The end of 8th grade couldn’t come fast enough. Unfortunately, it did not end on a very good note. The girls were maturing far quicker than I was. I was one of two kids who couldn’t go on the end-of-year school trip for reasons I have still yet to know from my mom. I was a good student, taking advanced classes, staying out of trouble, but constantly being disallowed things going to concerts, sleepovers, and spending 4 days with my friends away from my parents under chaperoned care. That June, I needed to fall into the Summer and forget my feelings of loserdom. I just wanted to hang out on the couch and watch MTV all day long, to only move when the ice cream man drove into our cul-de-sac. Those were days that Supertramp’s Cannonball seemed to be on every morning, and I’d watch it feeling like that caveman searching for new life.
Then at the last minute, my mom decided that I needed to do something structured that Summer. So she offered to enroll me for a 3rd time in USDAN summer camp, an arts camp I had gone to in 82 & 83 (84 was spent helping my parents move their business and then visit family in Europe for 3 weeks). USDAN was a creative and performing arts center started by operatic singer Andrew McKinley in the late 60s. It was an outdoor camp with bungalows nestled in the woods of Long Island, and you could learn any type of music, art, theatre, and creative writing. It was only a ten-minute drive from my house, although it attracted folks from all over the Island, New York, North Jersey even from Eastern Connecticut. Some famous alumni include Natalie Portman, Taylor Dayne, and Mariah Carey, who easily could have been there when I was.
Unfortunately, the enrollment period was over, so my only chance of getting in was to audition for a scholarship. All I remember was that I played something on the viola and sang something classical acapella. They let me in, and I’m sure it’s because they felt sorry for me, and I only say that because there was no way I practiced at all before that audition. And I was marginal on the viola. Still, there I was, starting another year of non-responsible fun. It would turn out to be my last.
The setup of USDAN is such that you take a major and a minor, sort of like college. One year I majored in Orchestra, which meant private viola lessons with a few kids and then an entire orchestra session. Then I could minor in Recreation, which meant that I could just play tons of games for an hour or so a day. Because of this scholarship, I had to Double Major in Chorus & Orchestra. There was also a session of pool time in their outdoor lap & diving pool. If you tested out of lessons, you could just hang out and play card games, where I learned War and Bullshit.
In the middle of the day, you had a lunch session and an amphitheater session with different scheduled performers each day. I almost always skipped that and regret I never took that more seriously, as I probably missed many good shows. Then when the final session of the day wrapped, there would be boxes of ice cream to hand to everyone. So I made it my mission to figure out new ways to swipe a box of Good Humor strawberry shortcakes off of those golf carts as they rolled by.
To my surprise, a friend of mine from school, Edwin, was going to camp as well. So each morning, I’d wait for his bus to pull up, and we’d walk along with his cousin, Jimmy, to our first session. Most days, we’d meet up for lunch and then skip assembly by getting lost in the woods. And we talked about videos – how funny David Lee Roth was, was it cool to like Wham!?, and how weird and sad was that 19 song? [In retrospect, he wasn’t, it was, and yes, it still is.]
There was also was a new band from Boston called Til Tuesday, with a female lead singer (back then, still rare) who looked and sounded way cooler than Edwin & I would ever know. Listening to their debut album takes me back to those early days of camp, as the air begins heating up, the sun dappling through those high treetops. To this day, I am still an Aimee Mann fan, but as I think about Voices Carry today, I’m amazed that a song that seemed catchy and mysterious now sounds prescient and disturbing.