Wednesday, October 19, 2011

hype of the week: 1992 USMC drum corps

True story: In 1984, I had left school to work full-time. I was living in downtown Portland and working as a bicycle messenger four mornings a week, then heading over to a coffee shop to work the afternoon/evening shift four days a week. They weren't always all the same four days, which helped. Still, I was making just enough money to pay all my bills without having to pick up the phone and ask my folks for help (a constant and looming goal -- it was complicated). I was twenty-one and looking for Whatever Was Supposed To Happen Next.

I had befriended the Gunnery Sergeant who was in charge of the US Marine recruiting station, which was housed in the Georgia-Pacific Building where my mother had worked before taking a transfer to the home office in Atlanta (also complicated). "Gunny", as his office cohort called him, was a friendly, thoughtful man who was curious about me. I obviously had been to college and was intelligent, judging by my speech and demeanor; what was I doing working as a bicycle messenger for peanuts? Sometiems he'd place a call to AMS specifically asking for me to bring lunch for the office staff, and he'd invite me to stay and chat while I ate from my own sack lunch. This happened once or twice a week that summer.

Eventually, I confided in him that I'd had a thing for the Marines since high school; they'd sent out packets to every medalist at the high school state solo contest and mine included information on "The Commandant's Own" -- the drum and bugle corps. My father, an Army veteran who'd served in Korea, had emphatically and surprisingly put his foot down; no daughter of his was going to be a Marine when she was being offered scholarships to college. Since I needed my parents' financial help that first year, that was pretty much that, and I dutifully forgot about the Marines, went to college, and eventually floundered. Gunny was intrigued. One thing led to another and before I knew it Gunny had persuaded me to take a short, 45-minute screening exam "just for the heck of it, no obligation at all". I scored 97 out of a possible 100 -- the highest score they'd seen in the office in months, and about thirty points higher than the average. Four weeks later I'd arranged for some time off work and was on a bus headed to Fort Lewis, Washington, to audition for the Marines music programs.

After I finished playing my prepared pieces, I was told that there were no openings in the drum corps, but that my sight-reading was plenty good enough to land me in a dance band anywhere in the corps, stateside or in Europe. I was very interested. For the rest of my visit, they assigned me to shadow a woman Marine, and she happily showed me around the base, answering my questions and talking a little about her experiences. When she learned that I was over 21, she invited me to learn how to shoot an M-16. After an initial instruction period we went to the firing range, and I followed instructions. I wasn't a bad shot -- all of my bullets hit the target or the backing behind it, though wildly arrayed. But as I squeezed the trigger, I immediately remembered that this was a military organization and that if I joined, I'd be taught how to kill people. It was like being in a theater and the play ended and lights went back up. And I knew that, although I still admired the United States Marine Corps for their precision, dedication and discipline, I would never join them.

"The Commandant's Own" is a pretty amazingly polished organization and I still admire them. As featured guests at a drum corps show in 1992, they wowed the crowds who cheered for them loudly. The acoustics of the Cotton Bowl aren't the best, and their drill is miles behind the drill designs of DCI corps of the period; but they still throw down a very good show, with more than decent brass arranging and some excellent, excellent marching (if these guys can't march cleanly, well, I guess they do push-ups all afternoon). Their intro onto the field is pretty damned cool (and some nice, clean drumming for what would have been considered limited instrumentation at the time). The company front at 2:15 is worth the price of admission alone.
Enjoy, and see you at the races. Cross Crusade goes to Hillsboro this week, and the women race around 2:15.

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