The montage of your memories

Being a high school yearbook adviser, I have one of the more peculiar positions among the people in my building.  Sure, I get to teach my staffers about photography, layout and design, and some aspects of journalism while playing with some really cool toys, but I also have a certain amount of power.  Because when you think of it, I–and the 10 or 15 people who are on my staff from year to year–control the memories of the student body.

Oh sure, when you graduate high school the memories that you have are your own and nobody else’s and nobody can actually go back and change history to suit their needs (with the possible exception of the Texas Board of Education), but when you leave high school it’s very likely that you leave holding a yearbook.  That yearbook is the last vestige of those four years, something that will sit on a shelf or be tucked away into a box until one day when you come across it while moving or glance at it while looking for your copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being or dig it out after talking to a long lost friend.

What’s inside of that book are, of course, the memories that the yearbook staff has carefully crafted for you.  And the further away you get from high school, the more you find yourself agreeing with the masterminds who spent hours upon hours poring through candid photos, crafting captions, and going blind to make sure every element on the page was laid out perfectly.  Oh, you may have laughed at how much bullshit was in the book when you got it (or as I liked to call it, “fabricated memories you can cherish for a lifetime”), but when your 15th anniversary is around the corner, you will look through the book and say, “Yeah, I remember that!”

I don’t know if that will be the case 15 years from now because high school yearbooks are facing more and more competition from free social media.  Plus, print is dying and who can actually afford $65, $75 … $100 for a yearbook that you may or may not be in?  One of the ways that yearbook companies have been trying to combat this has been by selling “extras” with their books, including a DVD supplement.

With my first school  and first three books, my yearbook staff opted to do one of these supplements, which was not much of an undertaking.  Basically, you took a ton of pictures that you may or may not have used in the book, burned them to a CD and sent them to the publisher who then put it into a video editing program (okay, let’s face it, Windows MovieMaker) and crafted a slideshow set to music that you picked from a list of songs available.

That’s right, if you felt your school needed a montage, you could order your own montage.

The DVDs were always kind of cool to make, especially since you could use the best of the best pictures (and pictures from events that took place after the yearbook went to press), but the music on the DVDs was usually the focus of an enormous amount of ridicule from my staff.  That’s because we couldn’t exactly say, “Okay, here’s the photos and an .mp3 of ‘No Surrender’ for you to use on track one of the DVD,” we had to pick music that our company had the rights to (besides, I don’t think any of my students would have picked “No Surrender” if they had the choice).

At the time I worked with Jostens (yes, the same company that sold you your class ring), which is a very large company that puts out a good product, although I’m more satisfied now with another yearbook company, Walsworth (and I’m not saying that because of the possibility that my rep is reading this).  Jostens had just introduced the idea of the DVD when I started yearbook and was slowly “perfecting” the presentation.  For instance, in our second year, instead of the generic label on the DVD we had a label that reproduced the cover design.

Unfortunately, in three years, Jostens never improved the music, which all seemed to be geared toward making you think about your memories or was trying really hard to be cool and/or relevant.  I remember that when we had to choose the songs for the DVD we always went for the instrumental tracks first because they were inoccuous and people would be paying attention to the pictures on the screen anyway.

However, there were those few times where we had to choose a song with lyrics and delved into the sweet melodies and cheesy lyrics of bands inspired by such acts as the Goo Goo Dolls, Train, or California Dreams. Three artists  in particular stand out for me …

The first is Chris Yurchuck, who is a country artist who claims to write “country music for people who don’t know they like country” … or at least that’s what his website says.

I kinda get what he means.  Listening to his song, “Another Year Gone” (which was one of our selections) it sounds like it could be used for a slow dance in Smallville or The Secret Life of the American Teenager or some other show where coolness tries to mix itself with family values.

Then, there’s 5 Alarm, a group whose entire catalogue Jostens must have purchased because on the site are quite a number of their songs.  They range from the guitar heavy “These Days” where the female singer feels like “a new girl, like a bomb going off in the free world” to “This is Your Life,” a much slower, contemplative tune that says that you shouldn’t sit and cry because this is your life and you have to go on and live it.  I mean, it’s hard to not follow instructions like that when there’s a drum machine involved and orchestra hits when the lead singer strains to sing, “You could change it all/ you could change it all/ can’t you see/ you could be a superstar.”

I mean, does that not just scream for a Rachel solo on Glee or what?

But the creme de la creme of Jostens’ music was Scarlet Crush.  In particular, their two songs (one of which we used ), “There is No Doubt” and “Turn the Radio Up Loud.”

“There is No Doubt” I could see being used for a sports montage or a slideshow where there are a lot of similing people and a few video clips of people acting silly.  “Turn the Radio Up Loud,” however, is the undisputed champion.

On the band’s official website, the song is called “Tune in, Fade Out” and it begins with a low, digitized:

Caroline never was a fan of conversation for the sake of killing time
Pantomime sad impersonations of the friends she always wanted to arrive
She’s on the run and day-to-day she tells herself that she’s ok

But then, just when you think the song is going to go easy on you, the volume goes up and things just start to FRIGGIN’ ROCK!

Tune in, fade out… turn the radio up loud
It’s all about the way we rise up with that sound
Feeling funny, gonna get a little funny too

I mean, can’t you just see this killing with fade-ins of pep rallies and prom?  I know I can, even if it’s totally about something else …

“This is another song that most people don’t have a clue as to the lyrical background. If you’ve ever known anyone who has mental health problems, they may have told you how music seems to be able to transport them into a place of relaxation or escape. I’ve heard it a lot from some people I know. I’m no doctor or expert, so don’t take my word for it, it’s just a song. These girls in the song have only one way to get out of their little worlds, and that’s by turning on the radio. You don’t have to be sick to have that same experience. I thought it was a nice contrast in that I used those very elegant names for some very troubled people. Putting somewhat darker subject matter into these pop tunes, it gives the music an extra layer that people can discover.”

Yeah, just what I was thinking.

I mean, the DVDs and especially their music were perfect for manipulating music because they make any high school seem like “HIGH SCHOOL!”  You know, the kind of high school featured in commercials for skin products, soft drinks, and McDonald’s.  I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I was fascinated by that McDonald’s commercial that was a montage of junior high highlights complete with some girl dressed as a strawberry and all of “the crew” going to Mickey D’s to look through their awesome junior high yearbook.  I always wanted to go to that school and be part of a “crew”.

Sadly, I’ve never been part of a “crew.”  But Scarlet Crush and  Jostens totally made it possible for me to pretend like I was.  Pretty sweet, huh?

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