Friday, July 14, 2006

Alaska Is Not in America

In the course of writing about the latest Long Winters release, Putting the Days to Bed, I decided to do a little reading about the Seattle band. Their website is a great place to start. Along the way, I stumbled across a piece in The Stranger called "Harm's Way" (2/21/02), in which I found that frontman John Roderick moved to Alaska the same year I did: 1971.

I wonder if that means his family also took a trip to the Anchorage International Airport to see Richard Nixon when he came to town during his 1972 re-election campaign? Heck, we did, and there were no Republicans in our house. No matter. It was something to do. And he was President. I even waved a little flag along with the rest of the crowd. (Alas, I missed Paul McCartney's trip through the same airport after his 1980 pot bust.)

A few years later, I sauntered over to the Park Strip, mere blocks from our downtown duplex, to see the Pope. Unlike my parents--and most of the rest of my family--I wasn't raised a Catholic, but it was the Pope! In Alaska! Popemobile and everything. I found the whole experience very cool. I had just written a report about Pope John II and was psyched to see him in person.

Anyway, in The Stranger piece Roderick notes, "Growing up in Alaska, we were Americans, but Alaska is not in America. So I developed this America thing. I really wanted to know about the country." He has a point. You can't just hop in a car and drive to Oregon. Travelling to another state is a big thing. Bigger in the less-wired world of the 1970s even than it is now.

I never developed that same sense of wanderlust, as my parents divorced when I was a tyke, and I logged many air miles from that point forward (to visit my dad in Virginia, then later California). I was getting out of the state more often than most Alaskans.

Anyway, I also discovered that Roderick graduated from East Anchorage High School. Well, I graduated from East's arch-rival, West. Did I take that "rival" stuff seriously? Yes and no. Football games, basketball games--they were things to do. I wasn't all that into sports then any more than I am now, but I'd grab a few games here and there. When I did go, it's inevitable that I'd do a little chanting, so I pulled my old journal off the shelf to look up a few chants. They're perfectly ridiculous. And I should add, most of the East High kids I met back in the day were pretty cool. But you know how groupthink works when you're in your teens...


When you're up, you're up
And when you're down, you're down.
But when you're up against the Eagles,
You're upside down!


Two bits, four bits,
Six bits a dollar,
All for the Eagles,
Stand up and holler!


We're gonna yell (oh yeah!),
We're gonna scream (oh yeah!),
We're gonna beat that
T-bird football team!


The Eagle was the West High mascot. The Thunderbird was the East High mascot. While I'm at it, here are the other mascots from my youth: The Willowcrest Elementary School Wolverine, the Romig Junior High School Trojan, and the Whitman College Missionary (the school began life as a seminary). Yes, the last two go together quite well. I also attended an elementary school in Boulder, CO for six months and another in Daly City, CA for a year (Roosevelt). I don't remember the name of the Colorado school, nor do I remember the mascots for either. Lastly, here's my high school song, sung to the tune of "On Wisconsin."


On the Anchor

On the anchor,
On the anchor,
Hail old Westside High.
Loyal hearts
Forever praise thee,
Loud our chorus cries.
Rah, rah, rah!

On the anchor,
On the anchor,
Echoes to the sky.
Hail fellow, ever hail
Old Westside High!

Endnote: Thanks to John Roderick for (inadvertently) reminding me about this stuff. Incidentally, there's a song on his new album called "Fire Island, AK." I'm guessing he's referring to the one in Cook Inlet (there are, apparently, three Fire Islands in Alaska).

Although I never forget that I'm an Alaskan (even if I was born in Connecticut), I often forget what it was like to live there. It seems so long ago. My mom resides there still, but everyone else has moved on. Of course, plenty of folks have moved there since. By the time I hit high school, I knew it wasn't for me, and I was anxious to, uh, make like a priest...and get the hell out of there! (I was quite fond of that one back in the 1980s.) But it made me what I am. Alaska will always be a part of me, and it will never be like anywhere else in America. Images from Barsuk Records, CNN, and Anchorage High School.

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