Preaching the Power of Real Music

Litle Steven and the Disciples of Soul

When the show starts with a blistering version of “Sweet Soul Music” and just keeps getting better, that’s a good show. And that was only part of it.

We were at the House of Blues on Wednesday for Little Steven van Zandt and the Disciples of Soul, and the “teacher appreciation tour.” And Tori is a teacher. So she had the chance to sign up for the event as “professional development.” Usually that means a day listening to a speaker talk about diversity in the classroom, or new reading theories, or discipline or common core. All important topics, I’m sure. But none of them can hold a candle (or a Bic lighter) to Wednesday’s program, which included a two-hour concert. And because she’s a teacher, it was free and she could invite a “plus one.” That was me. (Our son Max, a music major at UNO, was the plus one of one of Tori’s colleagues. Thank you, Ruth.)

SvZ talks to teachersIt was a program by a group called Teach Rock. Check them out at teachrock.org. They’ve got a ton of resources – music and video – and lesson plans and hints for how to use them in the classroom. Not just so kids learn about the history of rock ‘n’ roll – not that that isn’t important. Do you realize there are kids today who have no idea who Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly were, or even Elvis!!?!

But this goes WAY beyond that. There’s material on how to use rock and pop music to teach English, social studies, even math and science.

And Steven van Zandt is a big supporter of the program. The event started with a three-song set by van Zandt and his band – 15 musicians total. It was – Wow! Then he talked to the hundred or so teachers gathered on folding chairs on the floor of the House of Blues, calling them “the most underappreciated and underpaid” workers in America – true that – and also apologizing for the hell he gave his teachers in high school. Then they took a “class photo” – van Zandt is front and center, of course, you can see Tori and Max in the back row, left of center, making peace signs.

Teach Rock class picture

The program itself took about an hour, and I don’t think anyone would have minded if it had gone twice as long. This group – Teachrock.org – has put a lot of thought in how to use popular music to engage kids who might otherwise not give a damn about school. Tori got a ton of inspiration and ideas that she can’t wait to bring to her classroom next school year.

Then they cleared the chair from the floor and opened the doors – people had been lining up outside for three hours. Yeah, some people had to pay to see the show, Imagine that!

And then – well, like I said, they opened with a blistering “Sweet Soul Music” – that hot horn opening, Do ya like good music (Yeah yeah) That sweet soul music (Yeah yeah) – and when the song was done I turned to Tori and said, “If we had to leave right now, I’d be okay with that.” It was that good.

SvZAnd it kept getting better. Van Zandt wasn’t just performing – he was preaching, singing the gospel of “real, live music.” Not computerized, no autotune or drum machines. Two percussionists pounding the skins and the horn section blowing their souls through hunks of hot metal. That kind of real music.

It was a great show. “Down and Out in New York City,” “Soulfire,” “Forever,” “Princess of Little Italy,” some Temptations and lots more – two hours of great, hot, real music.

And Tori got credit for professional development. And a lot of great ideas for using in her classroom next year. And a T-shirt!

If you’re a teacher or student, check out teachrock.org. You can register and have access to a ton of resource and ideas and maybe learn a thing or two that will liven your classroom next year and engage your students in a way they haven’t been before.

Tori and SvZ

Max Is Set, Now Let It Begin

Max (right) and Chaz at the entrance to Pontchartrain Hall North on move-in day.
Max (right) and Chaz at the entrance to Pontchartrain Hall North on move-in day. (And by the way, the image on Max’s shirt is from a video game he plays, “Overwatch,” which Tori painted on the T-shirt for him.)

Saturday was move-in day for new students at the University of New Orleans, and Tori and I have been pretty achy and tired ever since, getting Max setup and ready to go.

But at least there was plenty of help. When we pulled up in front of the hall with a pickup load of his stuff, a group of student volunteers, faculty and administrators immediately engulfed us, unloading our stuff before I could even get out of from behind the wheel, and dragging it up to his room. This included his new mini-fridge (60 pounds) and his guitar amp (65 pounds.)

It’s a UNO tradition. It not only makes the moving go more smoothly for everyone, but it gives the new students (and their parents) the feeling of belonging, a feeling that people there care about their students.

We got his stuff unpacked and organized, making the best use of the space possible. It helped that the bed could be raised high enough so that fridge and amp fit underneath. After we’d done most of the organizing, Tori and I walked over to the University Center – the student union – and grabbed lunch, then got something for Max, who was helping Chaz – his best friend from high school and now one of his college roommates – organize his own stuff. At the cafeteria’s “Creation Station,” the woman showed Tori how to pull together a bowl of vegetables, meat and pasta, which the woman then stir fried for him. As she cooked the woman – Michelle was her name – assured us that Max was in the right place and promised Tori, “I’ll look out for him.” Had to feel good about that. And the stir fry looked delicious.

Pontchartrain Hall is an awfully nice facility. They’re not typical dorm rooms, they’re suites, with four smallish bedrooms, each. Max’s room (A) shares a bathroom with room B, which is occupied by Chaz. That unit then shares a large living area with another unit of two bedrooms (C and D, natch) and a bathroom. A fairly comfortable arrangement.

Sunday was moving day for returning students, and that includes the two guys who are sharing the other half of Max’s suite. On Sunday we had a few more things to drop off for Max and we met one of the two, a studiously nerdy looking guy who was busy setting up his computer system. Then we ran him over to the nearby supermarket to pick up some things. Yes, he’s got a meal plan and won’t starve (Michelle will look out for him, right?) But you know how college is.

Then, with lumps in our throats, Tori and I headed home.

Now it’s up to Max. There are a couple of days of “welcome to campus” activities and then, on Wednesday, classes start. And that’s Max’s job for the next four years – working hard, getting A’s (please gods, please) and becoming the great adult we know he can be.

It’s the way it should be, but we miss him.

And one other thing UNO

The mascot for the University of New Orleans is fitting for Max, the son of a pirate who also made a bit of a splash in the buccaneer world. They are the UNO Privateers. A privateer, of course is basically a pirate who did all the paperwork. Max will fit right in.

Meanwhile, Life Goes On

It’s not all about the book. It certainly wasn’t supposed to be.

This blog was and is supposed to be about different factors in my life – writer, pirate, family man and guy trying to get into shape. Or as I put it – The writing life, the pirate life, family life and clinging to life. (Ha ha. Little hyperbole there.)

It’s just that for the last few weeks the book – Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter – has been my life. Going through the last weeks of constant editing, formatting it, getting it up online and setting up distribution so that I could eventually get it available to sell.

But of course, there’s so much more going on. So let me quickly catch up on the other things.

Family life – Unlike the rest of the civilized world, which begins school just after Labor Day, New Orleans schools have been in session since the beginning of August. Those are some damn hot days to be sitting in a classroom. It’s not clear to me what they’re thinking, other than to observe:

a) This allows the school to finish the first semester at the start of winter break, instead of having them come back after New Year’s Day and have to take finals;

b) It gives them a slightly longer winter break;

c) It gives them a pad if they lose significant time to a tropical storm;

d) And it lets them take both spring break and a week off for Mardi Gras.

Max has got his work cut out for him this school year. He’s a junior and this semester he’s got four classes – An honors class, an AP, and two “early start” classes that give him college credit. He’s taking it seriously, working harder than he’s had to in a few years. He knows what’s at stake.

On the pirate front, I’ve got my reservations for a trip to Los Angeles this Talk Like a Pirate Day. Our friend Clay – who in well known in the pirate community as Talderoy – is hosting his annual TLAPDay party at his shop, Studio City Tattoos. And Mark “Capn’ Slappy” Summers and I will be there. It’ll be the first time we’ve shared a stage – or even a time zone – in seven years. And that’s also the official release party for “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” although it’s already for sale and I certainly don’t want to stop people from buying a copy – or many copies! – right now. All they have to do is click this link!

Sorry – back to “other things” than the book.

In terms of health – Back in February I met with a doctor for the first time in ten years. We agreed that there wasn’t much wrong with me that couldn’t be fixed by me losing some weight and getting my cholesterol down. It’s been six months and I’m due to go back. I lost about twenty pounds, not doing anything radical, just exercising regularly and watching what I eat. But that was weeks ago, and I’ve been hung up, or plateaued, since then. I wanted to drop ten more pounds and it just wasn’t happening. I don’t step on the sca le every day, but when I do I like to see just a little progress. For weeks – nothing.

Until two days ago, the first time in weeks that I saw the needle on the scale creep down. Not much, but a start. (So naturally, I had an ice cream cone. Hmmmm.) I’ve got a few weeks before I go back to the doc, and that ought to give me enough time to move the needle down just a little further and then I’m right where I want to be in terms of my weight, and I can brag when I go back in.

So yeah, there’s other stuff going on. It’s called life, and all of it’s important. Just that sometimes different parts take the front seat for a while.