Another Brick in the Wall


What is your Incognito Band?

Everyone has that band they like, but they never really talk about the fact that you like them. It’s not that you’re ashamed of them or anything like that; it’s just that band or that singer that you really like. It’s a band you probably don’t even really realize you like until you hear one of their songs again, but you’re a fan all-the-same. You wouldn’t necessarily make an effort to go buy one of their albums, but if you saw it one on the discount rack, you’d consider picking it up. You don’t make an effort to keep your liking of this band a secret, but they are, regardless, your Incognito Band.

Here is the criteria for the Incognito Band band in your life:

  1. Most people with whom you are close are unaware that you like this band.
  2. This is not your “favorite band.”
  3. They are, for the most part, considered “cool” by contemporary or nostalgic pop culture.
  4. You turn them up whenever they’re on the radio.
  5. One or more of their song is often stuck in your head, and you’re fine with that.
  6. You cannot name all members of the band.
  7. For you, this band embodies the concept of loving the music without giving a damn about the lives of the band members.

DMBFor example: For my wife, it is Dave Matthews Band. When we had this conversation and she said this was her Incognito Band, I bought her tickets to their concert and made her a MixTape (okay, a CD, actually, but if you’re old enough to remember the concept of the “MixTape,” you know exactly what I’m talking about. If not, watch the movie – or read the book High Fidelity). And of course, the MixTape I made for her included the DMB song “Dream Girl.” Because, well, she is.

So who is your Incognito Band?

robAnyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of Vanilla Ice. But he does not fit the above criteria – at all. Nothing “incognito” about it. Rob is my friend and I love his music, but essentially, everyone I know knows I know him. He’s my favorite performer of any category for so many reasons. And of course, it’s not considered “cool” to be a Vanilla Ice fan, although it’s cooler than it used to be. I became a fan in the 5th grade, and that has never changed. In the mid-to-late 90s, when it was extremely uncool to like Vanilla Ice, I was buying albums such as “Mind Blowin” and “Hard to Swallow,” when no one even knew he was still recording.

beatlesMy favorite “band” is The Beatles. But anyone who loves music must, at the very least, appreciate and respect the Beatles. They are in their own category. In rock & roll, there are bands, and then there’s the Beatles. Thanks to my dad and the local oldies radio station, I was raised on the Beatles. I like the Beatles to the extent that I’m taking my dad to see Ringo Starr when he comes to town, and I bought the tickets without being able to name a single Ringo Starr song (but in my own defense, after a quick iTunes search, I found that I’d heard – and really liked – the song “Photograph,” as well as a few others.” But beyond Vanilla Ice and the Beatles, there are a few others.

gnrGuns N’ Roses could possibly be a candidate to be my Incognito Band. Well, not really. When I was growing up, they were clearly my favorite metal band, and even to this day, I own (and regularly wear) two Guns N’ Roses shirts and I’m going to their concert in June. And I’m sure my parents were fully aware of my affinity for Guns N’ Roses, since the band inspired a phase of early teenage rebellion, complete with questionable hair decisions, intentionally torn jeans and the unseasonably unreasonable choice of year-round flannel.

coldplayPerhaps my Incognito Band would be the band that did my favorite song: “Fix You” by Coldplay (though “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses is as close to #2 as a song could possibly be). But I’ve actually made no attempt at keeping that fact secret. I’ve always liked Coldplay because: a) I love their music; b) I relate to their lyrics; and c) it seems to be specifically uncool to like Coldplay, which is a concept toward which I seem to gravitate. (Example of ‘c’: I once bought Snow’s new album, “Two Hands Clapping,” without having heard it – and loved it.) That being said, their music is absolutely amazing, and I’ve never kept that opinion a secret. When “Fix You” is played on my favorite episode of “The Newsroom,” my eyes tear-up every time.

queenQueen, perhaps? At one point in my life, yes. But then I liked the band so much that I bought several of their albums. I – along with many people of my generation – learned about Queen from the car head-banging scene in Wayne’s World (you know you saw it). And then I found out that I’d actually heard Queen’s music years before in my favorite childhood Sci-Fi movie, Flash Gordon. And beyond that, I’ve had a natural liking for “Under Pressure” (for obvious reasons) and I was truly sad when Freddie Mercury died. I watched the entire Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert from start to finish when it aired live on MTV.

There are numerous bands I “like”: U2, The Beach Boys, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, Blues Traveler, Eminem, Bon Jovi, The Rolling Stones, Blessid Union of Souls and more. But I do have one band that fits all the criteria – my Incognito Band:


No one I know would ever describe me as a Pink Floyd fan. But I am. I am, because of several songs that I relate to very well – songs that strike a cord with me – and it all started in high school.

When I was in high school, my track coach was also the art teacher. And for the more-talented artists in his upper-level art classes, he allowed them to paint a small mural or painting on one of the many cabinet doors in his monstrous art studio classroom. And one of those works caught my eye and was always my favorite thing to see in that ridiculously artful room. It was a cabinet painting by a friend of mine, Kenneth, of an eye. It was close-up so that the iris of the eye filled the entire canvas, and in the pupil of the iris stood a man, a figure, a faceless figure, hands raised, pressing them as though the inside of the iris was a glass imprisonment. And below read the caption, “You lock the door and throw away the key. | There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me” (from Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage”). That line was deeply poignant to me as I grew through the adolescent uncertainty of high school, not because I was schizophrenic or something, but rather, because I felt like I was always at odds with who I was as opposed to who I wanted to be as opposed to who I should be; and I felt that this concept made me a very unique and individual person, just like everyone else.

Then I graduated high school, experienced some things that changed me forever, and returned to my high school as a teacher. That’s when I learned about the true individuality of being a person: None. I was just another flawed, damaged, desperate soul, searching for meaning. I wish I could say that, between the time that I left Wichita East High School as a student and returned as a teacher, I’d learned some valuable lessons about life. And maybe I had, but it certainly didn’t feel like it. All I’d learn to do successfully was drink heavily, seduce women, manipulate people, and hide the deep/dark pain of having been raped.

Most teachers begin their teaching careers wide-eyed and optimistic, but not me; I was a pessimist from the start. And how do I know this? Every first day of school, for every class, every year I taught, I made sure that as students walked into my classroom for the very first time, they heard the same song: “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2,” the Pink Floyd song with the classic line, “We don’t need no education. | We don’t need no thought control;” and concludes with the simple fact that, “All-in-all we’re just another brick in the wall.” Essentially, this was my way of telling them, “You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake” (from Fight Club). However, I didn’t mean this to be mean or callous to them. I was simply being a brutal realist.

I recently reconnected with a former student from Eudora High School, the school I left East to go teach after I’d confessed to my wife that I was a serial adulterer. When we moved away from Wichita, it was supposed to be our chance to start over, but I still played that same song at the beginning of the school year. But anyway, as with this former student she said something that made me step back and think. She told me several times during our conversation that her time in my classroom was the most valuable of her entire time in school. After about the third time she said this, I had to inquire.

“Why did I matter to you?” I asked. “Why was I so important?”

“You were fucking real,” she replied. “You weren’t sugar-coating shit.” You told us how it was. All the other teachers just bullshitted us through class so they could get through the day. No one truly cared and I felt like you were actually there making a real impact.”

This caught me off-guard.

“You deserve to hear,” she continued, “that you’re not just a high school teacher to me. You’re someone who made an impact on my life.”

“How? And Why?” I asked, still a bit puzzled. “I’m sorry, I just don’t hear that anymore.”

“What do teachers drill into your head,” she continued. “Get good grades, go to college, don’t do bad things, you’ll ruin your life. Make something of yourself. But in all reality, I don’t need any of that and you have shown me that you could go through the hardest times and still be someone because at the end of the day, you still lay down at night with your wife and have your happy family. Yeah, things may be hard at times, but you don’t have to have a damn degree to know that you’ll be okay at the end of the day.”

This was something I needed. To her, I wasn’t just another brick in the wall of life, I was a teacher who mattered in the way that I was supposed to matter – as a teacher. Yeah, I taught her literature and grammar and writing, but I also taught life. I taught real life, and she got it. She understood. As a teacher at Eudora, I was the kind of teacher I wish I’d been at East. In Eudora, where I’d finally managed to do it right, my time was cut short when my past transgressions caught-up with me. And I had to pay the piper. And that’s fine. I deserved my punishment. But up until that moment when I was arrested, I had the peace-of-mind that I was doing it right. For once in my life, I was doing it right. So when she told me those things, it helped, amazingly. When the media and internet comment boards tear me down and paint me as the worst example of a teacher, this one student wasn’t afraid to tell me, knowing everything I’d done, that I’d still made a significant and positive impact on her life as a teacher.

Words do not exist to describe how much I appreciate what she said to me, and how much it meant.

But none of that will ever matter in the eyes of anyone else. Because I will forever be judged by the worst choice of my life. And to many people, it won’t matter that I made positive impacts on students in the manner in which I was supposed to; it will only matter that I failed in the worst way. So essentially, any good I did is washed-out by the bad.

So now, I’ve become comfortably numb. And I can only breathe and let the future eclipse the past, knowing it’s just us and them, and hope that the future holds the happiest days of our livesHey you, does anything I’m saying right now matter, at all? All-in-all, we’re just another brick in the wall.