Take the Ride and Toast the Dead

I remember when I first started attempting to make music as a kid with a hand-me-down guitar I found hanging on the wall at my Grandmother's house. I took it home and played it's 3 strings with a bandage on my thumb instead of a pick; I think I only put it down to eat and sleep.

Once it became apparent that I had no intention of either putting the guitar away or ceasing my near-constant pestering of my parents, they finally caved and bought me an actual, functioning electric guitar from a mail-order catalog. In my childhood vision, seeing the delivery truck pull into the yard and the driver exiting the vehicle with an oblong cardboard box was like laying eyes upon Santa Claus, Batman and “Macho Man” Randy Savage handing me a golden chest filled with the brilliant, blinding light of opportunity. If memory serves, upon opening the box, I had a similar reaction to that of everyone in Pulp Fiction who saw what was in that briefcase.

It was a Harmony with two single-coil pickups and no toggle switch that came with a tiny 5 or 10 watt amp. The tone must have been awful, but all I can remember is feeling like my life was complete. I learned a few chords from some old Mel Bay books I got from my Uncle and read all those ridiculous guitar magazines that I now scoff at heartily.

I learned how to read tablature and saved up to buy some songbooks from the local guitar shop. They were mostly awful, what with being the rural south and all, but I craved the knowledge they contained. “Best of The Doobie Brothers” was the choice that I made even though I could never get into their music at all, in fact, the song “Black Water” is probably what would be playing on infinite repeat in my personal hell. There was no Metallica or Megadeth to be found so I took what I could get and tried to learn the songs, but my ear wasn't primed for that kind of endeavor quite yet.

Eventually, I reached a point where I didn't sound completely awful and received a much better guitar as a Christmas present. It was a 70's era Washburn that I still have and while I do enjoy it's warm sound and near-perfect ability to imitate a Fender Stratocaster switched to the rhythm pickup; it now feels tiny in my grasp and doesn't really do well with heavy music, but I probably wouldn't sell it for anything.

I was asked to play it in front of my 7th grade Science class during the last day of the week we were studying sound. I wowed two periods of students with a handful of popular songs I had recently learned and every soloing trick I knew; for that brief moment, I felt like a star. I took a few lessons from a guy that went to school with a friend's older brother. It's unthinkable to send your kid off to basically a total stranger's house now, but my parents talked to him and being the open-minded folks that they are, they let me hang out with this guy and learn the fine art of shredding.

His fee was 6 dollars an hour and once he realized that I knew a little already, he taught me all the nifty soloing tricks that I still use today. Truthfully, I'm not that great of a guitarist, I just know how to play really fast and fake it well. (With that said, if you show me a guitarist who thinks he's the greatest in the world, I'll show you a pretentious douche... or Yngwie Malmsteen, either one works.)

I learned finger-stretching exercises, a couple basic scales and how to play by ear. On a completely unrelated note, I also learned that some people like girls AND boys, thanks to the poster above his bed featuring a nearly-naked guy that looked kind of like David Bowie. I had never met anyone who could play searing guitar solos, but also loved rap music.

I was familiar with the genre, but had a compartmentalized view of music, mostly due to being really young. His was the first band I ever saw play live and it was the most exciting thing I'd experienced up to that point, even though it was just in his backyard. I don't remember the band's name or much of what they sounded like, but I do remember thinking that it was the greatest thing ever.

Unfortunately, my old guitar teacher passed on a few years ago and I never had the chance to thank him for teaching me 80 percent of what I know about playing guitar. I saw him once at my first job and we had that weird moment where you think you might recognize someone, but are too embarrassed to say anything; I realized it was him right after he left.

If given the chance, I'd tell him that he really made a difference in my life by helping me unlock a door that led into the world that I currently reside in; I'd be even less than nowhere in this world if it weren't for my musical ability. I may have eventually reached the skill-level I'm at, but I don't think I would have been in any of the bands I've been in or been influenced by stuff that was a bit before my time like The Circle Jerks.

When I think about how my entire life has been shaped by a chance encounter with a beat-up instrument and a local outcast, it's truly a hell of a thing. I probably wouldn't even be typing this story for this website and I definitely wouldn't have people around the world know who I am; who knows, maybe I'd actually have a few bucks to my name and a suburban home with 2.5 kids and a backyard full of dogs.

Thankfully, none of that happened because in spite of the fact that I've chosen a life of music (and as a result, poverty) I am living the life that the younger me longed for so wholeheartedly. From top to bottom, everything is more or less as I pictured it and for that, I am grateful. I meet interesting people and do fun things all while sharing stories, laughs, drinks, troubles and triumphs.

I can only imagine that when I die, I won't be broken-hearted over never working my way to the top of some fast food chain or department store. I'm sure I'll take a moment to mourn not having more time to spend with the great people I've encountered over the years, but I won't regret a single second.

No comments:

Post a Comment