A short while back, The Wife and I attended a wedding reception held out in the picturesque countryside, complete with a Jimmy Buffett cover band working their magic poolside. I took note of these guys for two reasons:
1. They looked like a bunch of middle aged goobers with Hawaiian-shirt- covered paunches, “skullet”-style haircuts, and handlebar mustaches
2: They kicked a lot of ass. They were tight, sounded clean and rehearsed and genuinely looked like they were having a blast up there, bringing smiles to the barbeque and beer besotted revelers.
I was infinitely jealous.
This brought to mind my own musical journey; from playing bass in high school productions (not too much thumb-slapping in “Hand Jive”, sadly enough), to rolling around on banjo in college with The Whole Enchilada, to currently trying to master Lindsey Buckingham’s finger-picking style on “Never Going Back Again”, my tastes and instrument choices have been diverse to say the least. But there never was a time in my life, in terms of playing music, that can compare to the teen years, and this is for one very distinct reason: the opposite sex.
The other day a fourteen year old kid came in to get his outrageous mop of hair worked over. His mom was telling us how he was VERY much into playing guitar in his band, and how she was impressed by his talent, his love for music, all the usual parental doting/pap. I felt an immediate bond with this kid, because I remember well the first day of bass lessons when I was fourteen. The teacher told us two things that I’ve never, ever forgotten: the first being that 99% of all rock music was based on three chords, and that second, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, that he was well aware of the fact that the ONLY reason we all wanted to thump the bass or strum guitars was to impress the chicks. The man was a damn clairvoyant.
To the kid’s shock and amusement, I told him that I understood that all the musical talent in his body was driven by a hormone-laced urge to impress the ladies. His mom looked at me as though I’d just offered him his first vial of crack. And in what was no doubt a rare momentary break from believing that ALL adults are ignorant fools, he cracked a knowing smile. Chord progressions, mind-numbing speed, all that is secondary when you begin thinking about a career as a REAL guitar hero. I’m not talking about video games either. I’m talking visions of maniacal love-struck beauties throwing their unmentionables onstage. There’s no drive quite like it on earth.
At some point in this life, though, we have bills to pay. Very few can make the jump from slayin’ em all at the high school talent show to filling stadiums; by the time you reach our age, people that can do that may also be the type who steal your lawn furniture to fund their drug habits. So we trudge along, preparing strangers taxes, programming computers, framing houses, making the mortgage. There is a reason: spouses might not understand it if they came home and found you squeezed into leather pants with a pink pointy guitar in your hands, rambling about finally putting out that death-metal song you wrote about some chick named Jenni back in 1986. Bill collectors don’t accept blazing guitar licks in lieu of the minimum monthly payment. It’s a fact.
Somehow the Jimmy Buffett cover band guys, who no doubt have day jobs to support their guitar and beer habits, managed to survive not making it as big rock stars. They’ve transcended the inherent roots of why they picked up guitars in the first place. Now they have beer guts, eyeglasses and excessive hair on their shoulders to contend with, and yet they couldn’t have seemed happier. They were playing their asses off, grinning like mad dogs, and whipping up the revelers into a lather with their own rendition of “A Pirate Looks At Forty”. Man, I thought to myself, these guys really have come a long way from the years of acne and heartache. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of some of the dancing partiers…..and they were all women, singing along and gyrating to the beat. And I realized in that moment that nothing changes.
I think it’s time to put new strings on my guitar.