I needed a cable for my home recording studio so I drove up to Albuquerque to the Home Depot of music stores, Guitar Center. Remember the sign in the music store featured in “Wayne’s World?”
It read something like “No Stairway to Heaven!”
That’s sort of what a visit to Guitar Center is like. The electric guitar area of the mega-store is populated by what are known as “shredders” who play many notes fast and loud. Saturday mornings at Guitar Center are especially dangerous because that’s when all the kids show up to try out new guitar-shaped objects.
I initially avoided the guitar area and strode purposefully to the recording area. If one’s wits are lacking, this can be a very perplexing area. There were cables of every length and purpose. I stood mute before the huge display for quite a while. Purchasing an incorrect cable would mean another round trip up to the northeast side of ABQ, and I’d rather not.
I located my cable and brought two lengths to the nice young man at the counter. If I were casting a movie about a rock star, I would definitely want this gentleman’s headshot. He sported long black hair and just enough facial fauna to maintain his street cred. I bet he can shred.
Dude Man confirmed that I was about to purchase the correct cable, and I realized I had some free time on my hands. I decided to browse, to look around, and to see what I could see. Uh Oh.
This could be a wife’s worst nightmare: a husband roaming free through a guitar store.
I spied a pair of studio headphones that, honestly, I needed the next day in order to properly record a guest for our (with Donald J. Davenport) podcast “The Dungball Express.” They were priced right and they quickly landed on the counter next to my two cable packages.
I then went over to the modest printed music area, and to my delight I found a complete collection of the music of Steely Dan. It was a bit dear, but it landed next to the headphones and cables. Now I was rocking.
Closer and closer I drew until I stood trembling in the middle of the electric guitar area. On three points of the compass hung every style of guitar imaginable and two stories high. I guess I exuded a certain guitar gravitas, for I was greeted by the usually aggressive sales folks with a respectful, “Good afternoon, sir.”
I admired a few instruments and then walked into the hermetically sealed acoustic guitar room. Yes, readers, they place all the acoustic guitars in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room bathed in soft lighting. My olfactory senses were very pleasantly assaulted. Seriously. This room REALLY smelled good.
It was at that moment that I spotted him. My heart melted.
He looked to be about 10. Dark brown unruly curls that rarely see a brush framed his angelic face. A young woman, who I took to be his mom, stood respectfully by. I pretended to examine a nearby guitar, but my attention was drawn to this developing scene.
The boy gazed at guitars hanging on the bottom row. Guitar Center displays their least-expensive instruments closer to the ground. The Martins and Taylors hang way up high and require a salesperson’s assistance in order to audition.
The boy nervously took a guitar and held it close. I don’t know if he could play, for I never saw him place fingers on the fretboard or strum the six strings. I do know that he held the instrument as if it were a brand new baby sister. The look on his face was out of this world.
Finally the boy turned to his mother and, with an almost imperceptible nod, signaled that this was the one.
Mom offered just a few words that were so soft and loving I couldn’t make them out among the din of other guitar sounds in the room. If the boy’s face could light up more, well, I couldn’t say. Perhaps the tears in my eyes clouded my vision as I watched the mom open the door to the room and walk out to the register with what, if I may hazard a guess, may be a possession that may very well change a life.
Ask Rome’s Scott Thompson about his first guitar. Ask David Bell during one of his breaks at a Rome watering hole about his first guitar.
I would wager they won’t answer with “Hmmm, I can’t seem to remember that first one.”
So this afternoon when the school bus arrives at a modest Albuquerque neighborhood, a young man will race back to his room and slide a black case from under his bed. He’ll notice that new guitar smell as he gently opens the case and takes out his instrument. He’ll sit on the edge of the bed and carefully place his fingers on the neck and form a chord.
Lastly, he’ll look across the room at a mirror and see himself cradling his musical treasure.
He’ll smile a smile that launches a whole new life.