Online Edition 04.2007


Five Minutes of Hell with Harley Race | Thomas Crone

Nipkow Disc (1883) | Greg Ott

Rural Rhetoric | L.A. Ramsey

Knees Knock | Brett Underwood

American History | Matthew Webber

Chris | Jennifer Woods


Sound of St. Louis | Kerry Zimmerman

SOUND Photos | Dana Smith, L.A. Ramsey, and Jane Linders

American History | by Matthew Webber

The visionaries met in American History. Gary Majewski resembled Robert Plant: golden-haired, effeminate, and fond of skinny jeans. His backpack was stuffed with overdue books: Salinger, Tolkien, Kerouac, King. Thanks to chance or luck or fate, he must’ve left his pen in Introduction to Spanish. He spun around to ask some kid, the student whose last name followed his alphabetically, “Sorry to do this. You got a pen or pencil?” The kid, Patrick Mathers, resembled Keith Richards: stringy-haired, emaciated, and fond of gaudy jewelry. Also of note, he smelled like Taco Bell. His shirt was an oversized U.S. Army uniform, which he later explained was one of his father’s from ‘Nam. Patrick never said, and Gary never asked, where Patrick’s father was living at the time, and why he wasn’t living in their little part of Missouri: the Boot Heel, the Boonies, the Bottom of America’s Asshole. Also, they never discussed Patrick’s mother.

Gary’s own father was an auto mechanic, who once beat Gary’s ass with a wrench. His mother was a painter, a poet, and a pianist, about whom strangers often told Gary, “No way! Really? I thought she was your twin!” His mother, Roxanne, was sixteen years older than he was. “Your life is an accident,” she told him when she was drunk. When Gary met Patrick, on their first day as sophomores, Roxanne’s age was the sum of the boys’.

Gary Majewski re-sent his invitation. “Psst. Hey, new kid. Loan me a pencil.” As a postscript, he added, “You smell that? What is that?” lines they recycled later that August, jamming in Gary’s cramped, door-less bedroom, the first time they tried to compose a hit single. Both of the boys knew three chords apiece; luckily or fatefully, they each knew different chords. Two weeks later, in early September, they finished that first attempt at a song. The title they came up with was, “Smells Like Burritos.”

Despite who they looked like, according to Gary’s mom, who didn’t know their lookalikes played in different bands, they cited Kurt Cobain as their musical idol. However, in October, when they played in Gary’s bedroom, they sounded like “a battle of the little one-man bands.” At least that’s what they sounded like, according to Roxanne, who leaned against the door-less frame and sipped from a can of Busch. “You,” she said, with slurry speech, while pointing at and lurching toward Patrick, who played lead, “have fingers just like a pianist.”

The visionaries spoke on the first day of school. Gary spun completely around, waiting for a pen, a pencil, a word. “Kid, you hard of hearing or what? Yo, what’s the deal with all this mystique?” Neither boy knew if the word choice was correct, but both boys, if asked, might’ve said they liked its sound. “Nothing,” said Patrick, while reaching into his backpack. Neither boy knew why Gary was so persistent, almost as if his words were preordained. When Patrick passed Gary a red ballpoint pen – “Sorry it’s red,” he said. “It’s the only one I have.” – he knocked a stolen copy of Watchmen to the floor, exposing the lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which Patrick, in his German class, had scribbled into his notebook. “Nirvana, huh?” said Gary, while reading and mouthing the lyrics. “You wanna start a band or what?” Sometime after Halloween, they named it American History.

“My son, Gary, adores Nirvana,” Roxanne told Patrick on a gray day in December. Christmas lights in Gary’s room reflected in her eyes. Her glass, this time, was full of Bud Light. Her hand, as always, was full of colored pills. Her speech had passed from a slur to a seduction. “And thanks for being such a positive influence. You really do look like you’re famous, you know? Now let me see those musical hands.” Anyone at all could’ve walked into the bedroom. Gary, her son, was the one who walked in.

“Those who fail to learn will not pass,” said Mr. Coffey, a.k.a., Mr. Coffee Breath, whose stench, near the boys, on a blue day in August, was stronger than Patrick’s Mexican breakfast. “History may or may not repeat itself,” the teacher told the boys, while handing them a syllabus titled, “Welcome to American History,” which Patrick always thought would’ve made a killer album title, “but I hope you don’t have to repeat this class.”

Patrick Mathers barely passed. In fact, he finished with a grade of D-minus. Over the summer, he moved, yet again, to someplace close to the Iowa border. He never played in another band. His guitar case grew dusty, behind his bedroom door.

Gary Majewski, the new solo artist, did not repeat the class. In fact, he didn't return after
Christmas. To Patrick, who inspired and discovered his body of work, the splatters on his door-less frame were red, inky notes. 


Matthew Webber, author, songwriter, and recovering journalist, lived in Ferguson before moving to the Milwaukee area in 2005. As evidenced by this story, he's a big fan of music and lyrics, but not necessarily Music and Lyrics, which he hasn't seen as of this writing.