When I was 14 years old, I left Michigan 2 months into my freshman year of high school. I was an exceptional alpine skier, and had loved racing since I was 7 years old. I was lucky enough to have been raised within 15 miles of Nubs Nob, Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands. Literally, only places to ski in the Midwest. Nubs Nob was my babysitter, home-hill and playground. So after years of mastering it, my parents asked me if I wanted to try something harder, more competitive, much bigger mountains.
I was accepted to three prestigious boarding schools, all with Olympic champion alumni. I chose one in Vermont, Burke Mountain Academy, and was enrolled for winter term so I could finish the soccer season at home. When I finally got there, because I was starting late, I was assigned to live in the senior guys house. It was intimidating at first, but my two roommates were good dudes, and soon the rest were cool too. Especially after I kept my mouth shut when asked about some minor infractions. Maybe somebody from my house “borrowed” a van from the school to go get more beer. Who knows? Not me….
Clearly my dorm parents, Stephanie and Mark, had mistook where my loyalties lay. Other than the guys at the house, I really didn’t have any other friends in my teammates, or other freshman. They hated that I was never really hazed, and they were absolutely tortured. Getting duct taped to a tree is not pleasant. Especially naked. In February. In Vermont. But, I was spared. Also I wrote most of the senior English papers turned in by our house…. They saw me reading all the time, and figured I could write well. I really liked it, it kept me in great standing protection-wise, and I was already learning different styles of writing through flat out plagiarism/contract cheating.
The thing I loved most about that house was the music. A mouthy, highly intelligent kid from Jersey named Rickie, had the biggest damn stereo I have ever seen. It took up half the room, and shared a wall with our dorm-parents/babysitters. After several warnings for volume related infractions, caused directly by The Smashing Pumpkins “Zero”, it was confiscated for two weeks. It sucked. Morale was low. As he lay in his hammock (bed), Rickie put his headphones on, and then it happened. The most deafening , adolescent, primal, defiant, ridiculously deliberate scream ever. “Roxanne!!! You don’t have to put on the red light!!!”. Classic move, classic song. The laughter that erupted through our house of fifteen idiots, was only interrupted by the sudden appearance of our dorm-parent/ English teacher, Stephanie. Her cheeks blazing red in anger, because apparently we had interrupted a new episode of “Friends”. It was awesome. Somehow Rick talked his way out of it, and we ended up getting the stereo back that day. He’s an attorney now in New York. Stephanie still doesn’t know I wrote all those papers.
Unfortunately, all those guys were at a level in racing that took them all over the world for weeks at a time leaving me alone in a creepy old dorm, in the middle of no-where with no locks. Perfect. I was lucky enough to have a roommate named Fritz, who broke his ankle during the first week, and was pretty much forced to hang out with just me, for two straight months. He was not thrilled about missing his senior year of skiing, not to mention being stuck with some freshman in his room. After reading a paper I wrote, he asked for help with his creative writing assignment. The outlet was really something to watch, as he channeled all that pent up frustration into a really good short story, I can still remember vividly today. Pretty sure it got him laid too by some hot junior, who heard he was sensitive. Go figure.
I never had a big brother. As the oldest of four brothers, I had to take the hits first in life. Nobody taught me shit about anything. Just straight trial and error. Fritz was the closest thing I ever had to it. He was just cool. Like Bradley Nowell mixed with Ryan Reynolds, cool. Guy’s CEO of a big outwear company in Oregon now, and he still skis. As a Green Bay native, he would hobble a half a mile down the road on crutches, to watch the Packers on Sunday at an elderly lady’s house, whom he had befriended after hearing she had a satellite. With me in tow, every week I would watch Fritz go through what was Brett Favres coming out party during the playoffs of 1995. They were smashed by Steve Young and the eventual champion, 49ers. Watching him go through the agony I could only wish for as a Detroit Lions fan, actually made me partial to the cheese-heads, and especially Favre, for life. But the absolute best part about Fritz was his music. Whatever was played on Rickie’s monster stereo, was from his CD case. In 1996 that’s all we had. You scratch it, it’s totally ruined and you owe me 18$. Bands on high-replay were Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Live, Blind Melon, N.I.N., Sublime and the ultimate. The epic masterpiece that is “(What’s the Story?) Morning Glory”, by Oasis. As the Brit’s say, it’s absolutely smashing. “Wonderwall” is by far one of those songs that’s so good, even the artist singing it knows they’ll never duplicate its greatness. I challenge anyone to tell me it’s not one of the crown jewels in the history of English Rock. I’d say minimum that song was played twice a day in that house. With the majority of residents singing the chorus like some weird, ski-bum boys choir, clad in Patagonia instead of robes. This was where my love affair with music began.
As January ended, less and less people were around. The season had started. My races were all on the east coast, and the guys were in Europe and South America. Fritz had surgery scheduled for his ankle, which left me alone in the house for 4 weeks. It sucked. But he did leave me the case. And it saved my life. That old house would creak and howl with the wind all night. Finally, I got tired of it and started howling back. It started with me blasting Red Hot Chili Peppers “Aeroplane”, which then evolved into listening to every artist in that massive book. Alternative, Hip-Hop, Rock, Pop, Motown, Jazz, Punk. Fritz had everything. I was having more fun listening to music by myself to a point, that some faculty came to check on me, fearing I was pulling a “Shining”. As the headmaster and history teacher entered the house, their fears must have been alleviated by the sound and sight of a goofy 14 year old, top of the stairs where the acoustics were best, screaming the words to Blind Melon’s “No Rain”. My number one track all-time in that place was “Wonderwall” though, for sure. I still play that song constantly, and never get tired of it. Like how people don’t tire of seeing the Mona Lisa, or A Starry Night.
After finding out I was a talented alpine racer, but not Bodie Miller, I decided to go home that spring. Before I did, Fritz gave me his copy of “(What’s the Story?) Morning Glory”, which had essentially become an extension of me. “It’s more yours then mine anyways.” was his logic. I still have it today, and am listening to it as I write this story. Looking back I am incredibly grateful for the education those guys gave me, especially him, and the least I can do is pass it on. Below are the greatest hits from the place where all this started for me. As Fritz would say, “This…. is some good-ass shit.” Enjoy.
“Fritz’s Burke Mountain Tracks (1996)”
- Oasis— Wonderwall
- Smashing Pumpkins— Tonight, Tonight, Zero, Bullets over Butterflys, 1979
- Blind Melon—No Rain
- Red Hot Chili Peppers— Aeroplane, Give It Away
- Nine Inch Nails— Closer, Wish
- Live— Selling the Drama, I Alone, All Over You
- Pearl Jam— Alive, Daughter, Once, Porch
- Stone Temple Pilots— Plush, Vasoline
- Jane’s Addiction— Jane Says, Just Because
- Pixies— Where is my Mind?
- Radiohead— Planet Telex, Creep, High and Dry, Fake Plastic Trees
- Snoop Doggy Dog— Gin N Juice
- Dr. Dre— Let me Ride, Nothin But a G Thang
- Notorious B.I.G.— Unbelievable, Juicy, Gimme the Loot
- Mobb Deep— Shook Ones
- Nas— It Ain’t Hard to Tell. Halftime, NY State of Mind,
- Wu-Tang— C.R.E.A.M.
- Sublime— What I Got, Wrong Way, Two Joints, 40 oz. to Freedom
- No Doubt— Don’t Speak, Just A Girl
- Beastie Boys— Sure Shot, Get It Together