Lex Neon on Harriet (teacher / mentor)
Harriet was my World History teacher for 9 months between September ’83 and June ’84. She was also the one person who “got” that I was bored with school. By the time I met her, my photographic memory had become rapier sharp – for tests, all I had to do was concentrate on the music that I listened to while I studied and I was guaranteed an “A.” I had gotten lazy.
When we met, I was the kid that was perpetually late for her class. My homeroom was on the opposite side of the campus, and the measly 6 minutes given to “haul ass” for the next class was not sufficient. And I was pissed off because my tardiness didn’t exactly make me the model student.
Then, it happened. She found out that I was a music geek. I left a folder in her class containing a “shopping list” of 45 RPM singles that I planned to seek out. She found the list, and asked me about it when I tried to retrieve the folder. On the list were ’60s artists that she used to listen to “back in the day,” like Donovan, the Dave Clark 5, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and more. Then it hit me – the way she carried herself, the music she liked, and the way she dressed. She was the school’s “bohemian.”
We talked for about 45 minutes that day after school. Harriet stopped being a teacher and became a mentor. She became the person that I could ask anything, and I did. As I recall I asked her why history classes never covered the 1960s but yet we studied the Revolutionary War, which was “ancient history” to kids. Her answer was, “I don’t really have an answer for that. The wounds are still too fresh, I guess.”
The 1960s were more than just “peace, love, great music and classic cars.” I was born at the tail end, and wanted to know about those years. I could never learn anything from my family on the subject because of all of the “family drama” that took place during those times. I knew that my favorite uncle had to go to war for 2 years, which damaged him. I knew that Dr. King and the brothers Kennedy were killed. I knew that the Beatles changed popular music forever. I didn’t know how that decade affected those who survived it.
Harriet may not know this, but she was teaching me three subjects: she taught me World History, 1960s American history, and music. I started applying my brain to absorb her class studies. She allowed me to ask questions about her life in the ’60s. With those questions, she provided a marvelous soundtrack. (Sidebar: to the music supervisors of The Big Chill, eat your heart out)
I was given access to a treasure trove of original vinyl that survived because Harriet also loves music and loves to sing. One day, I was out running around with my best friend. I came home, and my mom handed me a Pottery Barn bag full of vinyl, and a note letting me know that Harriet stopped by. I was fully introduced to Pink Floyd, CSN, Donovan, Todd Rundgren, Cream, the Band, ’60s Steve Miller Band, ’70s Dylan, and a bunch of other artists that had come and gone, like H.P. Lovecraft.
She effectively kept me off of the dangerous streets of south central L.A. by giving me something to dream about, so I decided to become Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, and Todd.
We kept in touch after I left her class and graduated. When I got my first car, her house by the beach was my first destination. When I had my first serious relationship, Harriet was the first to meet my then “true love.” During the riot that followed the Rodney King verdict, my best friend and I wound up at Harriet’s. Her question was “Why are you guys driving around during all of this madness?” I told her the truth; “I wanted to get an Eagles CD.” When my mom passed away from ovarian cancer, Harriet was the person I called. When I moved away from La-La Land and headed to Vegas, Harriet was the first call I made when I got my first phone.
My best friend and I have referred to Harriet as “Momma Banana” for years. She mentored and taught for years, and has had quite the eclectic bunch of “bananas” as her students, me included. I call her “mom” for short, and have never felt awkward or weird calling her that. There is a large part of my existence that was shaped by her frankness, honesty, candor, and love (another reason why I call her Mom).
She’s retiring from teaching this year, and I wonder who will pick up that “bohemian” spirit in that school. Who will tell these kids that it’s okay to be yourself? Who will give them that extra push, nudge, kick in the ass, and hug? I fell into a World History class 25 years ago and came out with an “A” in the subject. I also gained a much larger musical vocabulary that went beyond just rock and roll, and most importantly, I gained self-esteem. (Sidebar: I also knew every guitar riff and lick from Disraeli Gears). Not bad, eh?
Harriet, I say all of this just to say I love you and you are important to me. I can’t speak for other kids that you took under your wing, but I can definitely say that I never had a teacher or mentor as great as you, before or since. Thank you for being there. Thank you for finding me in the darkness of fear and boredom and giving me the kick in the ass I needed.
(Lex Neon is the musical mastermind behind the music of indie sunshine pop / rock band Poppermost. For more info, go to http://www.poppermost.com/)
Note: The date listed on the album shown below is for the remastered version. The original was released November 1967 in the UK, and December 1967 in the US.
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Release date: 1998-04-07