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The Kids of Widney High

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The Kids of Widney High weren't originally intended to be a grassroots pop cultural phenomenon. At first, it was just a way for special education teacher Michael Monagan to introduce his class of severely handicapped high school students to the wondrous effects of songwriting. But it evolved into something far larger, leaving many to question the intentions of those associated with its wide-scale distribution. In 1989, he and a set of professional studio musicians teamed up with his students to record a series of songs, for which the students were to write and perform. It was designed to showcase the potential of Monagan's class and perhaps serve as a model for other teachers of the developmentally disabled. Monagan, the students, and the musicians took the album seriously, putting much time and energy in the project. The result was a remarkably well-produced, fun, listenable, and even hypnotic album. It was designed to be sold to children ages three to seven, but it later scored a considerable degree of commercial success with curiosity seekers among the general public. It attracted everyone from immature teenagers to experimental musicians who loved the raw, unpretentious feel. Predictably, it also did wonders for the students themselves, many of whom were reported to have remarkable breakthroughs with self-esteem and self-confidence. Ten years later, the original songwriters had come and gone, but the Kids of Widney High were still making music, with teacher Mike Monagan still leading the way. In 1999, they were invited on a few California tour dates with the experimental rock group Mr. Bungle. That same year, they released another album, Let's Get Busy on Mr. Bungle lead vocalist Mike Patton's new label, Ipecac Records. Many were suspicious of the label's motives, as Ipecac's founder, Patton, is infamous for his nefarious sense of humor. Plus, it's not as if the Kids of Widney High fit in with Ministry, the Melvins, and Patton's own left-field side projects. But Ipecac has argued that their eccentricity is what unites them, as the label seems to want to fill the role of a bottomless clique for musicians who fit in nowhere else. Notwithstanding the side show, there is no debating that the Kids of Widney High love making music for all the right reasons and that their enthusiasm for their craft shines through in their records. Despite the obvious changes to their lineup every year, they continue to tour infrequently in Southern California. ~ Kieran McCarthy

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