Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fat Cigars and Bass Guitars

One morning not too long ago, on the way to drop my kids at daycare, I was waiting at a red light when what should pass before me but a perfectly fine excellent example of a quintessential old man. He navigated his shiny gold Chrysler slowly through the intersection. Funny, though it was a newer model, it still seemed to float with the boatlike grace of a much older vehicle. Fedora on his head, suit on his back, big fat cigar nestled between a smile that told me there just had to be music in that car. Something big-bandy and jazzy. 

After dropping the boys off, I found myself waiting at yet another red light because that’s just the kind of luck I have. Walking through a parking lot next to me was a boy of about  sixteen. He wore those tight jeans that all the kids are so fond of these days and a Batman tee-shirt of the style that was so popular around the time that Tim Burton’s take on the Caped Crusader hit theaters. But the detail most compelling about this lad was the black bass guitar he carried. He had it slung over his shoulder as if it were a literal axe. No case, no amp, just the instrument itself, as if he’d just gotten his hands on it, perhaps borrowed or purchased after scrimping and saving for months so he could finally take that first step from just listening to music to making it. I hoped he wasn’t headed to a pawn shop.

I saved an entire summer to buy my first guitar. I know it sounds like a fucking Bryan Adams song, but it’s true. It was a black Ibanez and it had a whammy bar. Nobody should die without striking a power chord at least once in their life.

Have you ever had a thought just pop into your head? Of course you have. I might as well ask if you’ve ever farted at an inopportune moment. As I pulled away from that intersection, it occurred to me, “I bet that kid is that old guy’s grandson.” Why in the world I thought it, why it should be so, I can’t tell you. But I liked the idea. I liked the thought of this cigar-chomping old man and his teenage grandson riding around in that gold Chrysler, each trying to impress upon the other an appreciation for the music that they loved. Like maybe after a few of Benny Goodman’s greatest hits, the old fellow would let the boy pop in his band’s CD. And even if it’s not his cup of tea, which of course it won’t be because nothing compares to the music of one’s youth, the old man will glow with pride that his grandchild is doing his part to organize sound and noise into something recognizable as music.

It’s true, no music touches us as deeply as the music of our formative years. All the same, I hate it when people bitch that there hasn’t been any good music created in X number of years where X = Bitching Person’s Current Age - Bitching Person’s Most Recent Formative Age (typically somewhere between 18 and 23). 

The old man pulls up to a house, the house of his grandson’s friend, the friend whose dad has a bunch of old musical equipment in the garage that he lets the kids use, even though he hates their sound. They sit for a moment, letting the song finish. The old man has softened a bit with age, and finds it easier to express to his grandson the kind of praise that he wishes he had lauded more freely upon his own children. He was always proud of them, sure, but for whatever reason, he was never able to muster the kind of enthusiasm for his children’s pursuits that he feels for this boy’s first foray into making music. The boy gets his bass out of the back seat and goes to band practice smelling like cigar smoke.

At least that’s the way I imagined it.


Always Home and Uncool said...

That was the perfect way to imagine it, too.

Homemaker Man said...

That was cool.

sybil law said...

I really love giving people a "story" when I'm driving around. It's why I am nice to people and let them out in traffic- because I imagine someone died and I might be the only nice thing that's happened to them all day.
I don't know why it's always death with me!