Glendale College's Student Magazine
Tuesday October 24th 2017

How to Live Like a Musician

Christmas 1963Wake up one Christmas morning and run down the stairs into the living room lit only by tiny twinkling stars. Tear through the pile of colorfully wrapped and ribboned boxes under the tree that hide the big violin shaped faux-wooden case with a giant bow and your name on it – from Santa. Tear off the bow and finagle the unfamiliar latches and open the case.

Inside you find a shiny sunburst-finished acoustic guitar – a Sears Silvertone to be exact. Sit back on your haunches and scratch your head. Your parents beam and tell you that your favorite toy when you were a baby was a wind-up plastic guitar that played the theme from the Mickey Mouse Club. You were eight years old at the time. They knew not what they had done.

Take lessons. Hate lessons. Practice until your little fingers bleed. Listen to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Learn to pick out notes and chords by ear. Decide that you must have an electric guitar, which Mom provides on your twelfth birthday. The obligatory amplifier comes on Christmas later that year.

Pick a guitar hero. Clapton, Page, Townshend – there are so many. Hendrix is the most colorful and flamboyant, touching a deep part of your soul. Emulate your hero.  He plays a Fender Stratocaster, you must have one. By this time Dad is gone and Mom says “Get a job.”

You are 16 and you go to work in a factory that paints bomb shells headed to Viet Nam. It doesn’t matter what you think about the war. Even as your friends are headed to fight in the god-forsaken jungle, you are near-sighted with but only one goal. Buy a Stratocaster. Drop out of school even after your English teacher, Mr. Jeffries, comes to your house to tell your mother that you have a talent for writing.

Seek out sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Grow your hair out. Go to Woodstock with your brother who is a photojournalist for the Trentonian, the smaller newspaper in Trenton, New Jersey, and abuse his press credentials for a campsite inside the fence on the hill. Fight your way through the rain and the muck and the horrible hippies for a spot on the hill where you can see the performers. Fall asleep and miss most of the show while bearded and baubled, naked, slovenly dropouts trip over you and call you names. Walk through human feces back to the car, your brother’s brand new cherry red Camaro, and leave on the second day of the festival, go home, cut your hair and learn to play soul music. Pick a new hero. James Brown.

Suffer through the disco era while concentrating on the sex part of D.S. & R.  Spend your twenties getting laid, while playing in top forty bands and tending bar in pick-up joints in Seattle. Hear electric jazz for the first time and aspire to a new goal, a new hero, Miles Davis. Practice for ten more years. Start experimenting with drugs. Discover cocaine, the miracle brain food.

Work through your thirties managing a jazz club where you meet all your heroes, including Miles, while putting tens of thousands of dollars up your nose. Move 1,200 miles away to try your hand at the big time in Hollywood. Meet some of the best players in town and become part of the hippest set before meeting a Seattle girl who takes you back to the misty mountains of Washington state. Get married, buy a house, and take a job running a warehouse, denying any creative outlet. Discuss with your wife the feelings of emptiness and stagnation. Do more drugs, Come home to find your wife has cleaned out the bank account after missing six months worth of credit card bills and house payments and running off with a crack dealer. Get clean and move back to L.A.

Discover your friends have all moved on or have become incredibly successful. Falter around looking for work. Try acting, which seems simple. Work as a background actor for four years barely paying the bills, yet having fun and working with celebrities. Hit bottom financially.

Mickey Mouse GuitarForm your own band with weekend warrior musicians that have day jobs now. Make a record that hits number one on the college jazz charts, but receive royalty payments of twelve cents a quarter. Give up.

Suddenly remember that, according to Mr. Jeffries, you have a talent for writing. Blog for your band. Get noticed. Blog for some famous bands. Sink lower into financial oblivion. Have a family member suggest that you go back to school and get grants and loans, while honing your skills. Go back to school.

Fall in love with journalism and write for the school paper, become editor in chief then production manager. Get noticed again and write freelance for the Times Community Newspapers. Keep playing jazz around town.

Learn the lesson here. Have a backup plan and stay in school.

M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E.

About Sal Polcino
Sal Polcino is a jazz guitarist and jazz blogger who has been the editor of El Vaquero for the past two semesters.

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