Wednesday, April 15, 2015

While my brother's generation...

...listened to "Be True To Your School" in the mid-1960s, my high school classmates and I were subjected to the nihilistic "School's Out," by Alice Cooper:

Instead of Mike Love's celebration of "school spirit" (my emphasis):

When some loud braggart tries to put me down
And says his school is great
I tell him right away
"Now what's the matter buddy
Ain't you heard of my school
It's number one in the state" 

Alice Cooper sang, "School's been blown to pieces!"


Well we got no class
And we got no principles
And we ain't got no innocence
We can't even think of a word that rhymes

A lot had changed in America in the ten years between my brother's high school graduation in 1966 and my own in 1976. I wonder if he's ever even heard of Alice Cooper:

"A girl rock 'n' roller? Cool."

(Note: This is Part III of "My Pilgrimage to Hawthorne, California." Click here for Part I and here for Part II. As I mentioned, unless you're as big a fan of the Beach Boys as I am, you probably need read no further.)

After visiting York Elementary School it was time for me to drive the mile or so south to Hawthorne Middle School at W. 129th Street.

You may be wondering right about now, What's with this guy and his need to see the schools in which Brian Wilson and his brothers attended way back in the 1950s?

That's a fair question. (Although I doubt you'd be asking it if you were still reading.) And the answer is: context. You've heard the famous line from Wordsworth, "the child is father of the man"? Well, how about Kurt Vonnegut's observation that, "Life is nothing but high school"?

(And I can attest to that last one. My 95-year-old mother is still dealing with cliques and "in crowds" in her seniors' residence. After a rocky initiation last summer, though, my mom has formed her own little clique with three other women. "That's great!" I said the other day. "Now you can exclude people!")

But back to Hawthorne Middle School, or Hawthorne Junior High, as I'm sure it must have been called when the Wilson brothers attended it. ("Middle School" is a modern invention, isn't it?)

As I approached the entrance to the school on W. 129th Street from Hawthorne Boulevard I thought to myself, What the heck is this, CHECKPOINT CHARLIE? (I told you many of the schools in LA resemble prisons.)

I ignored the off-putting signs and strolled onto the grounds. It was much nicer on the inside. Above was the view to my left.

And the view to my right.

As you can see, Hawthorne Middle School is a "California Distinguished School."

I won't tell you what snarky thought went through my mind when I read that, but suffice it to say I had a few choice words for California's Proposition 13 from 1978 (my emphasis):

The proposition decreased property taxes by assessing property values at their 1975 value and restricted annual increases of assessed value of real property to an inflation factor, not to exceed 2% per year.

California public schools, which during the 1960s had been ranked nationally as among the best, have decreased to 48th in many surveys of student achievement.

Now, apparently, the cause of that decline is debatable, but I couldn't help thinking, This is what happens when you starve public schools of funding. You end up creating a two-tiered, class-based society. I've often thought that California is a bellwether for the rest of the country. If I'm right, God help us!

Time to move on to the crown jewel of my archaeological expedition: Hawthorne High School. Founded in 1951 with only 9th and 10th grades, the first graduating class was in 1954. (Brian Wilson graduated in 1959 or 1960; I forget which.)

My destination was less than a mile west on W. El Segundo Boulevard (ya gotta love those Spanish-sounding names!). I took a quick loop around the campus to get the lay of the land, and here are some of the houses I saw (again, context):

I then got out of my car and took a lap around on foot.

And my first response was, This place looks new! It's not at all what I expected.

But then I noticed, through a fence, what must have been the original school around which this new facade was constructed. Again: it looked like a prison yard. But I'll bet that was the place Brian Wilson and his brothers (and bandmate Al Jardine) attended back in the 1950s.

Before I got back in my car I had a chance to get a good look at the baseball field in which Brian Wilson played center field for the Cougars.

And the football field, where, as a third-string quarterback, Brian's errant lateral to halfback Al Jardine resulted in the latter's suffering a broken leg. (I'm not exactly sure how the one necessarily led to the other, but I do remember reading it somewhere.)

Finally, before we take our leave of Hawthorne High, it's worth mentioning another famous alum connected to the music industry. (And I'm not talking about Olivia Harrison, the wife of Beatle George Harrison.)

No, I'm referring of course to Ezekiel Christopher Montanez. Perhaps you know him by his more famous monicker, Chris Montez. Born in 1943, Montez was either in Brian's class at Hawthorne or a year behind.

In any event, he foreshadowed the rise of Latino culture in the Los Angeles area with his 1962 hit, "Let's Dance."

Makes for an interesting contrast with another song on the same subject, the risk of asking a girl to dance, this time in the WASP-y southern California style of those all-American Beach Boys. (Not a great video; would this one have been a better choice?)

Next: Where did Brian Wilson go after Hawthorne High? And what about that other Beach Boy, Mike Love? Where did he go to high school?

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