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Monday, July 21, 2014

My GRAMMY Camp 2014: Los Angeles Experience

My dorm room is unbearably hot. My mother has long since departed. My roommate is nowhere to be found. I lay a single sheet across my twin bed--I didn't bother to bring a fitted one, because I've never successfully put one on by myself. I look at the windows and don't even attempt opening them; I consider myself someone with at least a modicum of intelligence, but generally mundane tasks that require any measure of gross motor skills elude me. I sit in the hot room briefly, hoping my roommate will magically appear, and then venture back downstairs, phone and earbuds in hand. Off to a great start, I think. Sit in the lobby with earbuds in. Great way to make friends, Jensen.

Someone's father--or grandfather, I can't be sure--strikes up a conversation. I try to be as polite as possible but the relatively tame interaction stirs up my usual fears as an introvert. Soon it won't be friendly older men, sitting with their daughters biding time. It will be--gasp--kids my own age. Kids with musical talent far more vast than my own. The typical chain reaction begins. They'll all be better singers than I am. They'll all be better songwriters. They'll be better dressed. They'll be better looking. Panic washes over me, the sensation reminiscent of hot coffee being spilled over one's whole body. I am untethered.

Instead of wallowing in this predictable panic, I make conversation with the first few people I see. There's Stephanie, a keyboard player; Patrick, an audio engineering student; and Emmy Russell, who I am beyond elated to see. Other than a friend from school (who has yet to arrive), she is the only person I kind of know. When stalking researching the other people in my track, I came upon Emmy's video of her song "That Girl's Me." Being wildly impressed by her talent, I left a comment saying that I was excited to meet her at camp. She never responded, so of course my immediate assumption was that I had appalled her with my entirely-too-forward commentary. On the contrary! She too was excited to see me. We bonded immediately over our nervousness and began to socialize with more campers as they came in.

Over the rest of that day, through various icebreaker games and class orientations, I met the rest of the songwriting track. I would later learn weird facts about each and every one of them. Be it Noah's penchant for bare feet and weird back pushups or Micaiah's insane violin skills, every discovery brought us closer together. Under Chris Sampson's expert tutelage, we even learned a few things. Okay, a LOT of things. Each student of the songwriting track now has at least three songs under their belt, although many, myself included, took on additional songwriting projects with kids from other tracks. We analyzed and responded to popular music, heard from guest professionals in the industry, wrote collaboratively, practiced with various instrumental combos, and recorded in the studio with the audio engineers. I'm not sure about the other tracks, but the songwriting kids were busy from the morning knock on our doors to the bed checks late into the night. I barely had a moment to breathe during those 10 days, but I wouldn't change a minute of it. I learned so much about songwriting and about myself. It was a pivotal, downright life-changing week and a half.

The launch party was a thing bigger than itself. Sure, it was the culmination of all our hard work, which inherently is something worthy of our laudation, but it was also a sendoff. A last hurrah. I'm lucky to live in LA. Some kids were headed out to far-flung locales in the Midwest, on the East Coast, or even across the pond. As we all gathered onstage for "Inside Out," with lead vocals performed flawlessly by Jack Ingram, there was a collective surge of power through the whole camp. It was the end of something, but it was also the beginning.

After the launch party, as people began clearing out, I walked around the El Rey with my shoes off, despite the mysterious stickiness on the carpet. I tried to imprint the image on my mind--the deconstruction of the stage, the feverish flash of cameras, the choruses of praise from family and friends, the peculiar sensation of fading warmth as the hundreds of bodies reduced to a few dozen. I ate a piece of cold pizza and rejected my teetering heels in favor of my high tops without socks. I looked a bit ridiculous in a fancy dress, a black hoodie, Converse, and matted hair, but I felt euphoric. We boarded the bus. It was dark. Moonlight trickled through the few open windows. People sang and talked loudly. I had to strain to hear the person next to me speak and to talk myself, giving the words a sacred quality. We got back to campus; my voice was shot; we drank milkshakes and danced as the EMP kids DJ'd. I laughed hard, as hard as I had been throughout the week with all my friends. My milkshake got to be too sweet; I threw it out; I wished I'd had room for more.

(Excuse the pedestrian metaphor I just used. Not everything I write is a ribcage carnival. If you get that reference, you're dope.)

The lobby of Trojan Hall was a sad place last night, and it was a sad place this morning. We all filtered out eventually, and now most of us are back to where we started--sitting in our bedrooms, obsessively refreshing our social media, this time hoping someone else will have posted in the Facebook group or posted a new round of photos from camp. I personally have been replaying the videos my mom took of my performances, though admittedly the sound and video quality aren't exactly Spielbergian (sorry, Mama). I miss eating in the mediocre cafeteria. I miss lining up and getting counted obsessively by the counselors (love you guys, though). I miss calling people by weird nicknames. I miss Chris giving us words of wisdom that at first seem funny but we quickly realize are utterly invaluable. I miss stressing in the practice rooms that our songs won't be done in time. I miss writing with Rushmore, the dynamic trio that brought you such classics as "Signs" and "Beautiful Obstacle." (In all honesty, writing with you two defied description. But you knew that already.) I miss our obscure inside jokes. I miss constant selfies. I miss my thoroughly developed Snapchat story--seriously, every day was a work of art. There was rise and fall, allegory, sophisticated use of tropes...

I'll stop.

In case you couldn't tell, I miss everything about Grammy camp, especially the unforgettable friends I made there. We'll try to keep in touch, but some promises will fade and fall by the wayside. Is that fair, though? Do we even have the right to be upset about friendships formed under strange circumstances, a cliche camp movie scored by a dozen student guitarists and punctuated by montage-level scenes of sleepy delirium? Why do we feel entitled to ownership? Why are all of us still holding on to our crappy Grammy camp water bottles--the ones that still aren't broken, anyway--and stowing our hats and ID cards in safe places?

Because it mattered. There's no way around it.

One night I had a song circle with Mackin, Emmy, and Renato. All four of us played original songs. Other people were in the room, but it was something different for us. After each song, there was at least a few seconds of loaded silence. No single song could fully release the tension. It was a continuous drum roll. Naturally, I cried, because the songs were beautiful and I'm a crier. But each song also contained a moment of mutual understanding. It was confirmation of what we already knew--that it's not just music to us. Nothing about what we did is background noise or a soundtrack. It is water. It is oxygen. It is sustenance and salvation. It is light and darkness. It is sunrise and sunset. Music is our survival. And not just for the four of us, but for all 75 of us.

If you like to sing, you won't get much out of Grammy camp. If you dabble in a couple instruments, you won't get much out of Grammy camp. If you think it might be cool to "do something in music," I do not think you will get much out of Grammy camp. But if music fills you up and makes you whole; if it unzips you and never fully seals you back up again; if it gives you something more than a noteless life has to offer; if you have a passion for something about this industry that keeps you up nights or keeps you doing during the day, then you will come here. You will live and breathe and love. And you will never be the same.

2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Hahaha can you tell I liked it?! ;)
      Get ready for the best week and a half of your life...

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