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11 February, 2012

it's the music that matters (part 1)

I've been playing guitar since I was twelve or thirteen years old. The first songs I learned were Rolling Stones and Kiss tunes, and I figured them out by ear, badly, but by myself. Never had one lesson. Well, that's not entirely true, but it was probably only about three lessons after I had already been playing guitar for four or five years. I didn't have the patience to properly learn technique when all I really wanted to do was play songs, which I was already doing on my own. Much like so many other things, I was content to be "pretty good" at something with no effort, rather than busting my ass to become "very good" at it.

I wrote many songs during my teens, but they were all rather trivial, derivative in obvious ways, of all my favorite bands. I never shared any of those songs with anyone. Just wrote them on a notepad, or typed them on a bad typewriter, and played them for myself. The first song I recall "sharing" was a song that I wrote for a girl whom I liked from the next town over. She wouldn't date me, after the initial flirtation, because I was "too young" for her (one year behind her in school - funny how much a year mattered back then). So, in my state of unrequited love, I wrote a song called "Pain After Pain." I would not be surprised if I still have the original of this in a box somewhere in my garage. I do not plan on recording it! It was rather insipid and predictable. But when I shared it with her, I think it almost made her want to give me a chance. But not quite.

I could ramble in more detail about this in future entries, but I should probably not do my usual "tangent thing," and get to the point, so this will be readable.

So, first time "performing" for an audience of one was probably at the age of sixteen. In college, I played music with friends occasionally, but was a little bit shy about performing. The next noteworthy performance (again for an audience of one) was a song titled "I Can See It In Your Eyes" (rip-off of a Men At Work title, which may have come out before my song, if I remember correctly). This time, the performance actually won me the girl! She'd been taunting and teasing me for many months, and when she realized that I actually wrote a song for her, that was enough to melt her heart. We dated for almost three years, and eventually we both saw in each others' eyes that it wasn't going to work.

Straight through college, I'd never played in a band. Not sure why. I knew how to play almost every song by every band that I liked. AC/DC, The Cars, The Police, Devo, Pat Benatar, Huey Lewis, The Kinks, Aerosmith, Van Halen, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, etc. If I could hear it, I could play it. But it was mostly for my own entertainment. In fact, usually if people said "Bob! Play something!" I would just respond with a polite decline.

In graduate school, I became friends with some guys in a band, and became obsessed with them. I don't mean in a bad way, like "Mel" from "Flight of the Conchords." But they inspired me, and they were my best friends. And watching them made me want to perform. I had hoped I would have an opportunity to become a member of their band but, for many reasons, that was never to be. After leaving graduate school, I finally started responding to advertisements in a local magazine (I think it was called the Boston Phoenix), and found some musicians who were starting a band. They called themselves "Phantom Roommate," which was a rather tragic band name, but we saw little enough light of day that the band name didn't matter very much.

My first-ever live show was at a party at someone's house - I think it was one of the band members. There were a lot of people there. We played five or six songs, including "Can't Get There From Here" by R.E.M. We also played a song that I'd written, titled "Seduction." I wrote that a couple of years earlier. It was very much a Kiss-inspired song. It was a little bit cheesy, but not bad as a straight-ahead blues rocker. That was my first show. And it was fine. Ironically, my guitar and amplifier were almost stolen out of the back of a pickup truck when we were loading our gear out after the party. We were carrying things out of the house, and a stranger tried to run off with them. The amplifier was very heavy and the guy ended up having to drop everything to jump over a fence and escape. My friend, Jeff, managed to salvage my gear for me, unharmed, by providing adequate chase to the would-be thief.

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