Tag Archives: ’80s

To boldly go …

“How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.”

      —Captain Kirk, from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

I’ve been a fan of science fiction since childhood. As a kid, there was no adventure more thrilling than a Star Wars movie or a television show like [the original] Battlestar Galactica.

But equal to that excitement was the thrill of sci-fi becoming reality before my young eyes. Astronauts were already able to go to the moon and back, satellites were being launched to voyage to the deepest parts of our solar system, and special spaceship “shuttles” were bringing travelers into space like airplanes.

As a child in Florida, this was especially amazing. I could actually go to Cape Canaveral and witness this for myself if I wanted to. I watched every flight eagerly, shuttle launch after shuttle launch on cable television, a tiny bit of my dreams coming true every time it blasted off.

And then one day in 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded across the skies.

It was as though part of me shattered right alongside it, my dreams and hopes of the future scatter-shot against the cosmos. From outside my elementary school classroom I could see the distant trails of smoke, and suddenly it was all very real to me. The fantasy was deflated; my heart was broken. I couldn’t possibly recover.

Don’t laugh, but this makes me think of ’80s television icon Punky Brewster.

Punky

You see, there was this episode of Punky Brewster that did the wonderful job of bringing me some kind of closure. It began pre-Challenger when Punky’s class is having career day with students dressing up as the occupation they want when they are older. Punky comes to class dressed as an astronaut, and the entire class is abuzz with excitement.

Then days later, the explosion happens. The class is scared and distraught, & the teacher sits them in a circle to talk have them about their feelings. It was as though the writers reached right into my broken heart and put on-screen every devastating thing I had been feeling about the accident. A crestfallen Punky, called crazy for still wanting to be an astronaut, ponders giving up on her dream.

But when her teacher brings Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin to speak with her about the courage of the Challenger crew, Punky’s dreams come roaring back to life. The next day, I think every kid in my class came to school wanting to be an astronaut. And so did I.

Now obviously, I never became an astronaut—but I did learn the important lesson to never abandon your aspirations just because of a setback, and I realized that every day and every action has not only its risks, but its potential for adventure as well.

So I ask: when faced with disaster, do you stand back, paralyzed by fear? or do you step boldly forward and embrace the pure potentiality of the unknown?

It can be a real struggle, absolutely—but today, on the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion, I am reminded of an imaginative little boy in South Florida, one of his favorite television characters, and of the seven dreamers who achieved immortality amongst the stars.

Without our dreams, who are we really?

 

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Once upon a time.

It should come as no big surprise to anyone reading this blog that I play the tuba, but to this day I still find myself quite surprised to be doing so.

I don’t one hundred percent know why I chose the tuba or why I continue to pursue it. It must be one of those enigmatic “it chose me” situations, because I don’t recall sitting down and plotting it out back in 1985.

Here’s what I did know: 
  • My father was a professional drummer for a while in the ’60s. By the time I came along, it was just a hobby he pursued in our den, playing along to records or just pounding out some solo Samba or Jazz or Rock rhythms. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him perform with any kind of group.
  • My older brother (3.5 years my senior) tried learning the clarinet in middle school for a year—and seemed to hate every second of it, though nowadays he says otherwise. I’m certain it was a very harrowing year. It was for my ears, at the very least.
  • My musical interests were mostly rooted in the top forty ’80s tunes played on the radio: The Human League, The Police, Thomas Dolby, and scores of synthy hits like “The Safety Dance” and “Mr. Roboto.”
So the tuba? Really?

None of my history prior to the sixth grade seemed to musically add up the tuba. To me, the only “heavy metal” I was interested in by that point was a new Quiet Riot or Twisted Sister song, and those don’t even really count as heavy metal.

But then one day I found myself in the middle school band director’s office, faced with the most terrifying question: “So, what instrument do you want to play?”

Believe it or not, I hadn’t really thought about it.

Furthermore, I was already two weeks behind. I only transferred into the class because my two best friends were in it. They were already learning notes and sounds on their chosen instruments, playing hardcore tunes like “Hot Cross Buns” and “Mary Had A Little Lamb” from their super professional looking music books. How could I possibly catch up?

I was practically frozen with indecision. Should I choose the sax so I could wail like that guy in Huey Lewis and the News? No, my friend had chosen that one already. What about the drums? But could I ever live up to my dad’s expectations? I’d already lived through my brother’s squeaky attempts at ear torture, so clarinet was out. There were already too many boys with trumpets, flute was too girly, the trombone was too weird looking, the French horn was too French, and were oboes even real instruments?

The music teacher was a large, sweaty, and very bearded Italian man with round glasses, and he was becoming increasingly impatient. The moment had come, it was time to choose.

And then there it was, sitting on the floor just a few feet behind him, a giant horn clad in gleaming silver. I remember thinking, “Well, it is larger than a trumpet.” A quick panicked look to the band floor revealed an ensemble full of every kind of brass, woodwind, and percussion player possible, chomping at the bit to make music—except for one major instrument.

Swallowing hard, I looked back at the band director and stammered out, “The … tuba?”

Seconds later I had a giant hunk of heavy cold metal in my hands and was being ushered out of the office to my place near the back row.

So, was it divine revelation or just the result of a very complex series of subconscious decisions by a ten year old boy just looking to fit in? Sometimes answers come to you in the most unexpected ways, and I guess along the way you’ve just gotta learn to stop questioning them, lest you spoil the magic.

Photo

[Pictured: ModernTuba, circa 1987, two years playing by this point]