Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Strings Attached


By Jim Helm, The Daily Bosco

I can't tell you how upset I was when my dad told me that he was going to be picking one of my two elective classes for 7th grade. I had my eyes set on both wood shop and metal shop. He browsed through the course guide for a moment and then looked up and said "Guitar". "I don't even have a guitar" I said. "You're taking Guitar".

I walked into to the first class with no expectations at all. I could be making a cool chess set in wood shop but here I was going into a music class. What made it even worse was the teacher. Mrs. Zincke. She was one of those bright eyed, cheery Teachers that resembled Mrs.Cleaver. Way too nice. Always a smile and always asking for us to do our best. This was going to be a long year. It was pretty cool though when I told my Dad that I needed to have a guitar in a week or so. It was kind of a revenge for making me sign up for the class. We jumped in the truck and headed down to the music store.

After long consideration, we picked a medium quality acoustic just like Mr Zincke suggested. I started to enjoy the classes a little bit more and although I could get through a few songs, it was painfully apparent that I was no guitarist.The semester ended with a live performance with two of my classmates at the schools talent. No one laughed, everyone applauded and we made it through the evening.

What was a blast though was playing with my friends, learning new songs and trying to figure out how to do those cool Jimmy Page riffs. If you play the guitar one thing you learn fast is that others that play are either worse than you or better than you. It's something you just have to get used to. I never got to the Jimmy Page stage, but I was able to knock out enough chords to get through a song or two. Mrs. Zincke ended up becoming a pretty cool teacher and off to 8th grade I went. The guitar sat in the corner of my room and when friends came over it would come out and I would play the 15 or 20 songs I knew. More friends and more songs over the years and I was building up a pretty good repertoire to keep everyone entertained.

After my school years it followed me from place to place until it finally could not take any more abuse. The back was de-laminating and the neck was so warped from propping it up against the wall that the strings would barely touch the frets. I finally broke down and bought a nice one and was amazed that the first one lasted into my 20's.

As I began to get older I found myself picking it up more often. Stress from work and worry about making ends meet went away, if just for a moment, while I was playing. We had all of the pressures of a young family just starting out but when I needed it, the guitar was always there. I have always felt so bad for Shellyanne because I am such a huge James Taylor fan and she has endured twenty five years of Fire and Rain, Sweet Baby James and You've Got a Friend. Every time JT releases a new album it's a slightly different version and I've got to learn it. It's not the playing it that's so painful, it's the learning how to play a specific song that will make your wife crazy. She's a good music person.

I played a few gigs in restaurant bars and decided that was not for me but continued to play at home over the years. Shellyanne bought me a new Ovation many years ago and that has been my main guitar since. Durable and yet still sounds pretty good. I have my Autographed Steven Tyler Guitar tucked away in a safe and my Ibanez electric is in the hands of a friend right now being played like it should be. In an effort to thank my dad, concede he was right and show him how much I love the music he gave to me, I bought him a nice Ovation to replace that old Fender he had. It's a mouse gray cutaway and I had his name engraved on the headstock plate. That was about 20 years ago.

Funny how sometimes the timing in your life just works out. I noticed that the face of my Ovation is warping. I saw it beginning a few years ago but recently it has been getting worse and worse. A month ago while talking to my dad on the phone he asked me. "Do you have any use for my guitars?", "Just can't play them anymore and was thinking of giving them to someone". They have been in cases in his closet for many years only coming out occasionally play a few memories. Give them away?...Are you kidding me? I asked my dad tonight to check into shipping them to me but I'd be willing to walk to Idaho to have them.

Mrs. Zincke was probably about 35 or so when it all began in 7th grade and I'm not even sure if she's around to hear how important a contribution she made to my life. I'd love to be able to tell her how much my guitar helped me get through tough times and how much joy it brought to my friends and family. I'm sure there are many others she taught that feel the same. And, after all of the good memories, all of the crazy nights and all of the fun I've had over the years playing music, I feel a little guilty when I remember myself saying....."Dad, I Don't Want To Play the Guitar"....... and wonder if that chess set would have lasted this long?

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