By James Sandham
Well, music lover, it’s that time again – I heard a back to school ad on the radio for the first time the other day, and then, when I was down at the community centre, I overheard a couple kids talking about which lockers they’d been assigned. It wasn’t a few days later that I was down at the local art shop, and what’s the most prominent thing on display? Not pens and paint like usual; no, it was BACKPACKS, all big, bulky and burdensome looking, like physical manifestations of stress and work itself. I was making my way back home when a cool August breeze blew down the street, and that’s when it hit me: the summer is almost over, folks. Labour Day – and the school year – are coming on fast.
It’s strange, you know – for some reason this realization still jolts me. I’ve been out of school for six years, and I don’t have any kids (or even know any people with kids of that age), but this time of year still reminds me (and probably always will) of going back to school. I guess that’s what sixteen years of behavioural conditioning will do. But in some ways, despite all the stress and awkwardness associated with going back to school, I have to say that sometimes I miss it. Or I miss the idea of it at least – the routines and seasonal patterns and whatnot. So with that in mind, I sat down to compile a few tracks on the subject. Here are a few of the favs.
Barenaked Ladies – “Grade 9”
Ah yes, this one. Back in high school we had a student council that would play this over the PA almost every morning before class. It annoyed the hell out of me at the time. In retrospect, however, I’ve got to say that it really does capture a moment in life. Grade nine was a silly and frantic sort of stage. It’s from the Barenaked Ladies’ first album, “Gordon,” which came out in 1992.
Pink Floyd – “Another Brick in theWall”
Years later, when I joined student council myself, this was the song we played over the PA. Or tried to – the faculty usually turned it off, which really only served to make us identify with the song all that much more – but looking back I can understand how it must have grated on them to come in and hear this first thing. A disheartening way to start the day. Then again, maybe they expected it – high schools aren’t exactly renowned as bastions of empathetic sensitivity.
Rough Trade – “High School Confidential”
I was never really into this tune personally, but it seemed too good to pass up on a list of back-to-school tracks. It’s from Rough Trade’s 1980 album, “Avoid Freud,” and was the band’s breakthrough Top 40 song in Canada. It even resulted in a JUNO Award for the song’s producer, Gene Martynec, who also did some really good 60s garage music as part of Bobby Kris and the Imperials. Anyway, this is what I assume high school must have been like in the ‘80s – very edgy, very tough.
Gold Panda – “Quitters Raga”
Here’s something a little more contemporary. It’s by UK performer, producer and composer Derwin Lau (aka Gold Panda), and while the song itself doesn’t really have much to do with going back to school, its fan-made music video, on the other hand, seems to perfectly capture the ambiance of this time of year. It’s shot in the late summer and early fall, on what looks like a campus, with a bunch of young kids goofing around, and it really just seems to capture the whole transition of going away to school.
Nada Surf – “Popular”
And to wrap things up, the Nada Surf classic. This came off their debut album, “High/Low,” from 1996 – right at the end of my elementary school years – and it’s basically a survival guide for high school. Or maybe it’s supposed to be sarcastic – I still haven’t figured that out – but it works equally well either way. Interesting fact: the whole song, except for the chorus, is from the 1964 teen advice book “Penny’s Guide to Teen-Age Charm and Popularity,” written by TV actress Gloria Winters. Anyway, it’s a good one to nip any nostalgic back-to-school delusions in the bud.