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An Artist's Instrument

By D. Harper, ADN
February 1, 2010

I grew up in a nice, upper-middle class neighborhood in San Mateo, California. I was both blessed and cursed. The blessing was that I had two living breathing parents that both lived under the same roof. The curse was that I had inherited one (against my will) who was surely the cheapest father in the entire county.

My mother wore the same outfit, so often, that it eventually became known as her uniform. She drove an ugly, white Rambler station wagon with no power steering, no power breaks, no air conditioning, a one speaker AM radio and crank down windows. Oh… yes, she drove that car for almost two decades too, in an area of town where the average car was a fully loaded Chevrolet, not more than two years old.

I would put together a Christmas list every year, and no matter how much I wanted to believe in Santa Claus, only necessities would arrive on Christmas morning. Privately I suspected that my father had gotten to Santa and somehow corrupted his generous and giving nature. Are you starting to get the picture here? My father was so tight… that he squeaked while walking.

Was this really a bad thing? In hindsight, I’d have to say no. I did feel a bit like an unwanted stepchild when all the other kids had way better stuff than I did. And this was especially true regarding musical instruments. I started playing drums on the plastic lids of empty coffee cans while most of my young friends had brand new, champagne sparkle Ludwigs drum sets. But as I’ve learned, thanks to facebook, I’m also the only one of the batch that went pro. Maybe fighting and scraping and clawing my way up through the ranks was in fact, a good thing for me. Lord knows, I couldn’t wow anybody with a homemade, make shift drum set. I was pretty much forced into a competitive position where I had to look, play and perform better than the guys that had all the cool new toys.

Today, I am very aware of my blessings. Seeing doctors and lawyers and professional guys at the local Guitar Center does make me chuckle sometimes. Life is not without a sense of irony. Here these guys are, finally in a position where they can afford anything their hearts desire. Some of them have basements full of Gibson guitars and pricey boutique amps. But here’s the ironic part… the thing they don’t have is the time or the days left it will take to learn to play those beautiful guitars well.

So what’s the lesson here guys? I don’t really know… I’m just rambling. Certainly I’m not pointing fingers or making jokes at anyone’s expense. But I do recall my father’s words from years past as I write this today. I was in grammar school at the time. I think I was griping to him about the fact that Larry DeNino (a fellow 4th grader and drummer) had a beautiful new set of drums to play the local talent contest with, while I had some ratty, duct-taped thing made my Mattel. And I remember my father’s rebuttal to my passionate pleas for immediate musical sponsorship. He said: “there are two types of musicians, David… those that polish their instruments and those that practice their instruments. Be the later, my son.”

And by the way, in case you were wondering… I did win that talent show, which left Larry DeNino more than just a little PO'ed.

So practice your instruments, young’ns. Your songs deserve that much.