Cool and Strange
Our Times - Los Angeles Times
The New Times
4 News (909K, 2:43 length) - This is a great feature
done by Channel 4 on Matty Carvajal. She's a current student
at Widney and involved in our most recent compositions, "Life
Without the Cow", "Valentines Day", and "I Make My Teachers
Mad". The video is in Real Media format, if you need
the Real Player, click here.
of Special Ed
The Kids of Widney High rock harder than you
by Rich Kane
"HELLOOOO, ANAHEIM!!!" "ARE YOU READY TO ROCK & ROLL?!?"
"ARE YOU READY TO PARTY???"
Anybody else chirping such embarrassingly worn-out arena-rock clichťs would
have been creamed with a swift, sharp swipe from my rock criticís ballpoint.
That someone in the band made that achingly tired horns-of-Satan gesture with
his fingers made it smell even worse.
But these were the Kids of Widney High onstage last May at Chain Reaction ótheir
uniform black T-shirts silkscreened with WIDNEY HIGH SCHOOL KODIAKS across the
chest informing you as much. So it was okay, thenóthe Kids simply donít know
clichť, their lives having gone unblemished by a zillion bad music videos and
heavy-metal shows like the rest of us.
The Kids are students enrolled in a songwriting class at Widney, a special-ed
school for developmentally disabled teens in the Adams District of Los Angeles.
Some Kids are blind or wheelchair-bound; others are autistic, others suffer
from cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis. Yet, as a collective, they pen songs
frequently better than the fare that hogs up CD-bin space at your local Tower
Not counting the Kidsí own CDs, of course. Their first album, 1989ís Special
Music From Special Kids (released on Rounder) had simple tunes about mostly
simple topicsócars, teddy bears, friends and dancing, stuff youíd probably expect
from young mentally and physically challenged songwriters. But the batch of
Kids who whipped those songs together (the lineup is forever changing as students
come and go, making the Kids a sort of special-ed Menudo) also had a flair for
portraying gritty, urban reality. "Hollywood" was a travelogue of some of the
cityís glitzier tourist stops, but they also took time to notice the "people
without food, people without work," who had a "cardboard box for a home." "Insects,"
probably the Kidsí most popular song, conjured up some cool, B-grade horror-flick
imagery: "You better watch out or the insects will get you!/If you accidentally
fall in the water, youíre in trouble!/Spiders will come after you!/YOOOOOU!!!"
The Kids are semi-famous enough to have earned a serious cult following, one
that even includes celebs ranging from Smokey Robinson to Jackson Browne to
Marilyn Manson to Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz. Theyíve opened shows for Mr. Bungle
and the Melvins. Theyíve played the House of Blues, the Viper Room and the Palace.
Theyíve been on two of Kevin & Beanís KROQ Christmas CDs. Howard Stern is a
fan, which automatically raises the exploitation question: Are people into the
Kids because of their songs, or is their popularity merely a more adult version
of the classic kids game Letís Make Fun of the Retard? Are people laughing with
them or laughing at them?
You want to believe itís the Kidsí tunes, filled with the same genuine, honest
innocence that also attracted a following for the songs of similarly touched
performers like Daniel Johnston and Wesley Willis (it sure isnít the music that
backs their lyrics, which is mostly 1950s- and í60s-flavored pop rock). And,
particularly like Johnstonís songs, the Kids also have a knack for relating
the sort of winsome, sometimes hard universal truths you stumble upon while
growing up. Take this line, from "Look out Your Window," off their latest CD,
Letís Get Busy: "Girls are dancing in the street/I wish they were dancing with
me." And this one, from "Pretty Girls": "There is my dream by the soda machine/Iím
moving closer, my heartís beating faster/I opened my mouth, but nothing came
out/She walked away, and my heart said, ĎOuch!í"
On Letís Get Busy, there are rich, detailed stories of what itís like to live
their lives. "Facts About Life" is a keen reflection of the inner-city living
conditions most of the Kids come from, in their neighborhoods ("Gangs outside,
run for your life!/The park isnít safe without a gun or a knife/Wrestling, slam,
off the top rope/Sirens, handcuffs, crooks without hope") and inside their homes
("Nagging parents tell us what to do/When to go to bed, when to tie our shoes/Donít
do this! Donít do that!/Please donít hit us with a baseball bat"). "Christmas
Is the Time" starts out like just another banal holiday ditty ("Snowballs of
Styrofoam, frosting sprayed on the windows") but then takes a darker, vastly
more realistic turn ("Family fights and phony smiles, people robbing other people/Sending
out Christmas cards to people you donít know").
And then thereís "Doctor Doctor," a harrowing first-person account of some
of the medical travails these kids go through daily, one the rest of us might
interpret as a commentary on HMOs: "I woke up in the middle of the night, my
heart was barely beating/My head was hot, my pulse was slow, and I had trouble
breathing/I called the doctor, ĎHelp me, please, Iím putting out a warning!í/All
he said was ĎTake two aspirin and call me in the morning!/Please donít hurt
me, doctor, doctor/Please donít hurt me.í"
Itís a lot smarter than "Oops, I did it again." But the Kids still know how
to have a good time. From Letís Get Busyís title tune, thereís this: "Come have
some fun, weíll be jamminí/Bring some food, but donít bring beer now/Bring your
pajamas, and your boom box/Weíll rock the house and dance our socks off."
What the Kids ultimately want, though, is a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T, which is
what they cover in a reworked version on Letís Get Busy: "Donít ignore me when
you walk by/Iím not that different, and thatís no lie. . . Please donít tease
us, and treat us like dirt/You donít know how much it hurts/You stop and stare,
and thatís not cool/We have feelings, just like you/All weíre asking for is
a little respect." After you see one of their shows, you have no choice but
to give them yoursótheyíve earned it.
THE KIDS OF WIDNEY HIGH PLAY WITH THE ARROGANTS, THE BLAMED, BLUEBOTTLE KISS
AND OBCD AT KOOíS ART CAFE, 1505 N. MAIN ST., SANTA ANA, (714) 648-0937; WWW.KOOS.ORG.
SAT., 7:30. $5. ALL AGES.
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