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Like a free cup of coffee

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If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music. I get most joy in life out of music. ~Albert Einstein

It was just a five-minute conversation with a fellow customer at a music store and yet it made my day. I was at a celebrated music store in Lansing one chilly November morning in Lansing trying out the “cheaper” models of the cutaway Fenders that I always liked. One is a Fender Jaguar made in China and also a J Mascis Squier Jazzmaster made in Indonesia. I played random notes while flipping switches (the Jazzmaster and Jaguar are known for their multi tone switches). There was a young man in the testing room but I wasn’t paying attention to him nor was I trying to impress him with my rudimentary surf licks. When I stood up to unplug the Jazzmaster, he came over and said “Wow, I just don’t hear those licks at any guitar stores anywhere.” That started a conversation about guitar styles that lasted about five minutes. We talked about Dick Dale, how some guitar techniques are superfluous and how speed and gadgets are unnecessary when you play the right notes. He seemed really attentive to what I had to say. Before leaving the room, he thanked me for the “awesome insight, guitar licks and conversation” and compared it to a “free cup of coffee in the morning”. That made me feel warm inside and thanked him for engaging this old dude in a short but spirited banter about music.

Another time at a guitar store in New York City, I was testing a Yamaha bass with a P and J pickup configuration. I was doing a surf run shredding the notes with a pick. A boy about 14 and his mom were watching me and listening intently. I heard the boy remark “Oh man, I wish I could do that” at which I responded “But you can”. The mom said “We’re shopping for an inexpensive bass guitar, he wants to learn”. I told the boy to plug in the cheapest Squier P bass they had in the store. I told him he could do the licks I just did and proceeded to show him how. The kid was elated and couldn’t believe he was playing the notes I just showed him right then and there. His mom had a wide smile all this time. As I stood to leave, I told the kid to keep the guitar pick but reminded him to play with his fingers too. He thanked me and he kept repeating the lick I taught him. I wonder how that short encounter affected his life and how he has evolved as a bassist? I hope it’s for the positive.

My life has always been pretty eclectic both in philosophy and in terms of people I rub elbows with. I’m not religious but I do believe that Spirit is evident in the laws of the universe. I’ve sat with local politicians, law enforcement officers, educators, community activists, homeless folks, youth gang members, religious leaders, priests, nuns, peace makers, war mongers, healers, “polarizers” etcetera in my involvement in certain community matters. What I realize is that the best conversation and rapport I’ve always had are with people who have music in their soul. Not necessarily musicians but people whose spirit is moved and affected by music in most profound ways. They seem to have that “soul connection” I always seek in other human beings. It will take another article for me to explain what that is but I suspect many of you know what I mean. It is like finding that element that ignites the unseen spirit that connects us all.

I’ve had to end friendship with several people during the last five years because they have embraced an extreme faction of a political party that I find to be racist and viciously polarizing. Politics will do that even in families and that’s why some folks hate the holidays.

On the other hand, music has a propensity to bring peoples’ minds and hearts to a common place regardless of ideology. I’d rather have that anytime than someone barking in my face because he feels threatened by what I believe in or by the person I voted for during the last election.

Music stores are my favorite places to spend my free time in. A guitar store offers the best possibility that I may encounter a kindred soul whom I can learn from or maybe learn from me. “Surfing” through the myriad of guitars and other instruments gives me a sense of wonder. It also makes me imagine musical possibilities, perhaps I might even find the elusive “lost chord” (wink). Musical instruments offer us a glimpse as to the possibilities of mankind’s natural gifts and how we can use them for good of all.

And being told that a short time spent with me is like “a free cup of coffee”, well that’s just whipped cream in my latté.


Deep in our core, we’re all essentially made of music. ~Brian Greene, Theoretical Physicist and String Theorist.




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