Ecological Education Rock
Red Alert. As I write this, innocent schoolchildren all over the Pacific Northwest are being introduced to the trashiest form of rock music ever invented--"garbage music." Yes, seventh-and-eighth graders are gyrating in school corridors to the riotous rhythms of an ominous hit, "Stinky Stinky Landfill." They're humming bizarre songs about worms--yes, worms.
And, actually, the kids are learning a great deal in the process. Garbage music, as played by a zany Portland, Oregon rock trio called the Garbage Gurus, is educational fun. The Gurus, are bent on teaching their young audiences about recycling and the imperiled salmon who swim in the Northwest's greatest river, the Columbia. So the band takes the stage banging on old oil cans and strumming stringed instruments made with discarded wood. The Gurus incite students with crazed recycling anthems like, "Do the Milk Jug Stomp!" And then, afterwards, they spend hours talking with students.
During a recent visit to Cascade Middle School in Longview, WA., Guru guitarist Peter DuBois spoke to a class about the way the Columbia's 14 dams stymie migrating salmon. Kitchen sink virtuoso Scott Becker discussed the pollution that paper mills spew into the Columbia, and bassist/dirt connoisseur Todd Aschoff informed kids that they can reduce their family's contribution to stinky landfills by feeding their food scraps to little red worms. "Worms break down the food and turn it into fertile soil," Aschoff gently intoned, "They're like nature's tiny rototillers." "Gross!" shrieked a chorus of girls.
Yeah, solid waste is a slimy, slippery topic, but the Gurus can almost make it seem glamorous: Kids regard them as rock stars, asking, at times for autographs. And teachers also give the band very high marks. "Music excites kids in a unique way," Cascade science instructor Rich Kuras notes, "and these guys deliver a message that's easily understood by kids. Their show's a good jumping-off point for in-depth thought."
Kuras plans to make the Gurus an integral part of his class' fourth-quarter unit on ecology. His students will write their own lyrics to a Woody Guthrie ballad the Gurus perform, "Roll on, Columbia." They'll also tap into the Gurus' web site, to read the band's daily journal, a hilarious, rambling narrative that flows, well, like a river.
Following the salmon
Unique among rock tours, the Gurus' "Pacific NorthWaste Road Show" literally has followed the serpentine course of the 1,200-mile long Columbia upstream from the Pacific to the river's trickling headwater in Nelson, British Columbia. "We're following the salmon," explained DuBois recently as he hung out in the Gurus' tour bus, a '72 Dodge reeking of mildew, "This is the route they take in the spring, as they swim to their spawning grounds." "And," Becker added, "The Columbia provides a natural thread to the story we're telling about solid waste. The river's watershed is the size of France, and anything we put into the ground water here--pesticides, oil, nuclear waste--is flushed into the Columbia. The salmon are only going to survive if we change the way we think about waste."
A school bell rang as Becker was speaking, and soon the Gurus stormed into a dingy gymnasium for yet another uproarious middle school show. Becker whipped the crowd into a frenzy by pounding a trash can. Aschoff strapped a pair of old plastic pails onto his shoes and tap-danced with James Brown aplomb. The students screamed; the teachers swayed in their seats. And then, piercingly, with grim clarity, the school bell sounded again. Second period. Thinking green thoughts, everyone filed out of the gym, and off to the classrooms.
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