If The House Was On Fire, I'd Take This Before The Kids
You either had to join the chorus, or learn to play an instrument.
Five million years ago - when I was in seventh grade - that amazing option existed for students at my middle school in the middle of the country in the middle of Iowa. It's crazy and wrong that music and art in many school districts is considered a luxury, but five million years ago it was a high priority in my small hometown.
I chose the guitar.
My friends and I were into it. After a few months of fumbling through practices the inevitable happened. Likely fueled by the natural desire to get girls, we formed a band, Phoenix. We were rising in skill, barely, but that rockstar thing got under our skin and became our reason to do it.
I needed an electric and an amp, and I found it, hanging in the window of Mr. T's Music. I walked by the store, heard that familiar chorus of angels in my head and decided this 75 dollar made-in-Japan Gibson Les Paul knockoff had to be mine.
I kept walking. One block from Mr. T's was the local bank.
I strolled in and asked for Mr. Johnson, the vice president and a family friend.
"What can I do for you, John?"
"I want a loan for a guitar and amplifier from Mr. T's."
"We'll need your parents to co-sign since you're a minor."
What happened next could never, ever happen anywhere today. Mr. Johnson walked behind the tellers, printed me a check, and handed it to me with the loan agreement.
"Have your folks sign this and bring it back to me tomorrow."
I ran to the music store, bought the gear, got a ride home and presented it to my mother.
She was not pleased.
Mom called Mr. Johnson and announced, "John didn't ask our permission to do buy this stuff. I will not be signing the loan. You'll have to repossess it!"
Another amazing thing happened which would never, ever happen today. A 13 year old kid had an unsecured loan from a bank for rock and roll gear. I was ultimately allowed to pay it off, which I did - on time.
The band was born.
We played middle school assemblies, homecoming dances, and in the basements of a couple of local churches.
One day my friend Doug took some medical tape and put a number 4 on my guitar. The Who's Pete Townsend numbers his guitars so he can remember which one to play for specific songs. I thought it was so cool. To this day, that 4 is still there; it hasn't peeled or yellowed. I have spent hundreds of dollars over the years upgrading its cheap electronics and hardware, and I still play it every week, and I'll be playing it for dad's impala gigs too.
What's "4" worth? Not much. But every time I pick it up I'm reminded of the early days, the good times, the subconsious rebellion which got this all started in the first place.