A Place to Rock

High school isn’t easy for anyone. Days are spent jockeying for position in an imaginary hierarchy of jocks and cheerleaders and teachers’ pets; nights are spent shirking homework and driving parents crazy. All this while battling raging hormones and trying to keep up with the latest hairstyle.

One fashion slip-up or wrongly worded phrase, and you could find yourself sliding down the popularity pole faster than a firefighter on the way to a three-alarm. It could happen to anyone, and often does. But the group that’s got it super-bad, just a tick above chess club members, are the rockers. No, not the kids who look like rockers, who wear ’80s metal shirts out of a sense of irony, but the kids who really play rock ‘n’ roll, who live the lifestyle and dedicate themselves to music. They’ve never been respected — rarely by their peers, anyway, and certainly not by 
their teachers.

Just ask Walter Jerk, a former Nease High School student and lead guitarist for The Pinz. Wasn’t but three years ago that he and his bandmates were struggling for a bit of love from their classmates and a little support from Nease staffers when they got a big surprise in the school newspaper, The Vertical. In a feature modeled after Facebook’s “10 Day Challenge,” in which people post 10 photos meeting certain criteria, a picture of The Pinz was posted with the caption, “A Picture of Something You Wish You Could Forget.” (To add insult to injury, below that was a picture of Tim Tebow captioned, “A Picture of Someone You Miss.”)

The Pinz took offense, especially Walter Jerk (né Walter Clough) and his younger brother, Johnny Wyatt (also a stage name). Though the band tried to make a joke out of it, using the word “unforgettable” in their live show promotions, the jab stung. Clough said his brother’s feelings were truly hurt. Though Clough graduated in 2010, and his brother has transferred into Florida Virtual School to complete his final year, Clough is concerned that other students could suffer the same fate.

“I feel like I have something to say to protect other kids from this happening,” Clough said. “If anybody else was to go through that … someone who is on their own with music, it would affect them in a negative way. They support everyone else. Whether it be football or cheerleading or anything [marching] band-related, they get the treatment. Why shouldn’t we? We work just as hard at what we do. I feel like anything that a high school student does — trying to create something, whether it be art or music — it should all be treated the same.”

Enter Frank Davis.

“I had him for health class,” Clough said. “I remember thinking, ‘Dude, this guy’s awesome. He has posters of Les Pauls on his wall.’ “

Davis, a guitarist and vocal student advocate, has been on the Nease faculty since 1992, teaching health, life management and biology, and coaching soccer as well. His approach to students who may feel like they don’t “fit in” is level-headed but welcoming, providing them with a guiding hand and friendly voice of support.

“I think that to say that they don’t fit in is taking it a little bit beyond,” Davis said. “Maybe [they don’t fit] at the top of the acceptance scale. I would like to think, especially being a part of the education system as long as I have been, that every kid has a little place that they can call home. It might not be the most popular. Take the football team, for instance. There’s hundreds of kids involved, and there’s literally thousands that show up on Friday nights to watch them perform. On our scale, when you talk about guitarists in a battle of the bands, we’re talking about [several] teens for participants and only hundreds for the audience. It’s a much different scale. But I’d like to think there are opportunities for every kid on all sorts of levels.”

Davis founded Nease High’s annual battle of the bands, in which Clough and The Pinz performed in 2008 and ’09. The Pinz won the second time around.

“That’s when me and Davis became friends,” Clough said. “I feel like the battle of the bands really bonded me and Davis.”

Music-loving students refer to their guru simply as Davis. It’s a term of endearment, but also one of respect. They treat him as they would one of their own, and he returns the respect by talking shop with the musicians. He started the Guitar Club for the students, an extracurricular gathering of kids interested in the six-string that gets together every Tuesday. He welcomes all skill levels, tasking the more experienced guitarists with helping the newer kids along.

“We encourage anybody that wants to play the instrument to come and be part of it,” Davis said. “I encourage [the more experienced players] to take a beginner under their wing and show ’em the ropes. Hopefully as the years go by, you’ll see that fold back on itself, and you’ll see the ones who were beginners become the leaders in the upcoming years. That’s the real goal.

“In our club,” he said, “there is no hierarchy. I think that kind of twists some heads a little bit.”

Davis is equally — and maybe more emotionally — committed to the battle of the bands and the talent he includes in the show. A recent YouTube video shows Davis speaking at a performance. The graying longhaired and bearded teacher, looking a bit like a thinner Jerry Garcia, addresses the audience: “Y’all see why I do this thing, don’t ya? For real. Every time I see it, I still get goosebumps. It makes me cry.”

He praises The Pinz for their talent and their potential for success. He then joins the band on stage for a punky rendition of The Who’s “My Generation,” skanking and moshing about with a few students. By the end of the song, half of the audience — kids of all stripes, from every grade and social class — is on stage, dancing, singing, screaming along.

It’s a testament to Davis’ ability to relate to the students on a level many educators miss. When these kids move on, it’s Davis they’ll remember. And, as evinced by Clough, they’ll continue to call him a friend.