There are a few teachers over the course of my educational history who made a real impact on my life. I'm lucky to have that many. Quite a few occurred in college: Dr. Downs with his direct, no bullshit approach to teaching who gave me many of the sayings I still try to live by and laughed at my Lucille Ball moments. Dr. Wink with his sonnets and letter-writing. Dr. Root, my advisor on The Signal, the college newspaper, who handled all my crazy with the same even coolness. Another one was my high school English teacher, Miss Allen. Because of her, I gave up my plans to move to London after high school to become a waitress in a pub and went to college instead. She graded my quizzes at my desk when she knew I had aced it, got me a retest after I fell asleep during the TAS test and convinced whatever higher-up that I should be in AP English. She also used music to teach poetry. It was that lesson that introduced me to U2. She laid out on the overhead projector a list of lyrics, though at the time didn't know them to be part of a song. It was about a boy named Johnny and his sister the moon. And I fell in love.
Within this same class we had studied Greek Mythology. I've always been a huge fan of mythology of any sort--Greek, Roman, Norse, the Old Testament--ever since I picked up a book on Mythology at an elementary school book fair (gods, I loved book fairs!) I loved the myths because they were filled with interesting, flawed, twisted characters driven by the basest of human urges and needs who just happened to have special powers that gave them that extra flash. My favorite of all was Apollo and Artemis. I loved the dichotomy of the twin deities; one of the day, the other of the night. Apollo, the sun god, lord over Science, medicine and learning in his blazing golds, tan skin and blonde hair. Artemis, virgin Goddess of the Moon and the hunt, childbirth, protector of wild animals, and secret lovers in pale, silver light, marble skin and dark hair. One feral and wild, the other enlightened and reserved. So this poem struck a chord in me because it metaphorically personified the moon. Then Miss Allen played the song and I was hooked. I had never heard of the band before, or if I had, I think I had formed the opinion they were some scary punk band with long hair and black eyeliner. After reading their songs as poetry (such a novel idea to me at the time) and approaching it from that way, I sought out everything U2 I could which was hard given this was before iTunes and Amazon. You had to order by phone or go to Wal-Mart and hope they had the tape you wanted. I would stake out MTV and VH1 for the video and as soon as I first watched the one for "Mysterious Ways," I wanted to become a belly dancer.
My grandmother had given me a couple pairs of my grandfather's pajamas. They were huge on me. With the bottoms hanging low on my non-existent hips, I would tuck my shirt up, stand in front of the mirror in my bedroom and try to belly dance like the beautiful, exotic woman in the video. Since I had no belly, no butt and no hips, it ended up looking more like a prepubescent boy playing a jerky hokey pokey.
This year marks the 20-year anniversary of the release of Achtung Baby. It's been twenty years since Miss Allen set those lyrics out for our class and played the music that accompanied them. To mark the occasion, Q Magazine has released a tribute album titled AHK-toong BAY-bi with covers by Jack White, Damian Rice, The Killers and Depeche Mode. Jack White's cover of "Love is Blindness" is moving. I think that man is innately music - anything he does is genius. I think if Neil Gaiman were to add an eighth Endless, Jack White would be the anthropomorphic personification of Music. Click the link to see what I mean.
The album's sold out. I'm getting on Amazon's list for it. And maybe I'll break out those old pajama bottoms. Gods know I've got the belly and hips for it now.