1997 was the year when my coaching success was finally beginning to caught up with the success I was having in the classroom. I know that is a weird statement to make, but I rarely had issues getting students to work in the classroom. I simply wanted them to achieve more than their status quo, which goes against the American teenager’s credo. But, when it came to my sports, my competitive nature always was larger than my athletic gifts. Yet, through sheer tenacity of both me and my teams, we were beginning to have success.
Cross country had been a dead sport for about 20 years at the school, and boys’ track fielded “teams” that were made up of 20 or fewer athletes. As a matter of fact, Alexandria only had one good runner back when I was in high school, and he graduated in 1978. So, in essence, there was not much of a history in track or cross country. I told the guys that everything they would accomplish would be history. In 1996, my first year coaching cross country, the AD’s daughter was named All-State Second Team. In 1997, both boys and girls teams finished second in the conference after finishing seventh the first year. The boys even finished in the top 5 teams at the Sectional meet to qualify for the school’s first Regional appearance in Cross Country.
In track, we overcame much that poor schools have stacked against them. Our facilities, generally speaking, were crap, even though we did get the track resurfaced for the first time in 20 years (also, it was the last time the track has been resurfaced, believe it or not). Things were so bad that the school had stopped competing in the pole vault, which meant we were walking into every meet down AT LEAST nine points, more at big invitationals. And, my last words before getting off the bus to compete was, “We are losing by 9 points (or 18 at an invitational), who’s going to make it up?” Then, I get off the bus and lead the team onto the track. Every time we got to a meet, everyone on that bus was as pissed as me, but it worked as motivation. These guys would constantly loose a championship by a point to a larger school, but every time they were ready to challenge them again, refusing to give an inch even when they should have lost. Fortunately, 1997 set up 1998, which I will get to next time.
So, what were the best albums of 1997? Let me simply say that Master P did not have a hand in any of them.
Björk – Homogenic (1997). Man, did this little Icelandic lady ever loose her chanteuse label to become a full-fledged rock artist. Here marriage of electronica, pop, rock and dance really turned the apple cart over. This remains her finest album.
Buena Vista Social Club – Buena Vista Social Club (1997). This album is named after a historic members-only club in Havana, Cuba during the pre-Castro days. Those were a time of rich musicianship, with most of these musicians never getting their acclaim in the States as former bandleader Desi Arnaz did. So, the great guitarist and musicology of sorts Ry Cooder went to Cuba to record an album with these forgotten musicians while also filming a documentary about this whole adventure. This album is a history lesson in Cuban music as you can hear the blending of jazz, mambo and much playfulness found in the simple love of playing. This album shows that music is the universal language.
Elliott Smith – Either/Or (1997). Even though this was the man’s third album, he kind of burst on the scene because his song “Angeles” was included in the movie Good Will Hunting. But, this guy was much more than that song. This album is pure acoustic indie pop bliss. Unfortunately, he would die tragically at the age of 34.
Janet Jackson – The Velvet Rope (1996). Janet went full-on nympho goddess on this album. It’s like she had decided to take on Prince’s Dirty Mind and update the music. Whatever happened, I like it!
Missy Misdemeanor Elliott – Supa Dupa Fly (1997). Here it is, the most acclaimed album by a female hip hop artist. And, that is a sexist statement, because this is a landmark hip hop period. She and Timbalake burst onto the scene with this fantastic album with strong songs full of dope beats.
Radiohead – O.K. Computer (1997). I remember in the early-Eighties when people were comparing The Cure to Pink Floyd, especially the earliest version of The Floyd. And, I thought they were daft. Nobody is like Floyd. Except now. You see, it took a Gen X band who grew up with computers to fully comprehend what it would take to become a Floyd in the Nineties. Technology causing alienation? Check. Weird-ass sounding guitars emulating and immolating the blues? Check. Using technology of the day to heighten the drama of the music? Check. Former art school students? Check. See where I’m going? Of course, Radiohead will blow up that notion soon enough.
Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out (1997). And, here my friends, is when the dream of The Runaways became real. Sleater-Kinney is a fantastic punk band who happens to be all-female. And no one cared! All everyone could hear is the great punk-based music this band was creating. They breathed a whole new life into the 20+ year old genre.
The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death (1997). This album proved that Ready to Die was not a fluke. And, for a moment, Biggie could stake claim on being the finest MC on the planet. Unfortunately, he was murdered right as this album was being released, so we’ll never know the heights he might have climbed had he lived. Could he have adapted like Jay-Z or Snoop, or fallen off the face of the world?
The Prodigy – The Fat of the Land (1997). Thanks to this album, techno, or electronic dance music (EDM), was now worldwide. And, this ain’t no disco, either. This is a head-on aural assault that plays like a thrash metal band meeting up with Lou Reed at his most inaccessible. The sound is both menacing and danceable. The album was one stunning statement.
The Verve – Urban Hymns (1997). By 1997, Britpop was flaming out as the masters, Oasis and Blur, were imploding and the excitement was being drained by a bunch of wannabes. But, with this album, The Verve made a statement to the world that the Britpop dream was not yet dead, and that young Brits still wanted to be a combination of The Beatles, Stones and Kinks all the while becoming rock stars. This album is magical, especially the controversial lead single “Bittersweet Symphony.”
And that’s my take on 1997. I’m sure some of my younger readers will object and that’s fine with me. But, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.