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Monterey High students posed in front of the John Lennon bus where they got to record a song after winning an essay contest. Left to right: Matt Mendoza, 16; Carlos Cervantes, 19; Nancy Bernabe, 18; Victor Diaz, 19; Alma Bravo, 16; teacher Bartt “Mr. Wâ
Photos by Managing Editor Libby Hartigan

Last fall, students from Monterey High School in East Los Angeles wrote these essays on the music that most inspires them. Mark Rivera’s essay won first place in the countywide essay contest sponsored by the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, which promotes music education. Because of their essays, he and his classmates were given the opportunity in January to make some music of their own aboard the bus, which has a full recording studio inside.

Bob Dylan
By Mark Rivera, 17

Five years ago, I was a fool. I would have agreed to anything as long as I was well-liked. The popular opinion controlled my ideas until I heard Bob Dylan sing, "Gonna change my way of thinking/ Make myself a different set of rules./ Gonna put my good foot forward/ And stop being influenced by fools." I was shocked because I knew he was talking about me. When I heard the opening line to another song, I was shaken by its powerful meaning. Bob Dylan sang, "Once upon a time, you dressed so fine/ You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?" I was discovering who I was and I noticed how I thought very highly of myself. After that, I changed my way of thinking.

Bob Dylan enlightened me to make my own position in the world. His music inspired me to see the real world. When I learned to appreciate life by being true to myself, I became a real person. That’s how I became the person that I am today.

Bob Marley

By Nancy Berabe, 18

Whenever I face gloomy times, the crying of his guitar and the vibrancy of his accent comfort my soul. I grew up listening to the beats of Bob Marley; I look for his music every time I need some uplifting. I get deeply frustrated from fussing with my brothers because they don’t clean up after themselves, but instead of throwing stuff around and yelling at them to fix it, with the touch of a button I can feel the presence of Bob Marley’s spirit rocking me away into a "Mellow Mood" (as he sings). His funky style enables me to keep calm and control my anger.

Bob Marley’s great music motivates me to overcome the tough times I encounter each day. When I was 13, I got a citation for being truant. I walked home, knowing I was guilty, yet convincing myself I was innocent. When I got home I kept thinking of excuses, but had none. I finally gathered my parents to tell them the bad news. I was frightened and my throat felt as if I was swallowing sand. With a saddened voice and tears rolling down my cheeks, I told them about my being in the park when I should have been in class. I cried sentimentally, and I heard my brother saying, "Don’t believe her tears, they’re fake; she knew what she was doing!" I ran to the restroom and turned on the CD player. I heard Bob Marley singing, "There you are crying again/ But your loveliness won’t cover your shame." Those words made me reflect on my actions and encouraged me to attend classes each day, for I agreed that my parents did not deserve the hypocrisy of my tears and lies.

Jenni Rivera

By Alma Bravo, 16

Jenni Rivera is a Mexican singer who inspired me to be a stronger woman. It used to be that screaming and fighting was an everyday thing for me. I was lost and furious at the world. I had arguments with my boyfriend, but when I thought I had nothing to live for, there was her music.

The first couple of months that I was with my boyfriend, I would do anything "Por Un Amor," (for my love) just like Jenni sang in one of her songs. "Me desvelo y vivo apasionada/ Tengo un amor," which means, "I can’t sleep and live full of passion/ I have a love."

It was a hurtful and unforgettable day when my boyfriend told me that he needed a break from me. When I heard the word "break" everything went blurry. I felt like my eyes were holding an entire sea. Seeing myself in the mirror and not recognizing myself hurt me more. As I saw tears dropping to the sink, I saw a blade next to my hands. I picked up the blade and kept looking at my wrist.         

There was Jenni screaming, "Se Las Voy a Dar a Otro," which means, "I’m going to give my love to someone else." After hearing those powerful words, I dropped the blade and wiped my tears away. Jenni Rivera not only inspires me by her music, but she also saved my life.

Inside the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, these Monterey High students used the bus's professional recording studio to make their own song and video. To see the video go to and scroll down to the Monterey High entry.

Tupac Shakur

By Irving Magallenas, 18

The person whose music inspires me most is Tupac Amaru Shakur, a great poet, known through the world of rap and R&B. My favorite song is "Changes," in which he sings, "I wake up in the morning and I ask myself/ Is life worth living should I blast myself?" Those words are very powerful to me because I am a recovering suicidal patient. If Tupac had ended his life, he wouldn’t have made all the songs that inspire me. Tupac inspires me to keep on living, overcoming the depression and working hard to survive. Even with depression you can accomplish many things as long as you don’t let it, and feelings of worthlessness, get you down.

Twiggy Ramirez

By Matt Mendoza, 16

Twiggy Ramirez, who plays the bass in Marilyn Manson’s band, inspired me to become an embalmer, buy a five-string Johnson bass and start an industrial band. Antichrist Superstar was the album that showed me Twiggy’s bass work. Learning the songs gave me cruel bass talent similar to Twiggy’s. When Mechanical Animals came out, I was a junior Twiggy: I bought the album, heard the songs, ran for my bass, and started to learn the songs. It was perfect for me because the cruel beauty in Twiggy’s bass playing was complicated, so I was having a killer time! The song that knocked me off my five-inch vinyl platforms was "Rock Is Dead." The bass work on that song was so beautiful and disturbing, and it helped me work on my bass slides. I still get a little psycho when I play it.

Home for me was hell. I would stash my bass from my parents. Their cruel form of punishment was to pry my bass away from me. My parents never accepted anything I was into. A boy in gothic makeup and all dolled up in female gothic garments was not what they dreamed. I’m trying to buy a four-string Gibson Goth Thunderbird without help from my parents. My parents don’t like that Twiggy Ramirez is my idol and influence. They figure a man in his 20s, dressed in female clothing and make-up isn’t idol material. My parents especially hate the fact that everyone says I look just like him. But Twiggy Ramirez and his beautiful disturbing music takes me away from all that. It takes me to a place where I’m in control, where everything I hate burns and dies, where I’m God.

Axl Rose

By Victor Diaz, 19

"Reckless Life" and "One In A Million" by Axl Rose were the songs that inspired me to become a musician. My parents always wanted me to learn how to play the guitar, but my uncle didn’t want me to be better than him. My uncle plays the guitar and the piano. I would always ask him to teach me to play but he never wanted to teach me. On my birthday my uncle bought me a guitar and said, "Here’s my gift to you. I hope you never learn how to play." That got me really mad and I decided to learn how to play the guitar. Four years have passed; I’ve learned to play the guitar thanks to my teacher, Mr. W.

Although my uncle and I have argued a lot, Axl Rose’s music got us to play together. When my uncle and I sit in the garage and play guitars, we show each other the strums and tabs for "Reckless Life" and "One In A Million." There are lots of other songs that my uncle and I teach each other. But those two songs mean a lot to us. The years have passed and we have a big thing in common—we like Axl Rose and Guns N’ Roses.

Now when my uncle goes to my house and hears me and my friends play the guitar, he grabs a guitar and plays with me. I love my uncle. He asked me to forgive him for all those years of agony. Like Axl said, "Livin’ like this never ever tore my life apart/ I know how to maintain ’cause it’s coming from my heart."

If you would like to enter the national John Lennon Songwriting Competition, see The deadline for this year’s challenge is June 15, 2006.