30,000 feet and life to go

It’s 3 am and I’m at 30,000 feet on my way to Minnesota to meet with
an editor friend of mine about a book project for a memoir that I am
working on. My wife is driving a 1000 miles from Denver for the
rendezvous. I am listening to my favorite cd set on my iPhone. It is
Metallica’s S&M. This cd has very special significance to me but to
hear that story you will have to wait for the aforementioned book…

This post IS about music and how it becomes the soundtrack to our
lives. I have well over 6700 songs on my various iPods, Touches,
iPhones, iPads and the like but it really all began with a Christmas
gift and some Memorex tapes.

I grew up with earphones in my ears. I can remember I was about 12 and
my grandfather bought me one of the original Sony Walkman’s with
headphones that had the distinctive orange foam covers.

Back then, just like any new technology, it cost a pretty penny. This
Walkman had a cassette player, of course, and that Christmas I was
delivered to a whole new world. That same holiday I got three cassette
tapes: Bruce Springstien’s Born in the USA, a Fat Boys tape and one
from slick Rick,  you know who that it is? It’s the group that sang
loddy dotty, we like to party.

Some could say that having a headset in plugged into your ears all the
time you will miss the world happening around you. Remember this was
way before the silhouetted iPod commercials and the little white cords
that changed how the world listened to music and some could say
interacted with life. Others could also say that earbuds in your ears
are sure to do some damage. Of course they do. Who are we kidding?
Everyone that is 45 years and younger is bound to have some form of
hearing loss from our music obsession.

As I entered into junior high and later high school music and my
trusty Walkman became a more than important accessory. I soon had it
with me wherever I went. I had eclectic tastes in tunes. I literally
cut my teeth to Kiss seeing them in concert with my dad when I was 6
(and surely had to be the reason for my parents divorce….)  I loved
Aerosmith, Michael Jackson, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie
Wonder, Herbie Hancock, and Boston. I spent a lot of time at a record
stores, flea markets, swap meets–anywhere I could score some new
tunes.

I also grew very fond early on of classical music because of my
grandfather. Every Sunday morning he and I would sit in his front room
reading the “funny pages” and listening to Beethoven, Vivaldi and
Bach. In fact, when grandpa passed away years later one of the things
I obtained was 20 or 30 of these classical tapes.

Early into high school I picked up a guitar for the first time and
learned how to play cords with the earphones in my ears. Picking up
the arrangements, scales and rifts came almost natural. I used to
listen to Metallica over and over and over breaking down the rifts and
learning them along with the tab books bought at the local guitar
store. I became pretty good at playing the axe and formed a band with
a few guys that would soon take our life on a journey that few get to
live. Our first band was named F.R.O.G. After the first letter of our
last names. I know, how original right?

We soon found ourselves in Portland Oregon and at the height of the
grunge movement. I was heavy into White Zombie then–way before
Thunderkiss 65. We all thought the girl bass player, Sean, was hot!
Our influences quickly included Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice
in Chains and the other lesser known Seattle grunge rockers and we
often drove the 3 hours to see these guys and rub elbows a time or
two. I’m not bragging here. It was just part of the scene…

I was in college at the time but I was paying for it on my own. Every
last cent. I worked at 7-11 for the “discounted” beer and soon had a
pretty rabid obsession to Keno. The video gambling game was on 24/7 on
a tv in the c-store. On the off days we would play music in my
apartment on S.W. 41st. Ave. Luckily my next door neighbor was the
guitar player from a band called The Dan Reed Network. I bet you have
never heard of them?

By the early 90s we were a pretty big “little band” that nobody ever
heard of. We were named Rainmaker by then and had cut a demo tape. We
were even touring! We played in many taverns, seedy clubs, biker bars
and even a strip club or two. We quickly found our home and a pretty
good fan base in the bars of Ft. Myers, Florida, often making the trek
non-stop from Portland to Florida, the long way by way of Ashland,
Kentucky. That’s where my grandparents lived and they were our biggest
“supporters” if you know what I mean.

By early 1994 we were about to hit the big time. (Very) small record
labels were talking to us and wanting to sign us. What most people
don’t understand is if a band gets signed to a record deal it is not
new found wealth and fame. On the extreme contrary. They often give
you a five or ten dollar a day per diem and not much else. They expect
you to tour to support a soon-to-be-released record, broke and dang
near penniless waiting for a year or more for record to hit the
stores. I often wondered what would have happened that day in
Clearwater, Florida at the original Hooters if we would have signed
over our souls. But for whatever reason we didn’t. We had a great
manager (me) and a promoter that knew everyone. We said thanks, but no
thanks, to the record exec and got a free lunch out of the deal.

By then we were playing some summer festivals with some pretty big
bands. Of course being the smallest chicken in the coop often meant we
were playing on stage 3 far removed from the headliners but hey we
were a part of it right?

On July 4th I got a call that changed my life forever. It was my
grandmother calling me to tell me grandpa had passed away that morning
while walking in the mall. Our band was supposed to play a show that
day at a big festival called the Summer BBQ in Tampa, Florida put on
by the local rock station.

I immediately went A.W.O.L. in my friends Suzuki Samurai.  All I can
remember is driving as fast as that little jeep could go with the top
down, crying my eyes out and listening to the only tape in the
car–Blind Melon. The lead singer, Shannon Hoon, would soon pass away
from a drug overdose. He was a cool dude. I had met him a time or two
backstage at gigs. My, how many musicians have died since then–Kurt
cobain, Lane Staley, Mike Starr, Frankie Starr, the list goes on and
on.

I ended up in the parking lot of Wiki Wachi Springs–the tourist trap
were they have real honest-to-godness mermaids. Well, it’s really
attractive ladies with airhoses so they can breathe while they dance
and twrill underwater.

My bandmates played on without me that day. I’m still not sure how
being that I was lead guitar and did vocals on our more grungy tunes.
I instead watched the fireworks in the piece of crap little jeep
parked along a river bank in Brooksville, Florida a little town that
seemed like a universe from Mickey’s hood.

The death of grandpa took me to Duluth, Minnesota in a round about way
and one of our final shows as a band included me at another 4th of
July festival in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. It climaxed with me in
a cape that I fashioned out of an American flag and climbing onto the
scaffolding. Needless to say that little stunt (fueled by the flowing
spirits, shall we say) cost me a citation and almost expulsion from
Canada.

Life had gotten increasing more complex after moving to Minnesota.
While the music still drove my passions and an expensive studio in my
basement that nearly burnt to the ground, I had other, more pressing
things, on my plate. Things that are actually the prevailing reasons
for the trek back to the Land of 10,000 lakes this weekend.

So as I sit here on the animal airline, flying on Chloe the deer fawn
this morning, about to land in Denver for a transfer to the Twin
Cities I can not help but think how much a collection of noise shaped
me into Who I  am today.

Did it make me a better man? Did it fuel a love story? Did it wash
away the tears? Did it inspire me? Sure it did. It did all that and
more.

How is music the soundtrack of your life?

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