Friday, September 24, 2004
Paging back on Columbine with one who brings history to life
Every now and then, a few of my close friends and I will decide to pretend we’re smart and play Trivial Pursuit together. It’s usually guys against girls, with the guys landing on every green square imaginable to get a sports question. I like to move my way around the board via pink arts and entertainment questions. But it seems like almost everyone avoids the evil yellow squares: History.
Next to math, it’s one of the most hated subjects in school. But we’re told we all have to learn it or we’re doomed to repeat it. A strong argument, perhaps, but if the subject is nauseatingly boring, there’s little you’re going to learn from it. After hefting around 5-pound history books through my high school years, I can honestly say that I learned little from those books. Rather, I simply regurgitated facts and figures splattered across the text.
When I started my academic career at Ferrum College in 1999, I thought history was a thing of the past. But history simply wasn’t history. I had to take two semesters to graduate, so I chose U.S. History. Local. Not too ancient. Safe.
There were two books required for the class. The first was your standard thick, wordy account of those vital events that shaped our nation, written by a bunch of people who only vividly remember the last few decades they were writing about. Then there was the second book: “Voices of the American Past,” documenting those same vital events, only written by those who had experienced them first-hand.
For the first time in my life, I enjoyed reading my history book. I was reliving the history of America through the personal experiences of her people. It wasn’t about numbers and figures and dates; it was about trauma, opinions and emotions. It was fascinating.
The next semester, I signed up for the second part of the course with the same professor, Dr. Milt Rowan. Again, we had two books. The same fat, wordy tome from the previous semester, and a new collection of first-hand accounts: “The American Record.” At the end of the year, I sold back the facts and figures book. The other two are the only books on my bookshelf that weren’t used for my English major. But don’t let Dr. Rowan know that.
Since those history classes, I’ve been fascinated with first-hand experiences of any and everything. I read stories about the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Movement and the lives of dead presidents. They supplied me with an inside eye to the people behind the facts and figures in our history books.
But all of those stories I read were about events that happened long before my time or my parents’ time. And then there was Columbine. I remember following the Columbine High School massacre when I was a senior in high school. I’d come home from school and read the latest bit of evidence or accusation in the Virginian-Pilot (Virginia Beach) newspaper. At night, I’d fold it up and add it to my ever-growing stack. And now, five years after the largest student-induced school shooting in America’s history, all those papers sit in my downstairs closet.
In college, I wrote my final paper for Rhetoric on how Columbine was represented in newspapers from the local, state and national media outlets. I read so many articles about that fateful day that I thought I knew everything there was to know about it. And then I read “No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine” and I realized just how little I knew.
“No Easy Answers” was written by Brooks Brown, a friend of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, a man who is the same age as me. It was the first time I read a personal account of history by someone who was raised in the same generation as myself, someone who listens to the same music, watches the same movies and plays the same video games.
In reading Brown’s book, I wasn’t just living the massacre and its aftermath. I understood. Not the pain of finding out his friends just shot up the school and committed suicide. Not the torment when the police identified him as a possible suspect. But the pain of growing up in today’s society and doing everything you can just to make it. He was a fresh voice about something that happened to us, to our generation, and that voice belonged to one of us.
The second chapter of the book answers the question “why?” as in “Why did he choose to write this book?” People told him Columbine was over. It was time to let the wounds heal, to move on. Brown said he wrote the book for us, for our generation. Because while most of the country may be ready to move on and try to forget that two teenagers killed 13 people, many in our generation are still asking “why?”
We’re asking because we were Dylan and Eric. No, we weren’t killers. But not too long ago, we were high school students too. It’s all too fresh in our mind, remembering what it was like to be that age and to go to school every day with so many expectations imposed on us from our parents, our teachers and our peers. And we want to know what could make a couple of kids just like us finally snap.
Brown’s book takes us into the private lives of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. He brings us through his final moments with Harris just minutes before the shootings took place. He explores various scapegoats such as video games, rock music and violent movies that got the rap for the duo’s rage and motives. Then he shows us the warning signs leading up to the shootings and the events that he thinks could have driven them to do it.
For a few weeks, I lived through the Columbine High School shootings via Brown’s eyes. And unlike the newspaper articles I have stacked in my closet, he wasn’t concerned with the numbers or the timeline of events. This story was about himself, two boys he thought he knew and a community that still mourns.
Brown’s book is what history is all about. It’s about learning instead of regurgitating. Because only when you stop thinking about the numbers and start thinking about the people who lived and died through it all, can you truly understand the history of our nation. And then, only then are you even remotely safe from the doom of repeating it.
Monthly review (CD): Insane Clown Posse’s “Hell’s Pit”
Aug. 31 was a day of celebration for Juggalos everywhere when the second half of ICP’s final joker card hit music store shelves everywhere. It was a Tuesday, a school day. And yet, there was a kid at Best Buy no older than 15 picking up his copy, his mother driving him to school or back home, as he’d undoubtedly misses at least one class that morning.
But if I were still in school, I know I’d have been at Best Buy right next to that kid, skipping school for the lastest and greatest CD by my favorite group. Instead, I was using my lunch break from work to snatch it up. It was the final chapter in a story that had taken ICP 12 years to tell, and it was finally mine.
That CD lived in my car stereo for at least two weeks. The beats are hard and the raps show just how far the duo have come musically and lyrically. Songs like “The Night of the 44” and “C.P.K.’s” stay true to the wicked style that has given the rappers a legion of dedicated fans.
“The Witch” and “Burning Up” are my two jams on the album. They bump so hard, I find myself rolling down the windows and cranking it up when I drive through town. But then I’m turning the volume down as I pull up next to school buses at stoplights. It’s definitely not the kind of stuff you play around your grandmother, or even your mother for that matter.
“Hell’s Pit” comes in two versions, each with a different DVD. One has the live concert footage and a music video for “Real Underground Baby,” the final 12-minute track on the album, featuring beats from every CD Insane Clown Posse has released in their career. The second DVD has a 30-minute movie revolving around the song “Bowling Balls” that can be watched in 2-D or 3-D, and yes, it comes with 3-D glasses.
If you’re a Juggalo, you probably already own this album and are likely bumping it while you’re reading this. If you’re a fan of horrorcore, acid or hard rap, you should give this album a spin or log onto the Internet and download a few tracks. But if you’re easily offended or take song lyrics literally, you’d better leave this CD on the shelf and pick up something that doesn’t have a parental advisory sticker.