So, here we are again, and we have to begin again. Everyday is new like the sun never came up before if you play your cards correctly.
When I was a kid I wanted to be an airplane. I was a weird kid. Other kids did sports. I thought sports were stupid. I ran around the playground with my arms outstretched like I was an F-4U or a Zero. I wanted to shoot other kids down but there were only a few other planes in the class, and honestly, those guys were even weirder than me. I eventually got old enough such that I cared what other kids thought, and I stopped “flying.”
One day in the early winter, in, I think, second grade, I was on some sort of mission, and I looked over at the jungle gym, and I had a vision. And I mean it — an actual vision. I’ve never had one since.
The jungle gym in this particular section of West Side School’s playground was a curved arch with rungs. Picture a ladder bent in a half-circle with the base and top buried in the ground. It sort of looked like the prosceneum arch of a theatre.
In my vision, under that arch was a rock band, and I was in it over to stage right (house left), and vision me was wearing the same quilted greenish nylon winter coat that airplane me was wearing. And vision me was still a second grader, but vision me was playing an electric guitar.
There was no electric guitar in my house growing up. There wasn’t even rock music. My parents listened to shit. Musak. Montovani and His Orchestra. 1000 and 1 Strings. The coolest record they had was Vaughn Meader’s The First Family, which is actually a really cool record but it was a comedy album about the Kennedys and it sure didn’t rock.
Vision me wasn’t playing an ambiguous, generic electric guitar. I remember it really specifically. It had a light colored neck, the headstock was long and all the tuning pegs were on one side of it. It had two cutaways and a three-toned sunburst finish — black to orange to yellow. White pickguard. Three pickups. It was very clearly one of these:
Layla came out in 1970, and I might have seen the album cover somewhere. Or maybe I saw someone on TV playing the same guitar. A sunburst Fender Stratocaster is pretty common in rock ‘n’ roll. Whatever. That is what I saw in my vision. At the time I had no idea what I was looking at, really, but the sight of it was clear as traffic lights.
I didn’t start playing guitar in second grade. I didn’t jump into music. I wasn’t haunted by my vision like some North Shore of Long Island Joan of Arc. I didn’t trade in my airplane. I was teased out of my airplane. I just went cluelessly through school like any other kid of average IQ and high laziness.
I finally started on guitar late in 7th grade, after playing and giving up on the piano, the trumpet and the french horn. I was playing a diffident trombone, some guy owed my dad money, and to repay the debt he gave my dad a Guild Starfire Mk III. So I started playing guitar.
I didn’t really like the Guild. The bridge would slide around, one of the pickups was dead, and it sounded all nasal and like shit. I guess it was beautiful if you kinda wanted to look like Ted Nugent. Repulsive thought. Ted used a different guitar, a Gibson, but it looked a lot like the Guild.
I didn’t like my Guild. But I loved to play it.
So, that was basically all I did. School, guitars, and records, and not necessarily in that order.
Eventually I got a Stratocaster knock-off, because I couldn’t afford a real Fender. Mine was a Hohner, and it had a sunburst and a whammy bar — it was the vision guitar. It sorta sounded like shit, too, but I loved it. Wish I still had it. I rewired it and swapped out pickups and eventually it went to lost guitar heaven, I guess sometime between when I moved back from college and when my parents sold their house.
I still don’t have a Fender Strat. I have a sunburst maple neck Tokai Stratocaster from 1985 that is an absolute monster. It plays better than any Fender I’ve ever picked up. And it sounds great.
I guess that vision on the playground led me to that guitar, to guitars in general, to the Beatles’ Revolver album, which was the first record I ever bought and which BLEW MY MIND. I have to say this: there is almost nothing cooler than choosing goddamn Revolver off the shelf in a record store not knowing anything about the record other than Eleanor Rigby and Yellow Submarine were on it. It’s like the hand of God was involved.
Revolver… that led me to wanting to make music, specifically records. It made me want to record. And eventually I did that, recorded and produced rock albums (and some jazz and other stuff) all through my twenties and into my thirties until I was stopped dead cold by tinnitus, which wreaked my life.
It wreaked a life. A possible life. A life like in the movie Source Code, in which descisions made split the hero’s path into different possibilities curving off into time-space.
I suppose there’s a life somewhere in which I didn’t get tinnitus, in which I still make records. And another one where I play the french horn. And in yet another one… I’m still an airplane!