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CD Review – The Kids of Widney High “Act Your Age”

The Kids of Widney High
Act Your Age
Moon Man Records

The handicapped insignia is normally used to indicate parking spots reserved for disabled people. For The Kids of Widney High, however, the symbol is reversed (facing the left instead of the right), slightly reclined to suggest motion and made to resemble musical notation with two flags streaming from the top.

The meaning of this reinterpreted symbol, droll as it is, serves to challenge their handicapped status in society.

The Kids of Widney High are a group of special education students who attend the Los Angeles high school.

With the help of their teacher, Michael Monagan, they work with a fully assembled rock band (who plays the music to The Kids’ lyrics) to create songs ranging from quirky to the randomly polemic “Two Faces on Fidel” on TKOWH’s latest release Act Your Age.

Monagan is a special education teacher that first started cultivating the idea of a music group in the ’80s. In 1989, he and the kids released Special Music from Special Kids via Rounder Records.

Among his many challenges was teaching the concept of original songwriting to a group of mentally challenged teens, many of whom have behavioral problems.

The Kids have been able to garner support from major names in the record industry, including Smokey Robinson and Mike Patton. Patton liked The Kids so much that they opened for his band Mr. Bungle at the House of Blues in the late ’90s.

“The place just went bananas over the kids,” Monagan said in a Widney High Web site of their performance, and one only has to look at the disarming nature of the songs on Act Your Age — with titles like “I Make My Teachers Mad” and “Santa’s in a Wheelchair” — to understand any given crowd’s enthusiasm.

Aside from any obligatory kindnesses allotted to people with disabilities, much of the songwriting coming from The Kids is touching in the vein of Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt.” “Miss Understood” is about a frustrated girl in a wheelchair who’s tired of being treated impersonally. One can trust with The Kids of Widney High that they live the laments they sing about.

Primarily though, Act Your Age can be summarized through The Kids’ rollicking good attitude that seems to say, “We don’t care because it’s more fun that way.”

“Life Without the Cow” is the album’s best song, and is mainly just a grocery list of products people wouldn’t have without cows.

The piece continues their oft-used method of song full of collaborative effort among the special education students.

“Hold Me” adds range to the album as the sole reggae ballad while placid lyrics simply demand: “Hold me / Hold me / Hold me and don’t let go.”

The Kids’ music is not recommended for daily use, as it is generally formulaic. Wesley Willis, another mentally challenged artist that gained national attention before his death last year, suffered the same problem.

Yet music fans can gain the same kernel of inspiration and respect for disabled folks on these artistic fronts as everyone can on their simple yet profound achievement of survival. The quality of Act Your Age is as resilient as The Kids’ survival.