes). I will finish this story before the week is out, and I will have gotten it out of my system. Of course, this just means I will be talking about JA stuff again.
Anyway, back to the story….
Not Living Up to Expectation
This is the third installment, a continuation of yesterdays entry.
I was hanging out with a new acquaintance who helped out during the Shogatsu rush. Dave (not his real name) was thinking of starting a band and he had a set of drums. I had a piano, and so he suggested we “jam”. Well, I am (pathetically) self-taught, and not very good, but had pretended–like any 14-17 year-old–that I could play and “acted” the musician, playing at church and boyscout functions ever so rarely–like once or twice. But of course, I had to say, “Uh, yeah, let’s rock.” (alright, all together now… dassaaai.)
Well, one thing led to another and, voila, I was in a band. We were, to be sure, small time and very short lived, lasting nine months–three to get ready, and six to play gigs–in 1973. We played at Asian dances—dances sponsored by and advertised to Asians, mostly Japanese Americans. They were held at places like Roger Young’s Auditorium, the Elks Club and miscellaneous restaurants. These dances were the places for the “in-crowd”, to see and be seen, where guys came to show off their Camaros, Road Runners or Porches, where an Anti-glob could get an illegal drink without the help of “older” friends. I occasionally saw my high school classmates, which was cool, because it shocked them to see me in this kind of environment. But this was rare, which was also fine, for this meant there were fewer opportunities for others to find out what a Glob I was.
This is where I also got my first real lesson in the demographics of JA women in LA. Before our band began playing at these dances, we would go out to scout what the other bands were playing. Bands with a brass section played songs like “You’re Still a Young Man” by Tower of Power or “Beginnings” by Chicago. Brass-less groups played standard tunes that were so boring I can’t even remember what they were. Of course, on these scouting trips, I was pretty incognito. Not a band member, just another Asian face in a sea of Asian faces. I hung with the other band members and met their group of friends, and soon learned the difference between Eastside and Westside. The Eastside chicks were hot looking, but the Westside girls were just plain hot. They could dance. They could talk. And they would NEVER tease. Eastsiders would act as though they were interested in you, but they’d be looking over your shoulder or at their watch waiting for something better to happen—which usually wasn’t a long wait if they were talking to me. But Westsiders, what you saw was what you got. If they liked you, you were good to go. If they didn’t, they let you know right from the start where you stood. It was easier–and oh sooo cooler–to talk to Westside girls because they didn’t give you a lot of bullshit. It really was straight, and easy to handle, for a Glob like me.
But things changed when our band started getting gigs. At a dance, Eastside girls appeared out of nowhere:
“Aren’t you in the band? Ooh, I like the way you played guitar.”
“Uh, I’m on keyboard.” I would try so hard not to roll my eyes. I mean, they WERE cute.
“Yeah, I know! You guys are so good. I really liked the first song you played. I just heard it for the first time on the radio yesterday. How did you guys learn it so fast?”
“‘Free Ride’? By Edgar Winters? Well, we try to keep our fingertips on the pulse of music trends.” (I still can’t believe I used to say shit like that…) But as I would say this, I looked over her shoulder for something better to happen, because I know what was coming next.
“Really? No one plays that song at dances. You guys are so good. Uh, I’m Kathy, do you think you could get me and my friends in free at your next gig?” Yes, Martha, even we had groupies.
Alas, fame was fleeting. We got top billing at an Asian dance once, when the other top Japanese/Asian bands—Free Flight, Heavy Nations, We the People—had the flu or something. Our fifteen minutes lasted from midsummer to the end of the year and then we broke up. But not before I got to meet a lot of people who were not Globs, who taught me to smoke, and drink, and partake in other pharmaceutically unsafe activities. But most importantly, they taught me that I didn’t have to be compliant, that I could complain if I wanted to, that I could be what I wanted to be, that I didn’t have to meet the expectations set by anyone else. The downside, of course, was that this was all happening when I was a junior in high school, a Jesuit high school at that. I would be hung-over or exhausted from lack of sleep from band practice, and I would ditch school. On days I felt fine, I didn’t want to waste it at school. Better to go to the mall or to the beach. Fortunately for me, I had myself a Westside girlfriend, Aileen (not her real name), whose handwriting was exactly the same as my mothers. What a break. As far as the school was concerned, I was suffering from some sort of incurable malady. And in a way, I was: self-discovery. But while I didn’t get into trouble for my attendance, my grades suffered severely. I can’t remember getting a single grade higher than D+ in any of my courses. Of course, if you miss more than a third of school, it’s not surprising.
But even after the band broke up, I still had my friends and we still hung out together. I never reverted to a Glob. In my senior year, my grades went up just enough to graduate, third from the bottom, with a overall GPA of 2.1. I was definitely not university material. While all my classmates applied and got into major universities, I was stuck in limbo.
But that was okay. I didn’t have to meet anyone’s expectation except my own. And I decided to bum around. This is when my mother intervened and said: “Go to Japan”….