Friday, March 10, 2006

There's Still a Place

It’s Friday. Nice day here. Easy weekend on paper. A friend of mine asked me to play bass on a couple of tunes he had lying around. I’ll probably burn them to a CD and sit up in my room tomorrow and work out some parts. Funny, but I haven’t shaken the my room concept even as I’ve landed firmly in middle-age. When I was a kid, my parents’ room was for sleeping and changing clothes. My mother’s sewing machine was in there, so when she had something to sew she’d spend time in her room, but she wished we lived in a bigger house with a sewing room.

Not so with me.

I shared a bedroom with older brother (2.5 years my senior) until our older older brothers moved out. I must have been about 14. Man, I was thrilled to have my own damn room! Finally. My parents let me set it up the way I wanted. I could move my bed and my dresser to my liking. My own closet. A cheap little scratch-box stereo. No TV. While I wanted one, I really didn’t care. This was my room. When things got too intense I would slip away into my room and shut the door. Crank the scratch-box until my mother banged on the wall and then I would turn it down just a little.

I started out on the guitar. All three of my older brothers played the guitar, so I had been hacking on the thing since I was about 5. I was taught to play riffs. TV theme songs like “Peter Gunn,” “The Twilight Zone” and “Man From Uncle.” I learned a few chords, but for years I struggled with “F”. I used to ask my brothers, “Can you teach me a song that doesn’t have ‘F’ in it?” “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” I can’t remember if there were any others.

When I was about 15, one of my best friends decided to make a band. He played piano. Another kid played guitar, (we hadn't met Sound yet) and while he wasn’t very good, he was better than I was. Still, we got together a few times and he played “lead” and I played “rhythm.”

I was in the 10th grade. By then, I was allowed to take the bus to Roosevelt Field. That was a cool thing to do. Go to Roosevelt Field with your friends and without your parents. I know it is a cliché now, but back then it was all just starting up. We didn’t even use the word “mall” in those days. It was just Roosevelt Field. We weren’t rich kids, but round-trip bus-fare was about a $1.50, so if you had a few bucks you could go there on a Saturday, get a pretzel, and spend an hour in the record store drooling over all the albums you were going to buy one day when you had a job. You could go to the head-shop (it was in the back of a store called "World Imports" -- we hadn't really started up smoking yet) and look at the all the hippy stuff. Pipes, cherry-flavored rolling papers, lava lamps, and black light posters. And there were girls there, and not the same snooty girls that we knew from school. Girls that didn't know us.

Even the bus-ride was fun. We felt like we were growing up, riding a real bus that adults took to do adult things instead of the yellow school busses packed with stupid kids that could kick my ass then but would end up working at a McDonald's as adults.

It was there at Roosevelt Field that I had my epiphany. There was a music store, (I think it was called Matthews Music) and one day I went in with a few friends and we looked around. All sorts of band instruments, sheet music, a couple pianos -- and guitars. 40 or 50 guitars. All kinds. On one rack were the bass guitars.

A bass? I don’t think I’d ever seen one up close. I was looking at this one, it was a ¾, but I didn’t know that at the time. I noticed it was smaller than the others, so I figured it was cheaper. Turned out I was right. This cool guy with long hair, (I wasn’t allowed to have long hair – but that is a-whole-nother story!) said something like:

“You want to check it out?”
“How much is it?”
“I can let you have for $49.99.”

“Hmm” I thought. "I get $4 a week allowance. I started caddying the previous summer, and could make $7 per day when the summer comes." While it seemed like a lot of money, I thought I could raise it.


He handed it to me and I probably played the riff to “Peter Gunn” on the E string. With my thumb on the right hand and first two fingers on the left.

You could have stuck a fork in me, because I was done. It just felt right! "I can do this!" I thought.

I became obsessed with the idea of buying that bass. No one else played bass. Kids wanted to play guitar, or drums. Drums were out of the question, and everyone I knew who played the guitar played it better than I did. But nobody wanted to play bass!

I scrimped and saved, cajoled, bargained and scared up the money and bought that exact one. It probably was about 6 months later, and I must have been back to that store 3 or 4 times since then. I marched in there and said, “I want to buy that bass!” One of the sales guys said, “Don’t you want to play it first?” and I said, “Nope. I already did!”

Man, I wish I still had it today. I don’t know what happened to it, but I know I sat in my room with the door closed, and I learned to play the bass on that little no-name. In my room. No, don’t cue the Beach Boys. How about, “There’s A Place?” I like many Beach Boys songs, and love some of them, but I don’t revere Brian Wilson and his teen angst the way some do. For me it is John and Paul. Brian Wilson was great, but I didn’t want to BE him. I felt sorry for him. I wanted to BE John and Paul.

33 years later and I share my room with The Viscountess, and that suits me better. It is our room, but it is also my room. It isn’t just a place to change my clothes and be in bed. I have an excellent stereo in there, and when it is time for me to work out bass parts, I set up my amp, plug up my fretless, put the CD in the stereo, sit on the bed and get lost in the creative process.

And that is what I am looking forward to this weekend...


Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

Sounds like a fun plan. Nice post.

I remember taking the bus into Hartford as a kid even though I wasn't supposed to. Later, in college, I would drive into Hartford to The Capitol Record Shop. They carried import albums and even some bootlegs.

Yep. I was hooked.

3:23 PM  
Blogger cali said...

Blogs are kinda like cyber rooms of our own. Guess that's why I move the furniture around occaisionally and play the radio when I'm hanging out there.

3:24 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

They carried import albums and even some bootlegs.

Yeah, that was the sensimilla of record stores!

3:31 PM  
Blogger fgfdsg said...

I'll tell my record stores stories down the track. Mine was much more than just a bus trip to the mall.

It's funny, as a kid, whenever I'd listen to a record, it would be the bass line that jumped out at me, and i realised that's what I wanted to play. Except we had a piano, and I had no money for a bass, so i became a keyboardist.

The thing was my sister felt the exact same way. She was forever pointing out how cool the bass parts were in certain songs. Maybe it's because we were most usually playing Beatles records, and the mid-period stuff, where Paul's lines were starting to get really melodic.

I was a child much later, but same experience.

3:55 PM  
Anonymous blue girl said...

Great post, Al. My friends and I would ride the bus to the mall and go see movies. 7th, 8th grade. I can't imagine letting my son do that now. Take a bus trip to the next suburb. Sad times.

Also -- the whole "room" thing -- I know right where you're coming from. I never played an instrument, but as you know I'm a singer. I would just sit in my room in the floor in front of my stereo and sing, sing, sing. I still do it. Go into my room, close the door and blast the stereo.

I used to *love* going into the local head shop. Which was called, "The Shop." Loved the whole counter culture thing. It's still there, but doesn't have all the *stuff* they used to carry.

Great post. Brings back lots of memories.

9:17 AM  
Blogger lonesomepolecat said...

in '65 i was 29, was a keyboard-playing Nat Cole trio wannabe. sneered at Elvis, Buddy Holly, all that boys-making-noise stuff, until i finally heard Sgt Pepper. Holy Shit! something going on here, and i don't know what it is, and i finally discovered 4 chord music with Content! had to begin at the beginning with Woody Guthrie and my life began at 30, a great time to be alive and aware. now wondering how all those knuckle-draggers on the right could have missed it.

12:50 PM  

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