Being who we really are

Not many of us are lucky enough to be who they really artumblr_oav00tykwc1vpv2xso1_400e. The luckiest at least just “know” who they really are even if they actually aren’t that. I’ve always admired people who made a life out of their passions. It takes a lot to do it, unless your passion is working for a bank or be a government employee. You study and work in order to get a job and you’re done. What if you want to be a painter? The entire world will tell you not to do it, you will be starving, you need at least a plan B. But the ones who keep on and succeed in this are the one who did not listen…

When I briefly introduce myself, the first thing I mention is that I am an Italian geologist. I am stating I am two things: Italian and geologist. I should dig more into this statement. Maybe later. Geology is what I studied, what I chose for my higher education since I have always liked science and I think myself as a scientist, although I’ve done research for only a few years. Then I add I am a science teacher, since this is my current job. I also like to point out that I worked in both university and industry before becoming a teacher. I like teaching, I like the relationship that builds up with the students. I like to help them growing a way to think with their own brains through science. Maybe the teacher role is more my true self than that of a geologist, a scientist. But I didn’t choose the teaching career. I just thought it was the right path when I was forced to change. When I was 7 or 8, someone gave me a chemistry minilab and suddenly I was fascinated with all those compounds, test tubes, still pots. I really wanted to know how it worked. Later I developed a passion for astronomy, which eventually evolved into one for geology. Yes, it all started early, so maybe I am on the right path about being my true self.

Long after my graduation, when I was 36, I discovered martial arts. Actually just one, Aikido. At the time, I would have never guessed I would have become a black belt. But I surprised myself and eventually became an Aikido instructor! I have been in love with Aikido for so many years that I often described this relationship as me living Aikido, breathing Aikido, “being” Aikido. I remember when I practiced during some tough period of my life, realizing I only felt truly myself when I was on the mat. But the hardest days were yet to come.

Science happened to me when I was 7 or 8. Aikido hit me around 36. But there was something that was with me since earlier: I was singing before I learned how to read and write, mimicking with the sound of my voice the instrumental parts of the songs I sang, which I heard on the Italian radio in the late 60s. My aunts and uncles were amazed, I can still remember them commenting my performances. I met the guitar later, at 11, when my sister, who was 9, started experimenting with one. We were already singing songs from a duo that was rather famous at the time. I thought it would have been great to accompany our singing with a guitar. There it started. My guitar became my best friend, my partner, my refuge, my lifeline. I played every day but I never really dared trying to get a living out of it. Because the moment I just thought about it, I already knew that all the people around me, starting from my parents and the rest of the family, would have told me I was crazy; and I also already knew I would have considered very thoroughly their advice. Maybe I did not have the balls – nor the talent – to do it.

Springsteen_On_Broadway_-_Walter_Kerr_Theater_-_Thursday_2nd_November_2017_SpringsteenBroadWay021117-17_(38169722056)

I thought about writing this piece after I started watching the “Bruce Springsteen on Broadway” show. The Boss had been my favorite during my geology studies. I used to play and sing a lot of his hits, strumming heavily on my Stratocaster copy. I have never felt such intensity from any other performer. The show also unveiled to me a different Bruce, a compelling and profound entertainer on stage even when he is just talking. And the words he said struck deep inside me, much like many of his songs did when I was younger and still stir something deep inside when I hear or sing them today. He remembers about his first guitar, about the first time he saw one, on TV, hung at the shoulders of a “human Adonis” – who was clearly a certain Presley – while he himself was a creep. But he was struck. The guitar was the thing. He needed one. From there he understood what he wanted to do in life, what he wanted to be. He also said that he never liked school and this should be a sign. I didn’t like school either and here I am, a teacher. But I did what I was told. People like those can’t be thought how to behave, how to live their lives. Art does not come out from that. He recounted how he never saw the inside of a factory, never worked from nine to five, 5 days a week. He didn’t like it. I didn’t like it too, but I had to do it when the time came. And as I am writing about it now, I remember the excruciating pain deep inside when I started. I thought it was because I was unexperienced and I feared failure. But probably that was not what I really wanted deep inside. But I have been lucky enough to do jobs I really liked for a while, so I can’t complain…


I thought about writing this piece after I started watching the Bruce Springsteen on Broadway show. The Boss had been my favorite while I was studying geology. I used to play and sing a lot of his hits, strumming heavily on my Stratocaster copy.


I sat there hypnotized as The Boss named his first inspirers. Guys who were playing in bands in his unknown hometown, so close to New York City it disappeared. People that were larger than life, too alive and true to be told they were wrong or what to do. The young Bruce Springsteen who dreamed about becoming a rockstar admired local rockers – who would never come not even close to what he is – who really new what they wanted to be and what was the life they wanted to live and if others thought otherwise “they could go fuck themselves”.

I loved that part. Sort of liberating…

I never dared thinking that people who wanted me to be what I was supposed to be could go fuck themselves.

I also loved when he talked about the magic when a real rock band forms: in normal life, which he defines “the grind”, 1 + 1 makes 2. In his life 1 + 1 made 3. In order to be a real rock band you don’t need the best players, but a community of souls who come together with the same intent and the magic happens: 1 + 1 makes 3.

I had many different “seasons” in my musical tastes, that would translate in what I played and sang. I had the Springsteen period, later I had a Toto period, a Dire Straits/Pink Floyd period, a U2 period and a Pearl Jam period. Of course I love Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and I love the Pink Floyd more today than yesterday (I am 100% Italian, but when it comes to music I am not). When I sing Steve Bono’s U2, or Eddie Vedder’s Pearl Jam, I feel a compelling intensity comparable to the one I used to feel when I sang Springsteen in the past. But we call him The Boss for a reason. Even if it’s only because he was there before the others.

And Bruce Springsteen did it again for me on his recent Broadway show: he reached deep inside my being, probably by touching some common nerve, some feeble wire that links us through a very thin common ancestry in his mother being of Italian origin, his love for music, for performing and for the guitar. But that’s it. He is The Boss and I am the science teacher. Is it because I never dared even trying what he did? We will never know. He said it would have been impossible that anybody noticed a guy playing guitar in the 70s in Freehold, New Jersey. Would anybody notice one playing among the central Apennines of Italy? Even worse… So I went on to school, university, and never dared considering to become a musician, never attempted to actually work on it.


He said how it would have been impossible that anybody noticed a guy playing guitar in the 70s in Freehold, New Jersey. Would anybody notice one playing in Campobasso, Italy? Even worse… 


Then I found love, a good job, I got married, we had a son. I have been the happiest man on the very Earth I was studying. It was not an ordinary life: I had the job I studied for, I met my girl the way I had dreamed of, in New York City – it was actually Jersey City, Bruce! – We kissed in front of New York’s skyline under an early December moon. We got married in New York’s City Hall a few years later and after our son was born we brought him to New York when he was 7 months old. I didn’t play guitar as I used to, I didn’t have the time anymore. I was all Aikido. But sometimes I pictured myself on a stage, with a band I never had, playing some covers in front of a small audience. I just thought it would have been nice to have done at least that. When I happened to see somebody playing live or heard about a friend who did it, I felt a bit of envy. I was a bit sorry I never tried…

Mike_Scala_in_New_York_City_2015During those happy early Summer days in New York with our little one, something happened that would have made me think one day. We were in Washington Square, a place we love. I was taking a couple of film pictures of my wife and the kid near a fountain. I noticed a few guys who were playing guitar. Maybe driven by my own attention towards them, one of them approached me and introduced himself as Mike Scala, a young local musician (clearly of Italian ancestry), with some friends, one from Australia. They would have played in a nearby place that same evening and they were publicizing the event by playing on the road in the neighborhood. I explained we would have really enjoyed it but with the kid it would have been impossible, since we were staying at my aunts’ in Queens. So they performed a song for us and Mike Scala gave me his guitar pick when I told him I used to play guitar myself, although just for fun. I bought their CD and sometimes I listened to it during these years. God, I miss New York…

Six years later I lost my job and the darkest period of my life began. In your early 50s in my country you are too young to retire and too old to be hired again. During the crisis that hit the whole world starting from when my son was born, I heard stories about people in their 50s losing their job and being unable to recycle themselves, to find other jobs (who wants to hire someone at that age?). At least not in my country. I thought it was a nightmare. Some committed suicide. Then it happened to me. I can’t even think about what we would have done if our families wouldn’t have been there to help us. Soon after it happened, I was offered to join a cover band who played some rock music I could have enjoyed. I thought I didn’t have the time, that it was not a good idea, I was all Aikido, guitar was no longer the thing to me.

I was wrong. Again…


Six years later I lost my job and the darkest period of my life began. In your early 50s in my country you are too young to retire and too old to be hired again. 


My wife insisted I tried. I was overwhelmed by emotions as the day of the first rehearsal approached. I started to review some riffs, to listen to songs I had never played before in order to be of some usefulness to the other old timers with a passion for music. I rediscovered myself. Playing with these guys was not only a dream of my youth which came true. Being in touch again with my real self helped me not losing my mind. After all those years I found myself on a stage, singing and playing solos I had only dreamed of playing in public. It was fun, it was freedom. It still is. Was it stupid? Is it? A family man in his mid-fifties, a father, a geologist, who once a week skips dinner at home to go and rehearse with a band of old plunkers like they were still teenagers? I don’t think we are behaving like teenagers. We know exactly who we are, where we stand and what we are doing. We did not lose the ability of dreaming after all that’s happened to each one of us. Especially to me, I dare say. And no one is dreaming to become a musician approaching the age of retirement…

linuseasterly

I contacted Mike Scala through the social networks. He is doing great, he has become someone. He followed his dreams and he is realizing them. I admire him for that. I remembered him about our meeting in Washington Square and I told him I was playing again …using his guitar pick. We’ll keep in touch and I wish him the best. He is a nice guy with an Italian ancestry. I am sure he told the ones who told him he should not do what he is doing to go fuck themselves. I never did it and I am even lucky enough to have realized something I dreamed of anyway: being a scientist for a while, using my science knowledge to get a living, starting the relationship with the woman I love in such a spectacular way, having such a wonderful kid. Then something terrible happened, ok, but there are much more terrible things in life. We are healthy and still love each other, even if we struggle every day. I have found music again, rediscovered my love for guitar, my true love (of course I love my son and wife more than anything else in this world, but you know what I mean!). Today I know what I really am deep inside. Yes, I am a geologist, of course I am a science teacher and an Aikido instructor; most of all I am a father and a husband, but if I had grown really free of becoming what I really wanted to become, I should have been playing guitar and making music. I didn’t and I’m not actually regretting it, considered what I have achieved anyway. It is just sad to acknowledge that probably I am one of the many who conformed to the common thought and did what was expected from him. At least to a certain extent.


I don’t think we are behaving like teenagers. We know exactly who we are, where we stand and what we are doing. We did not lose the ability of dreaming after all that’s happened to each of us. Especially to me, I dare say.


Losing my job had been a nightmare come true. I am still alive and at this point this is at least something. This event triggered something else that made me rediscover my old real being. I never dared pursuing music when I was young, when it was time to take risks and live life completely and to follow the path I wanted to choose, no matter what others would say. I didn’t have the guts to do so and today I know that’s how it is and that if I had been able, I would have wanted to do that. I winched then and I’ll never know what would have happened. But at least today, better late than never, playing with my middle-aged bandmates has kept me sane and will continue to do so because now that I have finally found my true self again, I have absolutely no intention to stop. And if there is someone out there who thinks this is not appropriate, that it is not an acceptable behavior for a family man with responsibilities – a science teacher, a father – that a husband should not play guitar solos like a teenager, well, at this point of my life I believe even I can finally say they can really go fuck themselves!

MusicBox21giugno17

Yeah, that’s me in the middle, with my Strat and my fellow old timers on stage at a home concert in 2016 – come on, we’re not that old anyway! Middle age is said to come later these days… 😉