Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Tipping Point

Call it a fork in the road, destiny, or just the random hand of fate. But we've all had that moment of clarity that alters your reality--maybe not forever, but some part of your future that is affected by random moments in time that can only be discovered upon reflection and introspection.

When I was young, I wanted to be a musician. I really liked keyboards, and even dabbled a bit with piano lessons. Unfortunately, that whole bass clef thing was a total mystery to me, kind of like penny video slots, so as a typical adolescent, I lost interest completely and never considered sitting down at a piano ever again.

But I'll never forget that one particular day in 1986. I was working in the Domestics department at Macy's, selling sheets, towels, and pillows to all of the soccer milfs who had too much money and time on their hands. (The whole concept of 'regular customers' at a department store remains foreign to me to this day, but they came every week...)

Anyhow, whenever one of the other departments was shorthanded, the store manager would come around looking for volunteers to help out. Most people were fiercely protective of their 'home turf' and refused to leave their department unless forced to, but for a 19-year old guy bored with folding towels all day, the chance to go down to the Juniors department and sell tank tops and miniskirts to the young talent was an opportunity not to be missed. Not that I didn't like working with the older ladies in Domestics, but I was certain to have a lot more fun downstairs with the college girls in Juniors.

Of course I didn't have the first clue about young-womens' fashion, except that I liked the concept of the front-closure bra, so they just stuck me behind the cashier's stand ensuring that I couldn't get into too much trouble.

It was a fun day, made all that much better because they had tv's hung from the ceiling in random spots around the entire department playing the latest videos. Upstairs, I had to listen to Muzak all day. As you might imagine, getting paid five bucks an hour for the privilege of being surrounded by young girls and cool music appealed to me greatly.

Anyhow, it was a weekday, so there were several lulls in the work load. I was standing around watching the tv when I heard it for the first time.

Old timers remember where they were when Kennedy was assassinated, or during the first Apollo mission to the moon.

I remember being in the Junior's Department at Macy's Gwinnett Place when I first heard The Cult play Rain. That was the one that did it for me. That opening guitar riff hit me upside the head like an errant frisbee in the Cosmic dog park.


I had never heard anything so cool in my entire life. I was mesmerized. Hypnotized. Awestruck. That was the moment when I decided that I was going to learn to play guitar. I had to learn how to play that song, just like that band, and I had to do it as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, circumstances intervened. My dad insisted that I go to college or do something else productive, as long as it entailed moving out of his basement at some point. So I put the guitar on hold.

I went off to college, found adventure in Alaska, bought a motorcycle, and learned to fly. But in 1992 I found myself in Phoenix, finally working for a living, and I managed to buy that first guitar. It was an acoustic though, as it was all I could afford at the time. Of course I left my first lesson with the rudimentary basics of Stairway to Heaven tabbed out in a notebook, and few chords and scales to practice.

I got a little better, practiced a little more and a few years later I had an electric guitar and a small amplifier. Black Dog, Smoke on the Water, and Rock You Like a Hurricane were next on the agenda, but one day I took that Cult cd with me to my weekly lesson. The time had come to finally learn the song that inspired me to pick up a guitar.

Eleven years after I heard it for the first time, I stood on a makeshift stage in Mesa Arizona with the rest of my band and played Rain on my wine-colored Les Paul for at least two dozen screaming fans who happened to be within earshot during the Halloween block party. It was one of my proudest moments. To me, we were the Beatles on Ed Sullivan that night.

There's something about playing in front of a crowd, no matter how small, that always gave me a charge.

After that, I spent a lot of money and time on guitars and guitar-related equipment during the late nineties, and had just enough talent to be able to perform here and there for a couple of years. Unfortunately, I realized early on that I would never be a great musician. Like Major Winchester from MASH confessing to the concert pianist soldier with the injured hand, I could play the notes, but I could never make music. I could learn to play just about any song, but it took hours and hours of practice and repetition to get each one to a level where I felt confident enough to try it. Most working bands need about 50 or more songs in their playlist to do four sets a night, and I realized it would take me a couple of years to build that kind of library.

There was no way I was going to make a living as a musician. Hell, it was going to be tough to earn beer money with my lack of talent. So I slowly drifted away from it. Financial circumstances forced me to sell all of my equipment several years ago, and since then I've never had the burning desire to get the band back together and spend my weekends playing classic rock standards in biker bars.

But every now and then, I get that twinge. I hear a song that makes me wish I were up onstage again. Sometimes I hear something that makes me wish I were a scrawny spandex-wearing rocker with big hair and a tour bus. Stevie Ray Vaughn's version of Little Wing does it to me. Eric Johnson's Cliffs of Dover does the same. Hearing just about anything from Guns N Roses' Appetite for Destruction album makes me wish I were a guitar god, also.

Since I own copies of all of that music, I can hear them whenever I want. Knowing I could never be that good, the desire to be a musician under the spotlight has been tempered somewhat. But this past weekend I caught something on YouTube that blew me away.

For those of you who don't particularly like guitar music, you may not appreciate it. But somebody with infinitely more talent than me took Pachelbel's Canon in D and arranged it for electric guitar.

Wow. It just goes to show that great music is great music, method of delivery does not matter.

There I was, sitting at my desk, mesmerized, hypnotized, and awestruck once again. I must've watched it a dozen times this past weekend, and then closed my eyes and listened to it a dozen times more.

It made me wonder--How cool would it be to be the best at something? Anything? Most of us will never know. Thankfully those that are, are kind enough to share their talents with the rest of us wannabees. But some kid out there in cyberspace is going to see that video and decide right there on the spot that he wants to play guitar, too.

And then the circle will be complete.


No comments: