I think I fell in love with music right around the time I fell in love with Rick Springfield. Staring at his picture on the cover of the “Jessie’s Girl” 45, I vowed I would meet him; we would fall in love and eventually marry. By 14 I had figured out I hadn’t won the lottery in the looks department so I would have to get his attention some other way. Maybe I could become a rock star. He’d have to notice me if I were a rock star. It seemed like a pretty foolproof plan at the time. All I had to do was learn to play guitar, write some songs, put a band together, record a hit record and bam! Rick would be mine. It was almost too easy.
I bought my first guitar from a consignment shop in Campbelltown, PA. It cost me ten dollars and the bridge was broken, causing the low E string to slide over to the A string when you played. I fixed that problem with a saxophone reed and began my guitar lessons. My teacher taught me folk songs, plunking out the melody note by note. I practiced “Down in the Valley” and “Jimmy Crack Corn” (almost) faithfully for a while, but couldn’t help but notice Rick didn’t play guitar this way. After watching his performance on Solid Gold I also noticed he didn’t play an acoustic guitar at all. It became clear that I would need an electric guitar.
The local music store was manned by salesmen in dress shirts and ties. They may have been musicians as well, but at Marty’s Music in Lebanon Valley Mall, they were being paid to be salesmen first, which is so very unlike going into Guitar Center these days. I think their main business came from band instrument rentals, but there was the obligatory wall of electric guitars. I remember the sales folk being polite to me despite the fact I was a teenage girl loitering without an adult. My visits were frequent because my mom was a bit fashion-fixated and spent many a Friday or Saturday evening in the fitting room of Boscov’s Department Store at the end of the mall.
After several months of continued folk guitar lessons and “just browsing” sessions at Marty’s Music, I managed to talk my mom into coming into the store with me where she dropped $140 on a black Cort guitar and a practice amp. Finally I was getting somewhere. I grabbed a chord dictionary (which I still have, dog-eared and beat up as it is) and learned the true Secret of the Brotherhood of Garage Band Guitarists – the barre chord!
I began writing songs in earnest. One of my first songs was called “Goodnight,Australia” (Australia being my secret code word for Rick Springfield.) I decided I would call my band Centrifugal Force and our first album would be A Touch of Trash (Get it, a clever twist on the phrase “a touch of class”? Already I was thinking about marketing strategies and image as my early promo Polaroid shows).
In no time at all I discovered two things: 1.) If I recorded songs on my little GE tape recorder, then played the tape back through the family stereo, played along on a different instrument and recorded all of that with my tape recorder, I could multi-track; 2.) Electric guitars don’t naturally sound like electric guitars do in most rock recordings. You need a distortion pedal for that, and thus began the musician’s endless quest for more gear.
I spent a lot of time alone in my room recording music and daydreaming about Rick Springfield. In the real world I didn’t have many friends, and I didn’t share my music very often. The mere fact that I could do all of this made me exceptional in my mind. The few times I did let friends listen to my recordings I was met with odd expressions and blunt critiques from teenage girls who listened to Michael Jackson and Madonna.
I’m not sure when Rick Springfield fell out of the equation of my music, but eventually he did. He was replaced by Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks and Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue, and then Robert Smith of The Cure, and then a boy named Mike. I’m grateful for my muse in whatever form it shows up these days – sometimes a person from my everyday life, sometimes a figure larger than life. Inspiration always feels good.
Close to 30 years later I will admit that I never became very good at guitar. I prefer bass and keys. I’ve also come to realize that despite my love of music, some of the key elements required to be a successful working artist are just not in my makeup. This has been a long and painful lesson. I sometimes find myself puzzling over the enduring message we send to our children about following your dreams; if you can dream it you can achieve it, etc. And then the contrasting advice we give to each other and ourselves as grown-ups when we feel disappointment that things have not turned out as hoped: Grow up; Get over it. These days I try to be gentler with myself when I connect the dots between here and there and wonder why I never hit the intended mark.
Obviously I did not become a rock star, but I finally managed to record a CD. Very much like my original recordings it is just me, a bunch of instruments and a multi-tracking device, which is now my computer. I didn’t marry Rick Springfield either, but I did meet him once and got this fabulous photo of the two of us. After I got the picture developed (remember getting pictures developed?) I sent a copy of it to my cousin, who hung it up in her work cubicle. A coworker came by, looked at it and said, “Is that your cousin’s husband?” Sometimes the key to happiness is redefining your success, and for that brief instance I was living the dream.