NaBloPoMo: Music. 30,000 feet and life to go

I wrote this post in May but I thought it would be appropriate to re-post to NaBloPoMo. Today’s prompt is: Music.

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 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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