They call them the glory days, but for some of us, the high school years are anything but glorious.
Yes, there is the precious and forgiving glow of youth on your side, but often, when you look back years later, the scars stand out. Broken hearts, cruel bullies, the pressures of cliques and emerging social mores, the looming presence of the "real world," the constant wrestling with authority -- all can add up to an existence that is anything but free from stress.
Amidst all of this, you're supposed to figure out who you are and what you'd like to do with your life. Ugh. Who has the time?
Goo Goo Dolls bassist and Good Charamel Records head Robby Takac remembers his years at West Seneca East High School well. His time spent there has become the inspiration for a further extension of his Music Is Art Foundation, which has already created a yearly arts festival, an instrument refurbishment program for school-age musicians, a concert/performance art series at UB, and fund raisers for various local charities.
But Takac wanted to go deeper; he felt that kids in high school were badly in need of the promise offered by music. So he has partnered with area schools to offer a series that combines motivational speaking and rock and roll in a way, the bassist feels, that would've appealed to him when he was in high school.
"The idea grew in stages," says Takac, taking a break from his daily pre-production rehearsals with the Goo Goo Dolls in a downtown Buffalo loft.
"My studio manager, Marc Hunt, and I were mulling around the idea of getting younger bands involved in the Music Is Art festival, and through our involvement with some of the local educators, we began to sense the excitement of the local school personnel about being a part of the Music Is Art community."
Takac and Hunt hatched the idea of hitting the kids where they live. And the benefits would be mutual, of course. Takac's roster of bands would have a captive audience, one comprised of the very folks they'll be counting on to be their fan base as they attempt to burst onto the national scene.
Since initiating the series a few months back, Takac has been delighted by the response, from students and administrators alike. So far, Music Is Art has presented assemblies at Tonawanda High School, West Seneca East and JFK. They'll hit Amherst April 22, Orchard Park April 29, and Maryvale and North Collins in May.
"We started off the assemblies by having Last Conservative perform a show at Tonawanda High School, along with a short video, a message from the band -- and a surprise appearance by a shaggy red-haired bass player from the Goo Goo Dolls! It was obvious, from the first moment the idea was presented until the last kid left the autograph/info table, that this was a fine way to connect with the students," Takac said.
"The kids are loving the shows, the bands are gaining fans at every event, and they seem to be genuinely interested in hearing what's being said."
The assembly culminates in a battle of the bands set up at the school. "The winner of that battle enters the finals with 15 other schools, in a concert at Extreme Wheels Skate Park, on June 4th and 5th," he says. "Then the winner of that final battle gets a headline spot at the Music Is Art festival in June, and some free recording time at Chameleonwest."
Considering all that Takac is involved with at the moment -- daily work with the Goo Goo Dolls, his concert series at UB, the upcoming Music Is Art festival, planned events in conjunction with the Albright-Knox Arts Gallery, and various production duties with his record label -- it seems reasonable to wonder how he does it all.
"This all only happens with the help of the unbelievable staff involved with the Goo Goo Dolls, the Music Is ArtFoundation, Chameleonwest, and Good Charamel," he replies. "And perhaps most importantly, the support of the Western New York music community. These are the people that make it happen. I'm just trying to spearhead things."
Each assembly involves a presentation designed, essentially, to encourage "personal responsibility" among students. But though these words could seem like tired cliches, when presented by traditional figures of authority, Takac offers his own twist on just what "personal responsibility" means. For him, it has more to do with seizing the day than just saying "no".
"The message is fairly simple," says Takac. "In the years spent in that very high school building, these people are going to make some decisions that will affect the next 60-70 years of their lives. So don't spend more time trying to get out of doing stuff than it would take to just do it. That just seems a waste of time. And don't worry about peaking in high school. Don't get discouraged. There's plenty of time to work toward having the future and life you can truly enjoy, so you might want to think about taking this time to figure out what those things might be.
"Hang in there. Because, you know, sometimes geeks end up being rock stars."