207. Rock Me Amadeus

So, do you want to know all the things I had to do to get ready for a more extensive tour? Well, for one thing, I had to buy more guitars.

No, really. I bought a duplicate Ovation exactly like the one I already had, and a Fender Stratocaster–a real one this time and not a Korean knockoff. They were the two guitars I used the most in the show and this way I would have backup if anything happened. A roadie would keep them strung so if I broke a string, which I seemed to be doing more and more often, we could just swap mid-song.

I went down to Guitar Center to pick them out. There were a ton of places to buy guitars in the area–Sam Ash, Daddy’s Junky Music, The Guitar Stop in Cambridge–but this place had opened fairly recently right on Comm. Ave. I took the T there myself one afternoon without telling anyone where I was going.

Understand, I wasn’t trying to sneak around, but it wasn’t like I was constantly updating everyone else what I did every minute of the day. I could’ve asked Chris or Bart to go with me, but it was kind of spur of the moment.

Summer was taking a long time to arrive, which is typical in New England, so although it was sunny, it was kind of chilly when I went. I had a denim jacket on over a flannel shirt over a T-shirt.

Guitar Center didn’t just sell guitars. They sold every kind of musical instrument. Inside it wasn’t that different from Sam Ash, except maybe cleaner. It was like a music department store. But they had a separate, glassed off room for the guitars–I suppose for noise suppression since they encouraged you to try out the merchandise. I wandered in there, just kind of idly at first.

There was a guy and his son there, and from the sounds of it he was buying the guitar as a graduation present for the kid. The father had a beard and a short-sleeved button-down shirt that made me think he was supposed to have a pocket protector and pens. The son was wearing a B.U. hoodie. Was it graduation time already? Coming up real soon. They were arguing about something and I was trying not to listen. I had to get up on a step stool to reach the Ovation I wanted. Huh. Someone must have played it not long before me because the strings were still reasonably in tune.

Then a salesman came in. By “salesman” I mean aspiring musician working a retail job to make ends meet. He looked to be in his mid to late twenties, haircut like Christian’s and arms like mine. He had rolled up the sleeves of his Guitar Center T-shirt to show them off. He zeroed in on Papa Bear there, which made sense to me; the guy looked like he had money and was surely going to be a sucker to get the kid something priced far above what he needed.

But then the sales guy did a kind of double-take as he recognized me. And then he gave me a little nod like It’s cool.

I gave him the same its-cool nod back. I didn’t need his help anyway.

I fussed around with the Ovation for a while and decided I didn’t like it. I hung it up and got another one down. The kid was now trying out some various things more based on their paint jobs than their feel. It’s cool. Go on, kid, get one that matches the Camaro he bought you for your high school graduation.

The second one I tried felt more like mine. I couldn’t put my finger on why, exactly. By all respects, the guitars should have been identical. Somehow the bridge felt silkier on this one, though. Different pieces of wood come from different trees, I guess.

I broke into the opening riff of “Candlelight” and all of a sudden the kid said, “Holy shit, it is you.”

I opened my eyes and he was staring right at me. “Never been anyone else,” I said.

“Dad, check it out, this is Daron Moondog,” the kid said. Listen to me. “Kid.” He was my age, wasn’t he?

I waved to Papa Bear. They took that as a cue to come closer.

“Check it out, check it out,” Baby Bear said. “I learned that one!”

“Yeah? Pull up a stool and give it a shot.” I kicked the stool next to me toward him a little. He handed the Ibanez in his hand to his father, I handed him the Ovation I’d been playing, and the sales guy handed me the 12-string Ovation I waved at on the wall.

“Oh shit,” Baby Bear said, and wiped his hands on his jeans.

“Henry, don’t swear,” Papa Bear said.

“It’s just… wow, I’m nervous.”

“Try it in front of ten thousand people some time,” I said. “It’s okay. I’ll start.”

So I launched into it, a little slow, but it’s a pretty slow piece to start with anyway, and once he picked it up, I went off and played accompaniment. He wasn’t bad, actually, even if he was so nervous he was practically shaking.

That’s the thing, though. If you have the chops, you have to just say fuck it and push it aside. You have to just go out there and do it, whether you’re in front of three people or three thousand. You just have to put it on the line. The only person you hurt if you fuck up is yourself. I’d kind of forgotten that, it was so second nature to me to just get up there and do it. Sure, I was nervous as hell when I was twelve and climbing onstage with Nomad, but I got over it fast. Barely felt it for school recitals, barely felt it at all until the stuff with Ziggy had been going wrong. But that hadn’t been about playing, not really.

Baby Bear stumbled and burst into laughter, and so did I, putting my hand over the strings to stop them ringing. “Not bad.”

“Aw shit, you think so?”

I nodded.

“Hey, listen, could I get your autograph? I mean, if it’s not bothering you or anything.”

I had to laugh inwardly at that. Like that mattered at this point? “What kind of guitar you gonna get?”

“I dunno. I like the Ibanez, but…”

“Get something with low action. Unless you really play every day. If it feels like an uphill struggle every time you play it, it’s a waste.”

“Okay, okay sure.” He looked up at his father. “I really liked that Fender…”

His father handed the Ibanez to the sales guy, who handed him a Fender. I set the 12 string aside and took the 6-string from the kid, and his father handed him the Fender.

He played a little of “Welcome,” and I picked along with him. He looked up at his father.

“If that’s really the one you want,” Papa Bear said with a slightly long-suffering look.

“Give it here,” I said. We traded and I played a little on it, a bunch of riffs he’d recognize. “Why the Sky.” Then I handed it back. “Yeah, good choice.”

“Will you sign it?”

“The guitar?” I exchanged a glance with the sales guy.

“Just pay for it first, okay?” he said, but in a joking way.

I signed it in Sharpie on the arm of the cutaway, where it wouldn’t get rubbed off by his shirt or arm.

When they were gone, I sat back down with the Ovation I liked. Sales Guy said to me, “That happen to you a lot?”

“First time, actually,” I said, which made him laugh, even though it was true.

I ended up getting the 12-string as well as the two I actually needed. The only embarrassing part of the whole thing was asking to borrow the phone so I could call Bart to come pick me up because I realized I couldn’t carry three guitars on the T.


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