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
1. Link your blog to this hop.
2. Notify your following that you are participating in this blog hop.
3. Promise to visit/leave a comment on all participants’ blogs.
4. Tweet/or share each person’s blog post. Use #OpenBook when tweeting.
5. Put a banner on your blog that you are participating.