Musings from a photo…


A photo of me in my early twenties, smiling in a way that I rarely appeared in photos of the time, happy in my element, pleased with myself. I really wasn’t (but would I ever be?). In fact I was often portrayed with a long face, like I was angry or had just been in trouble. But in this picture I’m in a break in a rehearsal room with the band I played in as a college student, with my sister on bass and two other friends on drums and keyboards. I am holding in my arms the most precious object of my life. Not because it was something expensive, on the contrary. It was my first electric guitar, a copy of the Fender Stratocaster I had always dreamed of. My parents gifted it to me on my 16th birthday. We’ve been inseparable ever since. That’s why I look so good in this photo, which is why it made me think.

Apart from the obvious splendor of youth and a certain resemblance to the cousin to whom I later gave that guitar, the photo made me wonder why I was smiling so much here while in the others my face is usually dark. At that time I was studying geology at the university. I got to the end, I became a geologist and I promised myself that I wouldn’t have wasted that degree doing just any job: it seemed to me an offence to the sacrifices my parents had made to let me graduate, a waste. So I never stopped dreaming of being a geologist, and in the end I succeeded. Why did I stop dreaming of being a guitarist instead? Well, for a very common reason: working as a musician is very difficult (in the sense of being able to live off of music). And I didn’t have any qualifications as a musician. As a geologist I did. So the dream of being a geologist came true. And at some point it was shattered. The company I worked for went bankrupt and I lost my job. In what was perhaps the darkest period of my life, I rediscovered the guitar.

Seeing myself looking so young and handsome (unbelievable!) and even happy, made me wonder….

After fulfilling my dream of being a geologist I became interested in something else, a non-competitive Japanese martial art, Aikido. I played guitar occasionally, at home along favorite records and much more rarely with others in a rehearsal room. Mostly I would play an acoustic while singing the songs I knew, sometimes only as a release. I was in my element on the tatami, no longer holding a guitar. After a while my dream became to be able to teach Aikido and have my own class. And I did, shortly after the birth of my son. I was fulfilled, I had my dream job, I married the woman I loved and we had a wonderful son together. It was the most beautiful time. But the loss of my job upset everything. As chance would have it, someone had recently offered me a place in a band. I declined because it was already difficult to maintain an Aikido course with my work and family commitments. Unfortunately at that point I had one less commitment. My wife suggested that I go and rehearse with these middle-aged “boys” who still enjoyed playing their favorite instruments.

When I said yes it was as if something buried deep within me came back to the surface. I was almost desperate, depressed, scared of the uncertain future at a critical age to lose my job, just past 50, too young to retire and too old to be hired again. The idea of having a rehearsal date with a band, again, in my early 50s made me quiver inside. So I would dust off the little home practice amp. I’d clean out my Paul Reed Smith that lay most of the year in its black flight case. It wasn’t the Stratocaster of my dreams. Thanks to a temporary job in a musical instrument store, I had been able to purchase for a ridiculous amount of money Paul Reed Smith’s interpretation of the Stratocaster, a 1991 “bolt-on” EG4, still handmade in the USA. Splendid, dark cherry red with rosewood neck. Impeccable construction but semi unused by now. Here it was, back in the spotlight. Deep inside of me feelings that had been dormant by then were awakening. It happened 5 years ago and the memory is still intense. I was pleasantly shocked by the rediscovery of something that had been fundamental to me, so much so that it defined me.

The Paul Reed Smith of musical comeback, later sold to buy the Stratocaster and the rest….

In a few words, it was a wonderful idea to have an opportunity in a few days to try in a band in a beautiful riding school where the drummer hosted friends who wanted to play. Once a week we would meet there and play, bringing each something from home to put together a pleasant dinner and chat afterwards. It was just what I needed, a moment to find myself again in that dark period, doing something I really loved to do and moreover in a beautiful and welcoming environment. As the date approached the forgotten feelings came back to me as I tried to prepare the solos I would have to tackle and the songs new to me planned for that winter evening rehearsals in 2016. I would change the strings on my guitar but this time with a newfound love. I was discovering YouTube as an inexhaustible source of tips, lessons, and anything else I could think of about the guitar. Why had I never thought of this before? If I had had this tool available when I was 15 or 20 years old… wow! How different it would be now! And how would it be if I had studied my instrument, if I had at least invested more in the guitar. What had happened to me, why had I almost given up on a passion that made me glow with happiness in a photo from the 80s?

My life had changed, this had happened. The stubbornness of wanting to be a geologist at all costs had replaced the desire to play the guitar. This had now passed as a thing of youth. As an adult there was now work duty and the degree in geology that demanded to find one in that field. Yet my first job was in music. It was in a large musical instrument store, in the professional audio department. Geologist friends were telling me that I had found a wonderful job, dealing with mixers, microphones, multi-track recorders, etc. in the professional audio department. Yet all I did was complain that I was a geologist and that was not what I was supposed to be doing. Instead, that opportunity could have led me towards a specialization as a sound engineer (at the time I had also considered sound engineering but then I ended up in geology) that would have brought me back to working in the field of music; in fact I dealt with “hard disk recording”, a novelty at the time that thanks to my computer skills and knowledge of English I could deal with and who knows, maybe even become someone in the field. Today hard disk recording is the norm, it is no longer called so but just digital recording, which is also the norm today …

The Classic 50s Stratocaster – fulfilling an old dream…

But that was not the way it went and I soon gave up that job that had introduced me to musicians, famous and otherwise. Looking back now maybe I was blind, I didn’t recognize that destiny had proposed me a path based on my original desire to have something to do with music. But I persisted with geology taking quite a few slaps and delaying my independence by quite a bit. By the time I finally landed my first geology job, I was almost at the point of nervous breakdown, so much so that even while I was doing what I said I wanted so much, I wasn’t really satisfied deep down inside. Yet I could have done even more, I even got invited to move to the USA for a PhD. I had several financial difficulties and made several sacrifices to stay in the geology field until I finally broke through to a small Canadian oil company. So I started a family…and also an Aikido class.

When my job as a geologist ended, luckily the family remained together, but with the overbearing return of the guitar and music, Aikido slowly faded away. Maybe I was finding myself, the real me, and the image of geologist and aikidoka that I had created no longer held up. Maybe I should have majored in sound engineering instead of geology and/or studied guitar, or at least tried to become a sound engineer after graduation, given the opportunity to work in a musical instrument store. You can not make these arguments, what is done is done and changing even a small detail, the result today would not be the same and I would not have this wife and son. Pure fantasy.

With my band live, one of the first times – it’s never too late…

The important thing is to realize what I really am. Thanks to playing in this band I met new people and in the end I also had a new job opportunity, this time in the computer field, another subject I had thought about while choosing a degree course to follow. I have been reborn as a guitarist, I have learned so much in these last few years, more than I learned in the previous 20. My only real regret is no longer having my first electric guitar. I gave it as a gift to my cousin (the one who looks like me) hoping he would move on in music too. But then he in turn gave it to someone else and all trace of it was lost. In February 2016 I resumed playing a band, I resumed being really me. In November I wanted to make my dream as a guitarist come true: to have a Fender Stratocaster. But the only possible way was to sell the Paul Reed Smith. You don’t sell a PRS, especially one that’s still handmade in the USA. But I had no choice. Of course I could have kept playing with that guitar, great quality, a gem. But I had decided that at that point in my life, given the beating I had just suffered and the rediscovery of a dormant passion, I deserved to realize a dream of youth that had come back to me in a period that was otherwise dark. Quite simply, I deserved it. By selling the PRS I was able to buy my current Mexican Stratocaster, a transistor amp big enough for rehearsals and a set of effects pedals that I could never have afforded as an unemployed man.

I have also had the opportunity to perform with my band several times, although in friendly situations such as the town square or local acquaintances in front of friends and family. It had never happened to me when I was young. I had dreamed of it, yes, but never realized it. Who would have ever believed that I would have to wait beyond my 50’s to realize it? Who knew I would have to wait so long to reconnect with that handsome 22 year old boy in that picture from 1986?