Speaking of Terrance Simien (and we just were), one of the songs his band covered last week was “500 Miles,” a ubiquitous folk song of the 1960s. He made it into a reggae song, which worked great, but it had been decades since I had heard it and it reminded me of this Absolutely True Story.
In second grade, I spontaneously decided I was a musician. In a spectacular bit of bad decision-making, my parents had picked up a secondhand department store parlor guitar and gave it to me. I walked around the house bashing on it and scream-singing, although I’d never taken a lesson or knew what a chord was or how to tune the thing. You want to know what sort of hell my parents went through? Imagine that scene, then imagine there were six other kids running around the house thinking up their own ways of making noise.
Now that I was a musician, I clearly needed a gig. I went to work on the nuns at my grade school, assuring them that I could indeed play the guitar and sing. I’m not quite sure how it came about — I must have laid it on pretty thick — but they gave way and set up an assembly with a hundred or so of my classmates in the audience.
I went out, performed a few songs (including “500 Miles”) by guitar-bashing and singing at the top of my lungs, noticed the nuns seemed somewhat perplexed/annoyed/amused, took my bow and got the hell off the stage. The guitar strings had barely stopped vibrating before I was given a sealed note to bring home to Mom and have her sign. I don’t recall how that all came out, so I must not have gotten in too much trouble. But the guitar mysteriously went away.
The real bug to learn, play and perform didn’t stick until I was in my early 20s, and I’ve subsequently spent decades performing out at a bar-band level. But it all started with that parlor guitar and that second-grade assembly.