The Rise of the Band Geeks, Episode 12: Requiem for Marching Band Season

Ice on my tongue, crusted

Over harsh, bitter puffs of nothingness

I trusted

The months would stretch and coalesce into taffy-like time

That eternities would burn in the aftermath of summer’s speed

And all evenings would be fever dreams of drill and fundamentals and Varsity

Until the sun slid behind the lids of the multihued trees and the Fearless Leader

Summoned the teeming mass of band geeks to the center of the tower and we all

Screamed “Go, Michigan!” as a team and December was but a beam on future’s horizon


In January’s rut I cling

To the remainder of the season in my closet and the singing, screaming shrieks of victory

Storms of maize and blue and snow that flowed round human flesh

And the heat that dwindled into a freeze as the fall washed into my memory

And the bright maize lights and the blimp and the remembrance

The fusion of fall with first Notus, then Boreas,


Entanglement of life with Heaven


They said we wouldn’t win until Hell had frozen over

Before they realized

Hell is a town in Michigan.

The Rise of the Band Geeks, Episode 10: Interview with a Band Geek

This satirical post was co-written with a person.

Robert R. Robertson (R3):  Good evening, A2.  I am here with self-proclaimed band geek Jonina Jonana, a clarinet in the Michigan Marching Band.  How are you today, Jonina?

Jonina Jonana (JJ):  Bad.

R3:  That’s nice.  So, would you like to describe what you do in the band?

JJ:  This is going really awkward.  I don’t like this interview.

R3:  But will you answer the question?

JJ:  Yeah, man.

R3:  OK…then t–

JJ:  Hit me with your best shot.  I’m waiting.

JJ:  You’re pretty bad at this.

JJ:  My dude, I’m gonna leave.

Are you writing all of this down?

R3:  Yep.

JJ:  Even that?

R3:  Yup.

JJ:  Are you gonna ask me anything?

R3:  So, would you like to describe what you do in the band?

JJ:  Well–I kinda just do what everyone else does.  I play, I walk around the field with nice posture, um…I memorize my music, I memorize where to walk on the field…um…what else do I do?

R3:  You tell me.

JJ:  Um, I…I practice in my free time about 5 minutes a week because practice is built in practice, so why would I need to practice on my own?  I…like to think that I’m pretty good at the clarinet.  I don’t…um…I don’t know.  I guess I should start taking this interview more seriously.

But in all seriousness, I really do love being in the marching band, and it really is an honor to play in it whenever we have a show and to be a part of this group of wonderful musicians.  And even though I joke about it, I really am and will be forever grateful that I am part of the Michigan Marching Band.  I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and you can’t really describe the experience to people.  You have to really experience it to appreciate it.

R3:  Like the TV networks?

JJ:  Yeah, exactly.  I feel like we put so much effort into it, and we’re the ones that really hype up the crowd, but I also think that none of us mind too much that we don’t get as much recognition because we know that we…um….

We don’t need others to tell us that we’re worthy.  We already know we’re the best damn band in the land.

R3:  Seems legit.  So, Jonina, what made you want to play the clarinet, or stick, as I’ve heard them kids say?

JJ:  To be honest, it was kind of a shot in the dark for me.  In the first place I didn’t really want to be in the band anyway, but I figured it would be better than trying to sing in the chorus class, so I went for it.  I picked the clarinet because I wanted to play an instrument that wasn’t heavy.

R3:  Like the cymbals?

JJ:  No.

R3:  Why the clarinet specifically?  I mean, why not percussion or brass?  What about being a woodwind spoke to you?

JJ:  Like I said before, I just chose the first thing that I saw.  It looked kinda cool, it wasn’t very heavy, and I figured I could probably make a sound out of it.  So yeah, I went for it.  Also, my sister plays the trumpet, and she’s annoying, so I didn’t really wanna play that.

R3:  Your sister?

JJ:  What’s it to you?

R3:  Is she in the MMB?

JJ:  No.  She quit the trumpet after 1 year.

R3:  Y tho?

JJ:  Why not?  Free will?

R3:  Does she go to Michigan?

JJ:  Do you think she goes to Michigan?

R3:  I don’t know.  That’s why I’m asking.  Anyway, ya like jazz?

JJ:  Not really.

R3:  Oh, ok.  Alas.  Anyway, that’s all the time the network will give me because the big boss is too focused on the other sports.  But thanks for your time, Jonina Jonana, and Go Wolverines!

JJ:  OK.  Peace out, homie.

Hidden Gems: Fashion Nugget by Cake

This week’s Hidden Gem is a deep cut from 1996 by the relatively obscure band Cake. If you don’t recognize the band, you might recognize one of their most popular songs, I Will Survive. To most people, Cake is a one-hit wonder, which might even give them more pop culture credit than they deserve; however, I’ve recently rediscovered their work and won’t hesitate to say that they are grossly underappreciated. Cake is the perfect combination of humor, experimental musical ideas, and genuinely good instrumentation, all of which are perfectly displayed in their sophomore album Fashion Nugget. Each track on the album is a unique experience with its own personality, but all related by the charming charisma of the band’s aesthetic.

The Distance was my first introduction to the band and immediately became one of my favorite songs. It starts out with an incredible intro: the lead singer gives an intense and understated vocal delivery as a throbbing bass drives the song forward. Then the drums and lead guitar come in, simple yet effective, perfectly accenting the lyrics and atmosphere. There’s an incredible buildup, an awesome drum fill, and then a heavy strumming guitar that is absolutely brutal and driving. Brass accents are sprinkled throughout, giving the song a dramatic and charismatic feeling. The plot of the song is extremely interesting and well-written, with a central character who is racing even after the race is over and therefore “going the distance”. These lyrics summarize the theme of the song the best:

The sun has gone down and the moon has come up
And long ago somebody left with the cup
But he’s striving and driving and hugging the turns
And thinking of someone for whom he still burns

Cause he’s going the distance
He’s going for speed
She’s all alone
In her time of need

These words really resonate with me; I can understand what it’s like to be pursuing something to the ends of the Earth when it’s actually in reach the whole time, but is neglected in the heat of the pursuit. It’s easy to extrapolate these feelings to important things in life, like love, success, and happiness. The theme of the song is incredibly tragic, in that the protagonist aspires to some unreachable, yet noble ideal. It’s easy to think that they’re misguided and over-ambitious, but if you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you can recognize and appreciate the narrow-sighted drive to “go the distance”. I think the song is surprisingly interesting to say the least, and the high quality instrumentation and charisma make it a great example of what Cake does well.

There are a lot of other songs off the album that are similarly exciting, with some of my favorites being I Will Survive, Friend Is a Four Letter Word, and Nugget. Each one drips with the same charisma, while also showing off the different aspects of Cake’s musical talent. They dabble in every genre of music with a surprising amount of success, which makes this album a thrill to listen to from start to finish. The entire album is a perfect mix of classic alternative rock and more experimental and odd ideas; none of the songs take themselves too seriously which prevents them from sounding pretentious or overbearing. Overall, Fashion Nugget is the prime example of a hidden gem: it’s underappreciated and overlooked, but full of surprises that make it an incredibly unique piece of art.

Twenty One Pilots Peaked with Vessel

Somebody has to say it: Twenty One Pilots isn’t as good as they used to be. After listening to their newest album, Trench, I was taken aback by how synthesized and monotonous the band was sounding. The band I loved made cutting-edge music with clever lyrics and interesting instrumentation; this band was boringly consistent with repetitive lyrics and a choppy delivery. I started to wonder what happened; where did they go wrong?

This question brought me back to the best album they’ve ever made: Vessel. Released in 2013, this album features classics such as Ode to Sleep, Guns for Hands, Car Radio, and House of Gold, which show off the genre-pushing ideas the band was capable of. From the almost symphonic layout of Ode to Sleep with it’s grand transitions and build up, to the simple and wholesome House of Gold, featuring an iconic ukulele (which didn’t make it into Trench), the band was unique in almost every way. The lyrics were often clever, and although they could be dark and introspective, they never tried to be edgy; they were sincere. This album brought a large amount of well-deserved attention to the band, and their next studio album was an even bigger success.

Released in 2015, Blurryface gained popularity due to catchy and rhythmic songs like Ride and Stressed Out. As a result, the band entered the mainstream culture and was even played on the radio (ironic when you listen to Fairly Local). At first I couldn’t stop listening, but this album certainly didn’t age as well as Vessel. I noticed it the more I listened: the songs were formulaic. A majority of them featured prominent electronic melodies, edgy lyrics, and stripped down instrumentation. They were pushing the envelope for sure, but in the wrong direction, not to mention the lyrics were much more repetitive than those in Vessel. I wasn’t really upset about Blurryface, just disappointed. I figured they were just trying to appeal to a more mainstream audience and I couldn’t blame them for that. However, by the time they started releasing singles off of Trench, something had gone too far.

These songs were so ridiculously edgy and cliche, it was almost unbearable. From the constant references to death and depression, to the empty critiques of “culture”, you could tell they had lost their original spirit. Most likely, they saw how popular their darker songs on Blurryface were and they ran with it, essentially filling the void of the “edgy” band. In the short-run it’s no big deal, but I guarantee Trench won’t have the same longevity as Vessel: the newer fans of Trench are going to get tired of the edgy vocals and repetition and move on, while the older fans will still be listening to Vessel. Moving forward I’m curious to see where they go; they might prove me right by dropping another repetitive and monotonous album, or maybe they’ll surprise me with a revival of the energy that made them so great. Either way I’ll be keeping an eye out, because at the end of the day, they’re still one of the most interesting bands around.

(Image credits: Google Images)