The Dreamer

By: Jason Manley– Educator, Musician, and YEAH! Volunteer

A few weeks ago, as I was driving to Nashville to visit some record stores, I listened to notorious rock and roll visionary Kim Fowley wax poetic about the two kinds of rock and rollers – the Superstars and the Dreamers. The Superstars might be the gods of rock and roll, but they would not be who they are without the true believers, the Dreamers, the people whose only hymnal is the Nuggets box set.  I’ve been a Dreamer since age ten.

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Yeah, the Dreamers have to work day jobs, but only they know the joy and frustration of playing to a crowd of ten on a Tuesday night.  The Dreamers give their music away because they know it will never make them a nickel, but if it did, that nickel would go toward a new guitar pick.  The Dreamers keep Dreaming because to completely wake up is to do what we are supposed to do, and what fun would that be?

One of a lucky few in the Nashville area, I actually get to be part of a bigger Dream than my own.  The Youth Empowerment through Arts and Humanities organization, started by a few women who knew how to turn Dream to reality, is to me the best part of living in middle Tennessee.

Where I grew up, a suburb in West Virginia with no urb to sub, I would have given a finger, joining the ranks of Django and Jerry, to have had access to programs like those that YEAH! offers.  While I did not let lack of access to a rock camp keep me from joining bands and putting on shows, I sure could have benefited from a little guidance from someone who had more sense than me, a 13 year old with JNCO jeans and a wallet chain made of yellow plastic safety chain.

Case in point: someone really should have stopped me from covering both Marilyn Manson and They Might Be Giants back to back at a show in an empty storefront in the Meadowbrook Mall.

P1050301I am forever grateful to the few adults who gave my adolescent friends and I a few small chances to perform wherever we could – a tobacco barn used for livestock auctions, a volunteer fire department, a political rally for the unfortunately named city councilman Robert Riggleman.  For whatever reason, those adults (mostly local guitar instructors) did more for us than any public school teacher had.  They valued our terrible covers and even worse original songs and saw a spark of potential in us.

Now I am the adult in the equation, helping kids achieve their own Dreams with picks, sticks, and guitar licks.  In various programs sponsored by YEAH!, I have taught beginner’s guitar, advanced guitar, photography, and songwriting; managed several bands with my wife Crisi; and provided guidance and instruction to full bands during Rock Block sessions.  There is no better reward than sitting down with kids, most of whom are strangers, several of whom have never touched their instruments, and helping them shape their rock and roll Dreams.

One of my most recent bands, Crimson Chin and the Cat Men, comprised of fifth, sixth, and seventh graders, started as most of my young students do: a little awkward, a lot inexperienced, but completely eager to rock.  As they pondered various metalcore covers that they wanted to take on, I had to marvel at their ambition.

Nonchalantly, I suggested “Beat on the Brat” by the Ramones instead.  “I don’t like the Ramones,” their guitarist Kaylie said.  I should have told her that every time someone utters those words, a guitarist decides to give up the Dream and go to pharmacy school.

“Well,” I replied, “Nirvana has this great song called ‘Sliver!’  It’s super easy and it’s about hanging out with your grandma!  It’s so cool!”

P1050281Crickets chirped.  A newcomer to the program might have cried from the students’ lack of interest, but again I was undeterred.   Rather serendipitously, at that precise moment the bassist Ian played two notes on his bass (A and G, in a rhythm strangely similar to “Riot Girl” by Bikini Kill.)  “Hey, do that again!” I said.  Thus, a song was born.  By the end of the hour and a half session, Crimson Chin and the Cat Men had written their first punk rock song.

It sounded like Nirvana.

These moments of discovery are why I keep coming back to rock camps.  I feel privileged to both witness and have a small part in the creation of music that comes from a place untouched by commerce or cool, that captures the Dreams that only the rock and roll Dreamers can know.

Dream on.

Check out YEAH! and its programming: www.yeahintheboro.org. (psst- Anna Fitzgerald is a Founder of this organization.)