What Do You Wanna Be When You Grow Up?

Well, I didn’t want to grow up to be a grown up, for damn sure. Seriously. Who wants to be one of those?

“A professional electronic instrument and audio clinician is simply a clueless punk kid who didn’t quit.” – Phil Huston (paraphrased from Richard Bach)

My first real “I wanna be” was cartoonist. Maybe a cartoonist who was a Forest Ranger. I could sit in the fire towers and draw cartoons of my animal friends. Or a football player. Forget that. Or a piano player. Then girls came along. I got a cool, garage band Vox organ, I was going to be Paul Revere and the Raiders, by myself, tri-corn hat and all and the girls would swoon like they did on Where the Action Is every afternoon. It’s good to dream when you’re young, even if you’re clueless.

When I sat down at the piano to play a tune I could hear the entire arrangement in my head, tried to beat it out of the piano. It drove my father, the part time cornet player in a big band in college, crazy. Save that image of me.

The cartoonist thing moved into art. Pen and ink, mostly, and I had a thirst for books and writing. I had gathered enough credit hours to surf through my senior year in high school, but instead I took three English classes. Senior English, Great Books and Literary Criticism. The last one being not at all about criticism in the usual sense but in dissecting lit. Like Great Books only deeper and with a sharper scalpel. Taught by a professor from OU. In the meantime, I won ribbons for “art” that my teacher submitted to all the local shows. I never understood it. You don’t get ribbons for not working hard, and I never worked at it. I busted ass for a while on piano and never got squat but a plastic bust of Beethoven. And that was for showing up, not playing. Mom liked the art ribbons, though.

That was all background noise. What I really wanted to be from 16 was a player. A “cool guy.” Juggling four girlfriends at different schools and trying to keep my Camaro shiny and shag as many spares as possible in my free time while not getting arrested or shot or beat up by an angry other boyfriend or a big brother. Then, as all good things must –

Just before my 19th birthday I ran face first into misogyny, racism, classism, weaponized sex…a moral tarpit operating under the guise of the university frat/sorority system. I had pledged, and I liked girls. A lot. One afternoon my moral center was challenged to its core. I had to choose between belonging, and wrong. I made the choice and rescued a very drunk girl from ending up as system sanctioned rape bait by dragging her out of the frat house away from the dudes who were waiting for her in the back and across the street into the arms of her sorority sisters. Over the next week I gave everything I thought I should have been for 19 years the finger. The frat, the wannabe future Country Club Hostess of the month girlfriends, the Camaro, pre-law, whatever the hell that was…all of it.

I wandered aimless and lonely for a while, until one night I decided I wanted to be Keith Emerson. Actually I wanted to be ELP.

That riff is documented in the link. What I ended up wanting to be after 11/23/1973, and didn’t know it at the time, was a synthesist. But it dawned on me soon enough and I knew I wanted to be an honest to God, avant garde sonic arteest. Electronic music hit all the checkboxes I’d stumbled though in life. Art, music, sound, the ability to make those arrangements I heard in my head in a whole other realm of sonic reality. While everyone else went to college to become whatevers, I stayed up late learning to use an instrument I couldn’t even read the manual for when I bought it. I had an insatiable appetite for it. To learn it, to understand it. Because it spoke strange, fascinating things to me I’d never heard before, and I wanted to make it speak for me. Bear in mind you couldn’t walk into your local four-year university or strip mall music store and get a degree or lessons in electronic music back then. I was on my own in Oklahoma, Moog in hand, starving, playing space fart “head” music anywhere I could. Libraries, planetariums, art in the park weekends. I played for modern dancers, ballet dancers, mimes, hypnotists, strippers…in four years I got pretty good at it. I had to get the hell out of Oklahoma, though, or starve.

Save the ‘tween here and there stories, the one-man Tangerine Dream in a yuppie fern bar and soundtrack for industrial, promotional, advertising and training movie stories and skip ahead to San Jose 1982 when I got hired by the premier synth company of the time as one of the three global sales/demo/sound design guys. Companies come and companies go but I stayed in that tier of the music business for thirty years as clinician, rep, artist relations manager, product manager. I learned more about sound and music and artists and art than I could have imagined or even begun to understand back in ’74. And I got paid for it. Still do, occasionally.

In 2015 I decided to write again. Not owner’s manuals or “how to” articles but stories. I had stories burning a hole in me. Not tales out of school from the music biz either, buy Zappa’s book for that, but stories about “women’s lib” and women’s struggles. About bank robbers and a kid from Louisiana who looks a lot like a modern Tom Sawyer if you look hard enough. Stories with a Rock n Roll sensibility. And a sense of moral center in the face of “those people.” The people I ran away from becoming.

So here I am. I got paid to do what I wanted to do, and from what I can tell, what I’ve heard from friends of my youth, is that it doesn’t get any better than that. Would I have rather (insert music biz escapades here) than been an oil land man, petro-chemical lawyer, regardless of the money and the big house(s), ranches, cars? Are you kidding? How many land men get to sit on a piano bench, trade simple tone clusters and talk piano sounds with Herbie Hancock? Drink wine and talk smack with Keith Emerson?

Did I see any of that coming, starving in OKC? No. I just kept hammering away at getting good at what I was doing. And here’s a truth – I try to apply all the “close isn’t good enough” expectations of a professional clinician to my writing. Which many would say makes me a turd polisher. Which many would also say makes want to take some of the paragraphs that people have published and say “are you fucking kidding me?”

I used this quote the other day, but it applies here.

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach



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Phil Huston


36 thoughts on “What Do You Wanna Be When You Grow Up?”

  1. I’d pen some memoirs but, I don’t really remember them. I think they must have all been traumatic. Oh wait, that’s all that I remember – the shitty parts. So, maybe I do have a memory lane lurking beneath the slate-stone path I was forced to set when I was 12 when all my friends were out biking to the Ben Franklin to buy RedHots.

    Doing what you love? Another one of those luxuries you continue to point out. (I fucking hate computers.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I did a clinic with Bob Moog and John Shykun a couple of times. Dr. Bob was all analog, John was showing the original Kurzweil 250. It sat on stage, a lone spotlight on it. On the top left hand side sat a Mac SE30. John introduced the K250 saying This is a computer, masquerading as a musical instrument. And this, pointing to the Se30, is a computer masquerading as…nothing. How pitiful is that?
      Yeah, trauma. We should talk.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Success can be defined in many ways. It isn’t always the money. Or the name recognition. Sometimes it comes as self-satisfaction. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought my father was going to frame the first check I ever got for playing synthesizer. Up till then, he called them everything from sympaphizers to cat screeching boxes. After that they were what they were, and he took me to my uncles’ lumberyard and loaded up enough plywood to help me make decent cases!
      Those writing checks…yeah, must be lost in the mail, right?

      Liked by 2 people

  3. This was a fun read, Phil and I understood most of it… well, I think I did; I may have translated some parts. I only wanted to play the accordion which I could never afford to buy or take lessons, and later I wanted to “do” the synthesizer but again… time and money, plus I was seriously challenged when it came to reading music. It may as well be Malayalam… or the Coptic alphabet. I did learn what the key of sol looked like but never learned what it was supposed to tell me about the following bunch of parallel lines and the tailed fly droppings scattered over them… Now I LISTEN to music and the right kind does soothe the savage breast. Thank God for musicians and singers, may they all go to heaven and carry on making their music and singing their songs!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have “lost” the ability to sight read on the fly. I really never liked it because I was given “pop” song sheetmusic and as I said, I heard the whole thing in my head and the one or two notes on offer were never even close. In 6th or 7th grade my mother, who not allow me to quit, sent me to a man named Mike Fowler who had played piano with one of the Dorseys of big band fame (Sinatra was an alumini). Mike was injured in a band bus crash that hobbled him. He retired and taught pinao like the pros used – chord theory, and I got a melody “chart”. Chords on top, nothing for the left hand. The left hand was to be derived from the root or some other note of the chord, or what the heck the whole chord. Yeeee-ha! Forget that one or two notes on the page for my left hand. That is when, to my father’s chagrin, I began in earnest to beat the snot out of the piano.
      Accordion jokes abound. I will let them go. I lived in McAllen, Texas, worked and traveled as a clinician in Mexico. I learned to dial in accordion sounds, something rarely loaded into synths at the time and ignored by many of my counterparts. I stepped past the arrogance and elitism “Felipe, do not be like the LA cabrones, learn some Mexican music por favor, and we will kill.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Heh, Felipe, I was told back when I’d never get anywhere playing anything ’cause I could not get my head around reading sheet music (Yeah, that’s what it’s called, thanks for reminding me) so eventually I turned to other things and forgot the music playing except for the harmonica which was never very far. But even that gave me trouble – never caught on to the key thing. I have a Johnson here, pretty new, with no key indicated on it. I don’ t know what it is, it’s harder to play than my old Hohners. Well it was fun dreaming for a while along with owning a red convertible Corvette… got a ’59 Volkswagen beetle instead… no “Fun, fun, fun ’til daddy took the T-Bird away” for me!

        Liked by 2 people

  4. You chose very different subjects to me. I loved history and English, but also had maths, science and accountancy. Your story about University is a good one, I am glad you decided to be the good guy. I have recently read a book about a girl in a similar situation and while someone did help her, they were a bit late to stop the initial rapes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Math! Eek! I sailed through geometry, didn’t grasp algebra until I was an adult. And then more conceptually than applied. I’d blame my teachers but the blame is more on Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain and Byron. I thought, foolishly, what good is a path to an established answer going to do for on raft or a dog sled or a carriage to an adventure.
      I have 4 or 5 books in the can about a girl who technically wasn’t abused, but felt like it, all down to the procedures of the times.
      During my rebellion, I often referred to universities as processing plants and I refused to be another can of tuna or SPAM.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I am not a big maths fan, but it was pretty smooth sailing for me. I did enjoy accounting and it is fairly easy for me, I am lucky that way. I like writing too, but sometimes I over complicate everything and my mom has to read it and tell me how to change it so that other people can follow my ramblings. I am not a university fan either, they only teach what they think is important and there is very little scope for the creative imagination of the student.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I concur on the university thing. They were part of my whole “who needs this” revolt. I wanted to learn to write, not regurgitate what some tweedy pontificator thought of “Daisy Miller” or “Billy Bud,” I learned to read lit and think for myself in high school, thank you. But then I primed for volcanic rebellion, can’t blame it on the people who lit the fuse.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. To spend your working life doing something you love is what we all yearn to accomplish, and it’s only by living true to ourselves that we find happiness I think. Did you go to university because you thought that’s what your parents wanted and because it was expected of you? Well done for following your dream (and for rescuing the girl!)!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes on the parents. And me. My father had a degree, and a wide streak of middle finger himself. I was supposed to go to college and “be whatever I wanted to be as long if I just put my mind to it.” And the frat thing was down to “lots of girls and parties.” Two things I had an advanced degree in before I ever set foot on campus. But when it turned cruel and mean and a far cry from my embedded romanticism it didn’t take long for me to call foul and bail.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on Stevie Turner and commented:
    I think this is a great post that shows how we must follow our dreams and live true to ourselves to find happiness. So often as teenagers we’re influenced by our parents and by what they expect us to become, so it must have taken quite a bit of courage for Phil to change direction and branch out on his own. However, I can imagine that even now Mr Huston would give the finger to anything he didn’t want to do!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! Thanks, Stevie! Yes. Went into a convention, and one of the peripheral booths, totally out of context, was selling CDB products. The demo guy claimed the cream would eradicate pain. I rubbed some on the base joint of my middle finger which was sore. The man gave me a quizzical look. I said, “Probably from overuse in my youth.” My son in law said, “Probably from daily use.”

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Wonderful writing and an enlightening mini-memoir. My son played synth for a while back in the ’80s but ended up being a nurse specialising in mental health, a profession he loves.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s sort of a Renaissance man sort of thing – going from one thing to another as the mood strikes you – lots of exploration into so many areas. There’s nothing wrong with that. We see a lot of young folks doing it now in the gig economy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I didn’t know about William Morris until I was an adult, but I admired his this and that and the other artistic endeavors. I think had he been a musician as well no telling what we would have heard!


    1. The adventures of Huck Finn as synthesist. Eeek! Like the pst, I have done everything from “real” music to sonic landscapes, Berlin meets Miles, Fandango goes glitch and Tangerine Dream, music for training films, way outside art exhibitions and choreography. But, you can go here, my bits and pieces page https://soundcloud.com/synth-geezer
      And get a sampling. Put on your experimental hat (except for a few) as most is beyond genre definition. Some of this, some of that all thrown in a sonic blender. Headphone escapism from shipwrecks to ghosts in the desert. or – here’s the soundtrack, write your own movie!


  9. I really loved reading this.
    This is beautiful!!
    I am trying to grow my follower base and so I have given you a follow and a like and would appreciate it if you gave my site a look.
    Thank you!


      1. Hey man, no big thing. I am an old cynical social media guy. I’ll drop over and see what you’re up to.
        Do this for a few days and you’ll see the friend farmers, most of whom are selling something, speak a different language, have never, nor will never read your stuff. It’s the follower numbers game. The deal is unless you’re a pop star, a babe, or a professional athlete, a disaster victim or have a great trendy gimmick you’ll never hit the numbers you need to make $ without showing people your patreon page. Which is okay. The law of large numbers says one in 21 will drop by with a dollar!


      2. Wow um… Thank you
        I am really sorry, all I was trying to do was get my blog noticed and figured no ones feelings would get hurt.
        I’m not trying to make money I just want to get noticed.
        I’m truly sorry…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Don;t be sorry, or thin skinned. You want traffic. I get that. You put some heart in your work, I get that. And you post your writing instead of marketing, which is beyond amazing these days. Elevate yourself, though. Be better than the herd. You have the heart, but our words aren’t our children, so don’t be afraid to whack them, shove them around, make them speak above the roar to the best of your ability. I’m not saying be Hemingway, be you. But a damn good you. There’s an old saying “Be like good barbeque. Bear down on the meat, and ease up on the potato salad.” You hear that?


      4. I do hear it. I’m trying to understand you though. I don’t quite get what you mean by “whack them, shove them…” I put emotion into it, I try my best to make it as captivating as possible whilst still trying to keep it casual.

        Liked by 1 person

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