5.17.2020


This is my authorized autobiography. I am honored to be able to share about what I've done, what I've known and who I've loved. But it is a strange thing to be writing this for the future when I won't be able to explain things further. This will most likely be out of order rather than chronological. Topics and ideas will be covered as I think of them, more like extended journal entries than actual chapters of my life. I'll do my best to include everything I can.   

Family 

My parents were each the oldest of three siblings in their families. They met in the theater. Mom was performing in a show and Dad was playing banjo in the pit orchestra. 

My dad went to college with the hope of someday going to medical school. At a certain point he changed his plans and became a school teacher, just like my grandpa did. Dad taught High School science classes and also coached several sports over the years. 

My mom went to college to become a music teacher. She got her degree in Music Education but she never taught. After college she got married and lived in Oklahoma for a few years. She had a baby, my sister, and moved back to Wisconsin after getting divorced. She stayed at home for most of the years I was growing up. She always said that she liked being home when we got home from school. Eventually she got a few jobs over the years that worked for her schedule. I remember being a secretary for a couple years. Mostly I remember her working for the County Health Department.

I had a sister that was seven years older than me. I don't have many actual memories of her from growing up. Most of the things I remember are from stories I've heard over and over from my parents. I liked watching home movies when I was in middle school and so the memories I have are from seeing them on tape. She was graduating High School and moving off to college when I was 11. And before she left, she was likely a busy teenager with her own life and own friends. I had memories of going to her events, concerts, theater performances, marching band shows and everything else. I'm sure that she had more memories of me than I had of her.

My brother was two years younger than me. We grew up together. We had many of the same interests and also many of the same friends too. We were very close. And that made it hard at times to be the big brother. I wanted to be able to be 'innovative' and have my own ideas and space. He wanted to be with me. And I wanted to be with him too. We had a great childhood.

Our neighborhood growing up had many kids our age. Everyone lived within about 4 blocks and all knew each other. I lived for the first 18 years of my life in the same house. Everything was 'within walking distance.' The farthest walk was to the Jr. High school on the other side of town. But if we were able to be up and ready to go in time, we could get a ride from my dad as far as the high school.


Vacations

My Dad always had summer vacation at the same time as the rest of the family. He had grown up going on vacations and driving/camping throughout them. So he was very interested in hitting the road with us packed up and ready to go. 

We drove everywhere. I can remember trips to Disney World, Mount Rushmore, Washington DC, The Badlands, Wisconsin Dells, Memphis, Branson,  and lots of places in between. Always driving and staying in hotels or camping.

Dad was a big fan of Bluegrass festivals too and we went to several of those. Usually just overnight trips. But we would bring the tent and stay up late listening to people play tunes around their campfires. I think my dad really enjoyed doing that with us.

The first time I flew in an airplane I was in fifth grade. We made a trip down to Florida with my aunts, uncles and cousins because our grandmother was dying of cancer and they wanted to get the whole family together. I don't remember if I understood the situation as it happened. Thinking back on it now, it was a great opportunity for us all to be together. 

Boy Scouts
Jr. High
High School

Girlfriends and Crushes

Friends

Foreign exchange students:

During my Junior and Senior years of high school we had students that lived with our family. They shared my bedroom with me and we had a lot of fun.

Øyvind was from Norway. He went by 'Irv' for most of the year because he decided it was easier than trying to get people to pronounce his name correctly. He was into skateboarding and ska music. He played on the soccer team and tried to play baseball too. But one day during batting practice he broke his nose and I think he ended up having to sit out for the season. I don't remember.  He was a year ahead of me in school so that meant his group of friends were all people that I didn't know very well. 

I do remember when he first got to the US, he told me that he was very self-conscious about his English speaking skills and would get very nervous talking to adults. For a while he was convinced that if he didn't have any voice then he wouldn't have to talk. So if we were driving alone somewhere and he would scream his head off and grunt and cough violently, over and over and over, trying to lose his voice. He did this each time he had the chance. We'd get back home and he'd be all hoarse and unable to say much. So I guess it worked. But it wasn't a problem for too long. After a couple of months he became confident enough in his English speaking.

My girlfriend at the time also had a student staying with their family, Kristofer from Denmark. He went by 'Stoof' and was a very talented gymnast. I think he was on the national team back home.  He was actually great at just about everything, even things he didn't know how to do. 

Because my girlfriend and I were always together, Irv and Stoof became good friends too. They were great guys. We all had lots of fun. We'd go into Chicago to concerts, sporting events, and things like that.  They were always up for an adventure.

Senior year was all about Roberto from Italy. He went by 'Bob' and also had many of the same interests as me. He was my age so I was able to introduce him to all of my classmates and friends and before long he settled into a group of friends. he played on the soccer team and ran track too. He was the dark and handsome guy with long brown hair and a thick Italian accent. Most of the girls in our class had crushes on him. I think he was asked to the homecoming dance by more than 10 people.  

Bob was musical too and had a great singing voice. He'd come with us if our band had a gig somewhere and would film and be on stage with us. But due to his looks, he was often a distraction for the audience.  

I had a lot of fun with Irv and Bob. It was like having more brothers. They each stayed for about a year. After that I never saw them again. We kept in touch over the years a little through social media. It was nice to know them.




Bands:

Growing up in a small town, with lots of instruments around, it only made sense to form bands and make noise.  That is what I remember doing most of the time when I was growing up. A lot of my music playing was with my friend who lived down the street. He had amplifiers and drums in his room and we would spend hours in there. Playing along to cds and trying to write songs. I learned a lot about new music and bands in that room. A third guy would come over to play the drums and we had a full blown rock band, with me playing bass. We played songs written by Weezer, Stone Temple Pilots, The Dandy Warhols, etc. It was great. Time stood still in that room and we were good. I mean like really good. Way better than your average teenage garage band.

Later on I played with my brother John and another of our friends. Same set-up, different basement. Only now the musical influences were that of Blink 182, Lucky Boys Confusion, Green Day and other similar groups.  We also wrote many original songs too. 

The band names always came and went, depending on if new members were joining. It was part of the routine: gather together a group of guys, give the group a name, and proceed to write music and have rehearsal together. As arguments would arise and feelings would get hurt, the breakups would ensue and all of the songs AND the band name would get tossed in the trash. Only until the next time that a similar group of people would gather again, re-brand with a new style and name, and be off to the races in no time.  

But it was the same group of 6-7 guys that just rotated into different combinations.  It was a creative way to pass the time in a small town. We'd get gigs at school events, at a Mexican dance hall in town, and even out of town shows once in a while.

One group of us, called Joe Millionaire's Rejects at the time, competed in the Battle of the Bands at Richmond-Burton High School. We were not great. And I think we got last place too. I remember they awarded us something like $20 worth of Taco Bell gift certificates as a 'thank you for coming' gesture. 

After graduating High School I was on the lookout for a new group of musicians when I went to college. It didn't take long before I got together with a vocalist down the hall and a drummer that lived one floor up in the dorm. We had a couple of rehearsals, wrote a handful of songs and got rolling again. 

Our first public performance took place on campus at the coffeehouse. We printed fliers and passed them out all over for weeks in anticipation. But the flier didn't say that we were a band. It just gave the date and time to come see 'The John Doe Project.'  A massive crowd showed up to find out what the excitement was all about. We took the stage and played incredibly loud, fast, violent original punk rock songs that all had political themes to the lyrics. We had only been rehearsing for a few weeks, and the crowd could tell. We were awful. More than half of the crowd left during the third song. But the ones who stayed got quite an earful. It didn't matter. We were young and rebellious and making noise in a good way.

That band stayed together for the next couple years. We rehearsed regularly and played lots of shows and concerts. We recorded 3 cds worth of music too. It was a great time and I really enjoyed it. But like all things that run their course, that group did too. I ended up leaving after a fight and fallout. They kept performing without me though. Maybe they still are. 

The last time I remember playing a show in a band was again with my brother and another couple of buddies. We rehearsed only once and played at bar in the Chicago suburbs. It was a collection of songs that each of us had written individually and taught each other by sharing mp3s. 

Those times making music with my brother were very special to me. He was always my best bandmate and also quite the musician himself.


College

Music Jobs:

After college I spent a couple years working as many music jobs as I could find. And I think I found most of them. I played in pit orchestras for musicals around Chicago, taught preschool music, voice lessons, worked for church choirs, played music for weddings, wrote custom songs for an online company, and probably a few more that I'm not remembering.  It was a way to pay the bills and it made me feel like a professional musician. I guess I was, technically speaking.  

Non-Music Jobs

Marriage
Fatherhood

Teaching Career

Our family spent three years in Milton Wisconsin. I taught Jr. High and High School. It was my first teaching job and I really enjoyed it. 


California 
Goals



Coda

That was pretty much how it happened, or at least how I rememberd it. My happiest memories were with my children and the people I loved. I really enjoyed being a father and a husband. It made everything else feel like background noise. I hope they knew how lucky I was to have them in my life. 

I had a lot of fun during my life and achieved many of my aims and goals:

I got to make, teach and perform music for most of my life. I got to travel and see beautiful places. I got to make books, and in 2018 one of my poems got publishedI got to have a collection of notes from helpful books. I got to share some of my thoughts and have little projects. 

If you are so inclined, shoot me an email. It would be great to hear from you. 

Thank you for reading. 

Take care of each other. Forgive everyone.

I'll see you when I see you.

-Michael David Swengel