By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
At Bancroft Junior High, and then at Fairfax, Keith and Flea played together in the band and orchestra, and after graduation they shared an apartment with Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Keidis. Barry became Tree around this time, on a "ski trip where we were going to be real hoodlums. We were going to ski recklessly and had Mohawks, and we thought it would be a lark to not refer to each other by our real names. I think Flea had already been using Flea, and I don't know why particularly I came up with Tree. In retrospect, I think Flea and I have always had this quality of being diametrically opposed in so many ways, we had always been so tight and yet we had always been very, very different. You know, like, Flea: very capricious; me: very not capricious. And if you think of it that way, the nicknames really fit."ä
He does indeed seem treelike: solidly built, well-rooted, many-branched. His main instrument is the viola, but he plays and teaches "all the instruments in the orchestra," except for the concert harp. Right now he's learning the chromatic harmonica. He's performed with Ray Charles, trumpeter Woody Shaw and tenor saxophonist Teddy Edwards, arranged for and recorded and toured with the Chili Peppers, and made an album of his own, Blew Year's Proposition (Saphu). A self-described "journeyman musician," he's also clearly born to teach. Even his way of speaking -- heavens!, boy!, jeez! and heck take the place of the usual Hollywood oaths -- reflects a lifetime of working with children, and a constant awareness that "the whole education thing never turns off, everything about the way that you act is kind of a rehearsal for being a grown-up."
Barry has taught for 20 years in "suburban places; it hasn't been where I've lived mostly, hasn't been Hollywood, hasn't been Silver Lake." At one point, he was bicycling four hours to El Toro to teach two afternoons a week, but since he is the sort of guy who will bike from Portland to Los Angeles for fun, this was not quite the trial it sounds. (He gave up cars years ago.) Now he can walk to work.
It's a little before noon when the school opens for the day. Piano music wafts from one of the practice rooms; someone is playing Bach. Bobby Matos, the well-known Latin percussionist and bandleader, who teaches at the conservatory, comes in from the street.
"Bobby is actually a colleague of mine from way, way back," says Barry, as Matos sits down next to him.
"I've got photos," says Matos. "When we were both skinny." He also lives in the neighborhood. "I'm from New York, and Silver Lake has an ambiente that's part Latino, and I like that; I like being able to go to the Cuban coffee shop and then being able to go next door to the rock & roll coffee shop. For years I was doing private classes at home, but I prefer being here, because there's no distractions, there's no coffee boiling over -- well, actually there's coffee, and it might be boiling over, but I don't have to worry about it. What gases me is being here in Silver Lake and seeing little kids traveling with trumpet cases and violin cases -- you expectguitar, everybody wants to be a guitar hero, it's rock & roll, you know -- but to see them with every instrument under the sun and they're all crossing the street with their mom, that's really cool."
"It seemed to me, moving into the neighborhood," says Barry, "that it was becoming more the kind of place where there were going to be families, and where parents were going to buy music lessons for their kids. And I have found that there's an endlessvenue for providing that service; I feel very strongly that every kid should have the chanceto try this -- that's the most important thing, more important than performance, more important than results. You don't have to do anything about performance and results; kids that are going to be musicians, that's going to happen, you couldn't stop them."
Learning music, he continues, is "kind of an important anachronism. I think the world has become a place -- our little section of it -- where kids get immediate gratification, and there's no shortcut to this; there's no shortcut to playing a musical instrument. It's like a sport, it kind of blends the qualities educationally of language learning and sports -- it forces you to get with your body and do something in a way that computers don't."
On Barry's right calf is the tattoo of a "goat-man" riding a bicycle -- goat, he says, being "the bicycle code word for climbing specialist, which is my thing. And I didn't really intend it, but it's rather Sisyphean; the whole Sisyphus idea I find interesting. Basically, I'm the Dalai Lama's worst nightmare: somebody striving all the time." He laughs. "But I know it's wrong; I just can't help myself."
"It's just one way to do it," says Matos.
"But I think the Dalai Lama has a point, that it's all about balance. We've gotten into a heck of a lot of trouble 'cause we're just all striving all the time. Those guys are all about being like water -- you don't do anything, you just go where you're goin', right?"
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