During the 1998-99 school year, I experimented with teaching middle school kids. Let’s just say that it was not as successful as I had hoped. Teaching middle school kids takes a special person, and I am NOT that person. I discovered that I prefer teaching budding human beings as opposed to whatever early teens are considered. Plus, I discovered that I was at my best when I was pushing students out of their comfort zones, and, well, just the basic work in science is out of the comfort zones of most 12- and 13-year-old kids. Additionally, I discovered that you really cannot go back to your old school, as I could not get a high school coaching job in my old school system, even though I just had success at Alexandria. So, I coached the seventh grade boys basketball team and bid my time for a year.
During the summer of 1999, I was training for the Chicago Marathon as a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. By July, I had been hired as a high school chemistry teacher at Hamilton Southeastern High School. Later, I was hired as a varsity assistant basketball coach. All of that happened at the end of June. So, on July 3, my family went to my wife’s family reunion, which was a blast. I played basketball and baseball all day long with the teens, mainly because I still had the energy of a teen even though I was in my mid-thirties. And, that was the last time I ever had that amount of energy running through my body.
On Independence Day, 1999, I went out for a small four-mile run with my brother-in-law Bruce. Up to that day, I had been running all of my ten-mile or less runs at five minute, thirty pace. Yet, on that day, I planned to cut the pace by a minute per mile so Bruce and I could run together. Unfortunately, by the two-mile mark, I could not feel my legs. This was not the normal pain from running. I could NOT feel my legs. I kept slowing my pace, finally telling Bruce to just go on because I was not right.
What should have taken me 20 to 25 minutes ended up lasting 45 minutes as I limped and walked my way back to my in-laws’ home. Of course, my wife was frantic since she could not imagine what could have happened to me. Of course, I took a week off from my training to rest my legs. When I started the training back up, the same thing happened on the third day of running, only this time I was in the middle of an eight-mile run. When I finally got home, my wife immediately drove me to the sports medicine walk-in clinic at a nearby sports med group. Initially, I was diagnosed with a double hip flexor strain, which is funny because one strain is more of a sprinter’s injury, not a distance runner’s. It took about three months and three doctors until someone discovered that I had a herniated disc between L4 and L5 vertebrae in my spine, along with some “trauma” to both L4 and L5. It seems I had injured my back in high school, once during a basketball game when I went back first into some bleachers and the other when I had been showing off while playing baseball with some little kids in the neighborhood, lost my balance and went back first into a tree. It seems that either accident, or both, caused a crack in one vertebra and lots of bone and cartilage debris to accumulate around the nerve branches coming off the spine that went down both legs. Thus began my now two-decade battle with my back issues that all came to a head on that day in 1999.
However, on the positive side, the music was pretty good. So, let’s take a look at my favorites from 1999.
Backstreet Boys – Millennium (1999). Pop music geared toward the tweens and early teens has been around since the dawn of rock music. In the late-Fifties and early-Sixties, teens had the Teen Idols. In the late-Sixties and early-Seventies, we had the bubblegum groups. In the Eighties, it was New Edition, Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, Boyz II Men and New Kids on the Block. By the late-Nineties, as a backlash against all the alt.rock and gangsta rap floating around, teen artists began popping up again, with the Backstreet Boys becoming one of the first to break big. Their smooth R&B-based vocal harmonies coupled with their stylish videos made Backstreet the first to strike it big with the little girls.
Blink-182 – Enema of the State (1999). After Green Day smashed down the wall that kept punk rock on the outside, more and more pop-oriented punk bands began to have commercial success. And, none were better than Blink-182, a pop punk trio from San Diego who marketed their brand of punk with much snotty teenaged boy crude attitude. It was Blink’s collective sense of humor that separated them from the rest of the wannabes and opened the floodgates to the pop punk phenomenon of the early-2000s.
Britney Spears – …Baby One More Time (1999). In a post-Madonna pop world, you just knew that the world was ready for a Lolita-type of pop queen. And, into that Nabokov-sized Freudian void steps a former Mouseketeer from the Nineties version of the Mickey Mouse Club turned teen video vixen Britney Spears to exploit the raw sexuality of a teenaged girl in a pop world. However, if you listen to the music without the visual, you have some fairly solid dance/pop tunes to capture the listeners’ ears. Honestly, her early videos made me very uncomfortable, but her songs were real earworms.
Eminem – The Slim Shady LP (1999). So, at the same moment when all the teen-oriented artists began to make strides on the charts, on the complete opposite side of the moral line enters one of the most exciting artists in a decade. His name was Eminem, a white rapper who was everything that Vanilla Ice never was, in a word legit. Em allowed his producer, the great Dr. Dre, to channel his inner alt.rock world in creating a whole new world of beats. Dre had set the aural tones for N.W.A; then Snoop, The D.O.C. and himself; and, now, for the new millennium, Eminem.
Fiona Apple – When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King (1999). Oh, the Nineties were a time when women began exerting the muscles as musical idols. So far, we’ve had strong personas from Tori Amos, Liz Phair, Missy Elliott, PJ Harvey, Björk and Alanis Morissette, so in waltzes a young lady who seems to be influenced by Kate Bush with a Nineties attitude. Fiona Apple, a little petite woman with the brashness of all of the aforementioned female artists, hit like a sledgehammer. Rock would never be the same again.
Foo Fighters – There Is Nothing Left to Loose (1999). Who knew that Dave Grohl would become the last big rock star left in the world? Here, his band created one of the finest pop punk, Cheap Trick-influenced albums. After this album, the Foos would grow into one of the biggest rock bands left on Earth.
Moby – Play (1999). This type of album would have NEVER been made in the Eighties. First, this is an EDM album, constantly kneeling at the alter of Kraftwerk. Second, the concept behind the album is that every song is intended by Moby to be used in commercials. Commercials?!?! Twenty years earlier, that notion was considered selling out. Now, it was a total subversion of the commercial world. Yet, this whole thing works as art. This was Moby’s finest moment.
Rage Against the Machine – The Battle of Los Angeles (1999). The world’s most controversial band made the Nineties’ most overtly political album that rocked. This is the type of album that is missing today. This is in a single word, incendiary.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication (1999). RHCP’s best lineup is singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith and guitarist John Frusciante. The originally joined forces after original guitarist Hillel Slovak passed away for the Mother’s Milk LP in 1989. Then, in 1991, they hit the big time with Blood Sugar Sex Magik. After which, Frusciante freaked out and bolted. Then, he returned for this album, allowing the band to rediscover that successful chemistry that made them so great. This album proved without a doubt that this was the best lineup.
Santana – Supernatural (1999). It had been nearly 30 years since Santana had created a commercially successful album. In the intervening years, the band had been mostly hit-and-miss, and, unfortunately, mostly miss. Now, under the guidance of the legendary Clive Davis, Santana was paired with many current artists like Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 and Dave Matthews to create a modern sounding version of the classic Santana sound. This was a fresh-sounding merge of Latin sounds, blues, rock and hip hop. And, it was successful beyond belief and won a boatload of Grammys.
Slipknot – Slipknot (1999). Just when you think that metal is dead, along comes a new band with a fresh take on the old format. Taking their cue from Kiss, Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper, the members of Slipknot wore unique masks during performances that made them appear as deranged mental patients, or at least killers in their own horror films. Their rhythms were heavier, as they added percussionists to the rhythm section, not for texture but for menacing power and volume. They added turntables for scratching and sample for more power and volume. The whole collective seemed as if they were exorcising their demons simultaneously as they play and record. Thrash had finally been turned up to 11.
The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin (1999). Every so often, one of the strange underground bands of an era creates such a beautiful, off-kilter album that somehow catches the imagination of the masses. In the Eighties, Love & Rockets did it, as did XTC on Skylarking and as the Dukes of Stratosphear on Psonic Psunspot. As the 20th century was about to turn over, The Flaming Lips filled this void. This band’s pop has always been ornate and beautiful in the eye of the beholder. But, with this lush album, these Oklahoma natives created a sonic landscape so out of sync with the times that it came off as timeless. The Flaming Lips had officially left their punk days behind.
The Roots – Things Fall Apart (1999). Back in 1999, hip hop artists rarely used live musicians when making their music, even though the Beastie Boys had broken that barrier earlier in the decade. Then, along comes this band from Philadelphia, who totally changed the face of rap on this outstanding album. From this point on, hip hop artists began to use live bands to back them, and The Roots became eventual mainstays of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Now, this uncommonly talented group of musicians are icons. This is where everything broke open for them.
Now, we can put the final nail in the coffin containing the 20th century. Next time, we will begin the 21st century. Peace.