When your past comes back to amuse you

My efforts to avoid political advertising around elections meant I missed this …

… specifically this shot:

That is future Sauk County Circuit Judge and state Supreme Court candidate Michael Screnock, a tuba player in the UW Marching Band (whose annual concerts in the Kohl Center are April 19–21, by the way) while I was a trumpet player in the world’s best college marching band. (Mike — I mean, Judge Screnock — graduated in 1990, two years after I did, which means we are both of the era when the band didn’t get to perform at bowl games and NCAA tournament games because UW didn’t play in those games.)

A sign of my advanced age, or something else, is that I have personal connections with at least four present members of this state’s judiciary. One of my coworkers (with whom I shared political ideology) at my only daily newspaper job is now a Columbia County judge. One of my high school classmates (with whom I did not share political ideology, to put it mildly) is now a state administrative law judge. One of the two local circuit judges (with whom I have never discussed politics) was a teammate of mine on the softball team of my first full-time employer, a team utterly lacking in athletic talent with few exceptions (one of them being a guy nicknamed “Baseball”), yet somehow not the worst team in the league.

Even though I haven’t paid attention to the commercial, this mailer from the Republican Party of Wisconsin appeared in the mail yesterday:

From JudgeScrenock.com: “After graduating from Baraboo High School, Judge Screnock chose to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he was an active member of the UW Marching Band tuba section. He met his wife, Karen from Brookfield, Wisconsin, on the UW campus and they were married the summer before he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics in 1990.”

It should be obvious (but requires saying in our hyperpolitical times) that the UW Marching Band does not endorse political candidates, then or now. (Including in 1978, when UW Marching Band members played on the school bus procured by or for Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Dreyfus.) At least in my (or our) day, I think it’s safe to say that band members skewed rightward, perhaps in part because there were more of them from small towns than from Madison (including, yes, me) and Milwaukee, or because we had some military reservists in our ranks, or because we were in the band during the Age of Reagan. (One of the aforementioned reservists finished a concert at the State Capitol by exhorting a vote for Reagan, “the official presidential candidate of the UW Band!”, which wasn’t met with unanimous agreement in the band. However, Reagan did win Wisconsin.)

Then again, politics in the 1980s, certain victims of Reagan Derangement Syndrome notwithstanding, was not as stupid as it is today. Every part of Madison skewed Democrat, but no adult I knew — that is, the parents of my classmates and friends — took the extreme leftist viewpoints that appear commonplace today in the People’s Republic of Madison. Politics obviously got discussed at UW–Madison, and even at my high school, but not to the extent it is today, certainly not with the nasty tone of today (with the exception of those were seen as a few bubbles off plumb), and people rarely made personal decisions (as far as I was aware of) based on political considerations. (An exception: My high school journalism teacher refused to take us to Madison Newspapers Inc., a place budding journalists might like to have seen, because the Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times broke the newspaper strike. On the other hand, we didn’t go to field trips anywhere, which may have been for nonpolitical reasons, and we got to talk to reporters in our classroom. I was in fifth grade during the state’s last teachers’ strike, but I don’t recall the subject coming up at all after the strike ended.)

The band certainly was and is patriotic, and that came from the top. In those days, and I assume today, the National Anthem was preceded by a patriotic drill that started with “Songs to Thee Wisconsin,” and then included some combination of “Bound for the Promised Land,” the spiritual “Simple Gifts” (from which came part of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”), versions of “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful,” and like songs. That was probably a bigger challenge when UW Band director Mike Leckrone arrived on campus during the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement.

There were a few political moments, but not many in my band days. One inadvertent controversy came when, during a debate over whether the band should play “You’ve Said It All” …

… selected because fans at the 1973 NCAA hockey tournament wanted a polka …

… which became a country song …

… that when Budweiser used it in its commercials was criticized for allegedly promoting drinking …

… Leckrone pointed out, correctly, that the melody of “The Star Spangled Banner” came from a British drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.”

(For those who think political issues have metastasized into ridiculousness in the 21st century, I present this as evidence that this has been the case longer than you might think.)

I somehow managed to miss band members’ playing at an appearance of Gov. Anthony Earl shortly before he lost the 1986 election. I did, however, play at an event for state Sen. Carl Otte (D–Sheboygan), because I was told he was a “friend of the Band,” and more importantly for the free food and beer. (Afterward we ended up at a tavern — I’ll pause to allow readers to recover from the shock of that statement — to see Earl and a couple of his aides playing cribbage at a nearby table.) The band has also played for governors since Earl. If the governor calls, what are you going to do?

Which brings to mind this amusing paraphrased story from Rick Telander’s book From Red Ink to Roses: The band generated some more controversy by greeting the Chicago Bears as all Wisconsinites should during a Packers game at which the band played. That apparently prompted a phone call from Gov. Tommy Thompson (a Republican) to UW–Madison chancellor Donna Shalala (not a Republican), during which (perhaps not with complete seriousness) Thompson asked Shalala what she was going to do about the band. To that, Shalala replied that she couldn’t very well reprimand the band for telling the truth.

The biggest political incident in my band days came before the 1984 UW–Ohio State football game, which (in those days when not every game was on TV) was nationally televised by CBS. That meant an 11:05 a.m. kickoff, which pushed everything else back from the usual 1 or 1:30 p.m. starts. We played the National Anthem around 10:45 a.m. When we got to the line “And the rocket’s red glare” there came a sight so bizarre that it didn’t register at first — people running on the field past us. They were members of the anti-nuclear dance group (really) Nu Parable, previously known for getting kicked out of Madison shopping malls for their mime-like “die-in” in which they simulated becoming victims of a nuclear attack. This was during the 1984 presidential campaign, when left-leaning UW students (but I repeat myself) were absolutely convinced that, having inexplicably failed to destroy the world in a giant mushroom cloud during his first term, Ronald Reagan would certainly accomplish that feat during a second term in office.

The crowd’s reaction was probably not what Nu Parable had in mind — booing once fans figured out what was going on, accompanied by the student section’s chanting “Nuke ’em!” A few of them made the mistake of “dying” in front of band members (unfortunately, not me), who literally marched over them, with one of the Nu Parables getting literally punted by a Marine reservist.

After we were done playing, a few of us went over to watch them get arrested by UW police. One of them was our drum major, who always reminded me of the Grim Reaper. If looks could have killed, there would have been no second Nu Parable die-in, because they all would have dropped dead on the spot. As it was, when they had another “die-in” before the next pre-election home game, they stayed away from the band.

The obligatory inside joke here is my having to contemplate voting for a tuba player. (The obligatory inside joke follow-up is that, I suppose, that beats having to vote for a reed-sucker.)

Readers could correctly conclude that I planned on voting for Screnock before this anyway. Our common experience in the band taught us the value of hard work whether or not anyone notices, doing more than you physically (and otherwise) think you can do, the esprit de corps of being in the world’s best college marching band, and a term you hear a lot of today — accountability without excuses or blaming someone else for your own faults and problems. That doesn’t make the UW Band a right-wing organization, and if anyone thinks it does, they are wrong. If hard work, exceeding your self-imposed limits and personal accountability are values out of favor with liberals, that is their fault.

As for Screnock’s opponent, who announced earlier this week that she has “San Francisco values,” greater San Francisco includes Palo Alto, home of Stanford University and the abomination known as the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band …

… known for this list of things, and of course acting as tackling dummies.

Compare and contrast:

The other thing Judge Screnock and I have in common is that we grew up in an era where not everything, even on the UW–Madison campus, was political. As you know, the words “change” and “progress” are not synonyms. (Though I suspect Screnock and I would both agree that change in UW football and basketball since we were in the band is both change and progress.)


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