[Originally posted on Sept 3, 2012. Wow, I've come a long way since this...]
“Yeah, man, we’ve got the M-Audio stuff over here.”
Salesdude A walked us past rooms of instruments to an electronic area. It had been years since I stepped in a music store – for years, my journey was too painful to even think about playing. I felt like a fraud. Still, I walked past the instruments with a sense of reverence – these instruments were relics of the gods to me. In my recent adventures in novel-writing, I am exploring the idea that we are all scientists in search of magic. To vainly quote from this potential novel: “In our heart of hearts, we know there is an explanation for every mystery in the universe, but we want to find that one thing that cannot be explained; we want to walk amongst the gods and experience a divine beauty that separates us from mushrooms and protozoa…We want to explore that final frontier that takes us beyond truth and illusions, where magic is real.”
To me, the arts are magical. To be able to hold an instrument – to connect to that universe of theory and space and sound, to string together a series of notes and create a beautiful, tangible representation of who you are, where you’e been and what you hope for, is a divine experience. That is something I didn’t realize until I couldn’t do it anymore. So in that moment, walking by the glossy shapes displayed along the walls – the Warlocks, Flying Vs and Stratocasters, I thought of the homes they would find, the magic that could be created on them, and the people who made those models famous. Not all created a divine experience, but that’s just the bitchy music critic in me talking.
“Hey, we’ve got some nice guitars, huh?”
My reverence was broken by Salesdude A. I was staring at the guitars as he pulled the M-Audio device out of a glass case for us. “Yeah…” I was dismissive. Guitar Center salespeople can get really pushy if they smell a purchase. I also didn’t want to show what a fraud I was – I didn’t want to even touch the guitars, let alone play them.
“I used to.” I smiled and looked away.
“Bass was her instrument,” my husband offered. No, don’t go there…
“Yeah? Cool. Did you check out our basses? I could go over there and pull one off the -”
“No, no. I’m good, thanks. I don’t play anymore.” Please don’t talk about this. My mind recalled chucking my bass into a landfill. I didn’t even open the case to take one last look at it, as if it could establish some psychic connection with me. I always think of that case as a closed casket.
“She stopped playing a few years ago, but we just got Garage Band, so she’s looking to get back into playing and writing,” Chris again filled in the blanks.
As Chris talked hardware geekstuff to Salesdude A, I looked around the store a little more. To anyone who ever grew up wanting to be a rock star, music stores fill you with nostalgic memories. I think everyone in that category has a memory of going to the local music store over and over and staring at that one guitar or piece of equipment you know you couldn’t afford. You’d go in the store to buy something mundane like guitar picks or strings or something, and you’d check up to see if That One Guitar was still there. It was, and if the guys in the store knew you well, they’d offer to take it down and let you tinker with it. I accepted the offer only once. The bass felt amazing in my hands – it was like putting your hands on the steering wheel of a Bentley. I played the opening notes to “No Me Esqueca,” and my hands moved with ease over the strings. It was a work of art, that bass; at least is was when compared to my shitty Lyon bass at home that gave everyone else carpal tunnel when they played it. The bass was under $1000, but there was no way I could ever afford it. I wasn’t allowed to work, and saving my $1 a day of lunch money could only go so far. I handed it back to them after only a few moments of playing. Someday.
That little music store, Connecticut Music, almost felt like a home away from home to me. It was family-owned and was in a little house across from a strip mall. I still dream about looking in their store window to see what they had on display. The family probably didn’t know me by name, but they knew me. I was in there at least once a week. Every major gift my parents got for me was purchased there – my Fostex X-26 (Christmas, 1989), my shitty Lyon bass (Christmas, 1990), a Crate amp (Birthday, 1991), the DR-550 drum machine (Birthday, 1992). I bought a few things on my own – a used cheapie Fender with one of those little beginner’s amps, and inexplicably, a florescent-colored tambourine. The family was friendly to me and very supportive of the local artists – one time, they saw me walk in with the latest issue of Metal Edge (Don’t.Judge.), they opened it up to a picture of Steelheart, and told me to buy their album because they were from Stamford and we needed to support our local bands. I secretly hoped one day they would do that with my picture. Whenever my parents went in the store to buy one of those gifts, they would tell my family how much they could tell I loved music.
Looking at Guitar Center, I wanted to laugh. I was never a fan of these places. Sure, the selection is incredible – you could fit all of Connecticut Music in just the guitar room – but…the experience. I watched Salesdude B do his pitch to a customer. “Yeah, man, check this one out…” he took a guitar off its display rack, plugged it in, and did his best “I’m an awesome roadie tuning The Master’s guitar in front of the crowd at New Haven Colosseum” WHEEEEEEEE-bleezo-ble-ble-ble-ble-blittoblittoblitto-SQWEEeeeeeee-WOOOOOOWWWW thing on the guitar. He looked at the slightly bored consumer – expecting approval, awe, and of course, sweet, sweet commission. “Wanna try?”
I rolled my eyes a little.
We got what we needed and headed back up to the front of the store. It was like that scene in Airplane! where all the solicitors are harassing the guy while the guy he walks through the terminal. If Chris stopped at an instrument, someone would jump on us. “Hey, hon check out this keybo-”
Salesdude jumps out. “You like this keyboard? It’s really great! Check it out!” Plunk-plunk-plunk
No thank you and keep walking.
But Chris isn’t used to music stores, and there were a bunch of shiny new things for him to look at. “That’s a big drum set…”
Salesdude. “Yeah, great drum set! You play? You should!” Bow-rat-tatt-pow, splusshhh!
Chris, don’t feed the geese. Keep walking. Faster.
We bought our gear and I practically ran to the car. I made a quiet promise to myself to avoid Guitar Center at all cost in the future.
In time, I let go a little and allowed myself to enter other music stores, attempting to leave the feeling of Fraud behind. A couple of years later, I entered a family-owned music store to rent a cello. I was admittedly a little terrified, but I got through it and rented my cello. This past year, I went into a Music & Arts store to buy an acoustic guitar – I liked the environment. The salespeople were really nice and helpful. I told Chris that the place reminded me a little of Connecticut Music, even though I knew the store was a chain. We returned a few months later to check out keyboards. They knew we were just looking and wouldn’t buy on that day, and they still took time to talk to us. No pressure.
Towards the end, we had a nice chat with the store manager. “We can get things in, but we keep a limited stock here. If you’re looking for a bigger selection, our parent store, Guitar Center, has a lot of options for you…”
I grimaced and heard Chris stifle a snicker. We finished up looking at keyboards, thanked them for their time and walked out the door. Chris smiled at me. “You just died a little inside, didn’t you?”