Friday, February 27, 2009

My First Guitar

I was born in Little Falls, Minnesota and moved to a suburb outside of Minneapolis when I was two years old. While riding the bus to school in kindergarten, the school children often broke into song.

Marijuana, Marijuana
Mommy makes it
Daddy takes it
Why can’t we?
Why can’t we?

It was 1970, and drugs were not yet vilified by parents – by the parents of our parents? Perhaps, but I grew up during a permissive era in the white American suburbs. We wouldn’t hear about the dangers of drug use until middle school and, by then, we had already formed a fairly high opinion of them. There were teachers smoking in our classrooms in elementary school and our middle schools had a “back 40” reserved for students to smoke cigarettes, too. Before school, children gathered outside of the middle school smoking cigarettes and passing around joints received from older siblings. My first drawings in elementary schools were of hippies smoking joints and holding boxes labeled “LSD.” They were standing before banners saying make love not war and peace symbols were pasted in the background next to the sun. I was not peculiar, but was merely drawing what everyone else in class was drawing.

My parents were not hippies. Before kindergarten, my mom stayed at home. Her stack of albums included artists such as: “Peter, Paul and Mary,” “Simon and Garfunkel,” “John Denver,” “Glenn Campbell,” and “The Carpenters.” She would clean the house as these albums spun on the living room turntable. I learned to sing in perfect key to songs like “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Feelin’ Groovy,” “Cecilia,” “Sunshine on my Shoulders,” “Rocky Mountain High,” “Like a Rhinestone Cowboy,” and “Sing a song,” just like they were nursery rhymes from Mother Goose. In grade school, I was always picked to sing the lead parts in our chorus performances.

I asked my mother and father for a guitar at a very young age, so I could learn to be like John Denver when I grew up. They did not buy me one right away. It may have been the money or perhaps they thought it was a stage I might grow out of. I remember sitting in the backseat of my fathers Pontiac when I was a young boy. My father was driving and my mother was in the passenger seat. I had recently learned from my music teacher in school that there were only 12 notes on a staff. I pleaded with my parents from the back seat that time was wasting and, if I did not get a guitar soon all the songs would be written before I learned how to play guitar and no more would be left. There were only 12 notes after all and almost every combination had to be used up by then. They chuckled from the front seat, but a guitar did not arrive.

When I was 8 years old, I opened a Christmas present and discovered a ukulele. My parents must have immediately sensed my disappointment. They began telling me that a guitar was too big for my hands and I had to learn how to play a Ukulele first. I could get a guitar after I learned how to play the ukulele. I held it in my hands and ran my fingers along the nylon strings. I sang “My dog has fleas” and turned the tuning pegs till they matched my voice. I went to my room and sat on my bed holding it and plucking at the strings. Then, I got up, opened my closet door, put the ukulele on the back shelf, and closed the door shut tightly.

A few months later, I saw Pete Townsend smashing a guitar on the television. It might have been on the news or perhaps it was a late night show. Or maybe, I just saw a picture of him in a magazine. I opened the closet door, went inside, grabbed the Ukulele and shut the door from the inside. Then, I raised the Ukulele high above my head and brought it crashing down to the floor, shattering the ukulele, sending pieces flying as a loud pinging noise went echoing throughout the house. My mother came running into my room and found me in the closet holding the ukulele in my hands as tears streamed down my face. She grabbed me by my hand and led me to my bed. My pants came down and she wore a wooden spoon out until the welts appeared upon my buttocks. My parents never bought me another instrument and I stopped singing in school and at home. Though my musical training was cut short at this early age, I was being groomed as a rock star from that day forward. I would not buy my first guitar for 10 more years, and punk rock was still a ways off in the future. I got a later start on guitar and, lucky for me, for the purposes of puck rock, that was a good thing. I also learned through my studies in mathematics about powers of 12 and through music listening about time signatures, choruses, verses, lyrics, harmonies, and bridges. In short, I came to realize that availabilities of notes may be limited but the possibilities for songs were infinite, while my oppositional nature and rebellious streak was slowly emerging as I entered my teenage years.


Richard said...

Oh I just love this story.

Richard knows a thing or two about smashing guitars, to.

The Ifle Tower and Tage Mahol are mine to see on clear days.


Richard said...

"When you sing to your mum, and you hum and you croon
And she says that she'd like it "with more of a tune"
And you smash your guitar at the end of the bed
Then you stick it together and start writing again"
Pete Townshend, Guitar and Pen