Six Might Really Be Nine

Lonnie Spangler's Music Blog

My Longest Love Affair

I remember walking to the music store on a beautiful summer afternoon. My knees were shaking. I had slaved on several farms, for what my feeble math skills lead me to believe, equaled about one hundred hours, to accumulate the $300 I needed to buy an item of unimaginable power. King Arthur pulled Excalibur from the stone and I was this lanky teen who was going to pull his weapon right off the wall of the music store.
My mind swirled with worry. What if I am robbed on the way to the store? What if someone already bought my guitar? Something was bound to go wrong. I had dreamt of this moment for too long; today was too perfect.
I made my way through the small store, past the “church-lady” organs, kazoos, and band geek instruments to the sanctum; the place where my guitar waited for me. My hands were shaking as I reached to pull it down from the wall. Again, worry crept into my mind. I had to play it again before I forked over my hard-earned cash, to be sure it was still the right one. “God, please don’t let there be something wrong with it.” The white enamel paint gleamed under those special music-store lights as I clumsily tried to sound like my pantheon of guitar gods. I couldn’t stop smiling. It felt like I had finally come home.
I tucked my smile away and tried to disguise my eagerness “Well, Dad what do you think?” My father was an experienced musician and I held my breath, longing for his approval.
“She looks like a keeper to me”, he said, “Git yer money.”
I saw my future in that guitar and it excited me. I practiced constantly. It was the early 80’s and Eddie Van Halen was king, so you had to be able to “shred” as we called it. Shred translates to playing fast, for those of you that grew up outside the world I lived in. I would spend my weekends cut off from civilization, practicing scales and speed exercises, reading about my heroes, and trying to look cool in front of the mirror.
After about a year of obsessive practicing, I replaced the rhythm guitar player in my Dad’s band. I had to trade Van Halen for Lynyrd Skynyrd, but I would get to play in bars; and at age 15, that was very cool.
In my Dad’s band, Southbound, my guitar and I wedged our favorite rock licks into our small town shitkickin’ set list. My Dad cringed but those drunken farm boys seemed to love it. I was a huge show off. I loved ripping off Jimi Hendrix’s signature stage moves, especially if there were women watching. That’s right, I said women. There were no high school girls at the bar! I’d play behind my head, with my teeth, and behind my back. The band did well and soon we were booked solid every weekend, through most of high school.
Time passed quickly and after graduation, I joined the Army. Recruits in boot camp were not allowed to bring personal effects with them, so I was separated from my instrument. I missed my guitar almost as much as I missed my family and friends. Sometimes, on Sundays, we were allowed to go to the recreation center where you could sign out electric guitars and amps. I was always excited to get a chance to play, but the guitars there felt like primitive hunks of wood in my hands. Luckily, when I moved to Fort Gordon, Georgia to complete my training, I was able to bring my guitar.
It kept me sane to be able to jam with other musicians. All day I would be treated as if I were less than nothing by some monosyllabic drill sergeant; but at night I could grab my guitar and head to the rec center. The musicians that played there were all different military ranks, but when I played I gained their respect and it felt good. The more the Army tried to make me like everyone else, the more I wanted to retreat to that room where I was “authorized” to be me. Music was a much-needed reminder that I was still an individual. It even went with me on deployment in Honduras. I was even bold enough to disassemble my baby and smuggle it in my backpack when I went to the Persian Gulf.
I left the Army full of dreams of being a rock star. I played in a number bands, had good times and bad, but the fame and riches never came. Over time I came to realize it was never about of those things. That guitar was more than a possession to me. We were a team. I gave her my passion and commitment. She gave me a sense of accomplishment and a way to express feelings that I couldn’t find the words to say. Sometimes she was like a therapist. When I felt like the world was crumbling around me, I could channel those feelings into my playing and I instantly felt better.
Time has taken its toll on my old friend. Twenty-one years of blood, barroom smoke, Honduran humidity, middle-eastern heat, and beer can take a lot out of a person or a guitar. Even though she does not stay in tune as well as she used to, I can’t help but take her out of her case and sit alone with her playing the old songs.
Groove Digglah

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