Life Changing Moment.

I was eleven. Eleven and a half, to be precise. The rule in my parents house was no TV in the living room, so the big old black and white Zenith was in the basement playroom (remember basement playrooms?). We didn’t get a color TV until a few years later and most of the programming was in black and white anyway. As I recall on February 9, 1964, there were four of us sitting in front of the TV to watch the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. My brothers Bob, Frank and Brian and me. My oldest brother, Ben, was a classical music snob and wanted no part of the “noise” made by these British interlopers (Oddly, he was a big Elvis fan 5 years earlier when he was 11). My parents were not interested although my father generally watched the Ed Sullivan Show and made a short appearance in the basement to offer his opinion. “You call that music?” and he stomped off up the stairs (he did a lot of stomping off). I was enthralled.

It’s easy to look back and try to analyze what goes through the mind of an eleven year old boy. While you would think eleven was a little young to want young girls screaming for you, I can assure you that at age eleven, I was well aware of the attraction of the opposite sex. We knew the music already. It had been on the radio since the Fall of 63 and the four brothers were already, to varying degrees, fans. I loved the music and, as most of you know, I still do. I can play 95% of the catalog with relative competence. I know every word to every song and can sing the harmonies to them. I can recite the American album songs in order from memory (and I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning). I remember sitting a foot from the screen, trying to read the brand name on the headstock of Lennon’s little guitar and it sure looked like Rickenbacker to me, although I’d never heard of the company but then that’s no surprise because at the age of eleven, I hadn’t taken up the guitar. Not yet, anyway. That’s where the life changing moment comes in.

I knew, at the moment the first notes of “All My Loving” left Paul’s lips, that I was going to be a guitar player. Not a bass player, not a drummer, maybe not even a rock star, but I was going to play guitar. It was, in part, the screaming young girls or to expand, the adulation from nearly all sides or, more simply, the sheer attraction of being noticed and appreciated. It’s worth noting that when you grow up as a middle child in a family of nine (yeah, nine) brothers, a little recognition and a small bit of praise goes a long way. There was precious little of that. Of course, I loved the music but the visceral desire to play that instrument was so much more than that. It was more like a calling and I planned to do something about it.

I was eleven. I had no income. My father didn’t believe in the “allowance” so saving money was next to impossible. The only money earning options were a paper route (I tried that and failed miserably-too early in the morning), raking leaves for my parents-they paid 10 cents an hour (seriously) and shoveling snow (it was February in upstate New York so there was plenty of that). I’d walk around the neighborhood with a snow shovel over my shoulder ringing doorbells. For a buck, you’d get your walk shoveled. That didn’t exactly pay off either, so I took the next most promising approach. I started bugging my father to buy me a guitar. And, to my surprise, he came home one day in March or April with a Kay flat top that cost him $15 at Woolworths (remember Woolworths?). “Learn how to play this and I’ll get you a better one…and you have to take the garbage cans out to the curb for the rest of your life.” Deal. By the way, a family of 9 kids generates a lot of garbage. I was on my way to something..stardom? adoring fans? a musical career? OK, none of the above but my life would have been very different without the guitar. Very different and not nearly as good.

So, it started with the words “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you…” It ends the day I stop breathing. The guitar takes a back seat only to my wife, my son and his wife, my brothers and my dog. And it fits very nicely in the back seat, so I’m happy with that arrangement.

15 Responses to “Life Changing Moment.”

  1. Leeds says:

    What a wonderful post. I have similar memories and experience. However, I doubt my capacity to be so eloquent and heartfelt, so I’ll simply thank you for a wonderful post.

  2. RAB says:

    I started playing the violin at age 5 and became quite accomplished on it but ditched it in favor of a Desert Sand finish 1959 or 1960 Fender Musicmaster! First amp was a 1964 non-reverb Fender Deluxe. Definitely more fun and more appealing to the fairer sex!

  3. Michael Minnis says:

    Great story, Charlie. Thanks for sharing! I was too young to be part of that moment. Although the Beatles stayed on my block when they visited Chicago. That is where they held the famous press conference when John had to apologize for saying the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. I have vague memories of throngs of people up and down the block.

  4. RAB says:

    P.S. oh yeah, the Desert Sand finish on the Musicmaster had a few nicks and scrapes so I refinished the guitar myself with a can of flat black spray paint. I completed the “boss” look by applying flame decals from my model car kits!! Good thing my first axe wasn’t a ‘59 ES-335TN or Burst, eh?

  5. davek says:

    Nice post Charlie.

    The Beatles 62-70 was the soundtrack to my late childhood/early teens growing up in London. Its impossible to describe the all-pervading impact of the Beatles in that period unless you had the good fortune to grow up with it. My father similarly was pretty hostile to that ‘long-haired noise’ although he relented later with songs like Yesterday and Michelle – which of course I didn’t like much! Then there were second string acts like the Stones, Who, Kinks, Small Faces……..

    So like Charlie I pestered my parents enough to get a single pickup Hofner Colorama. Dreadful guitar but the start of something that’s still going!

  6. ChuckNC says:

    Your father was introducing you to a universal and nearly ultimate truth…….You’re still taking the trash out today, aren’t you?

  7. ChuckNC says:

    And I agree, this is a great post. I was only 6-1/2 when the Beatles conquered the US but I felt the calling then myself. Didn’t start till I was 13. But I KNEW.

  8. Leeds says:

    Excellent, Chuck NYC! I’m still taking the trash out- and still playing Beatles covers and writing Beatles-inspired tunes. Before I take the trash out.

  9. okguitars says:

    I am, in fact, still taking out the garbage.How did you know?

  10. ChuckNC says:

    Charlie, I knew because you’re a decent guy. You can’t hide it. Your dad did a good job.

    I first played “All My Loving” at a high school dance in 1975. And a couple of weeks ago it was one of the first things I played on a new classical guitar after unpacking and tuning up. Nothing has changed. The girls didn’t swoon in ’75 and they still don’t.

    Still doing it wrong, I guess.

  11. Sheldon says:

    Lovely memoir. Very evocative and well – written. I was 4 and remember my German immigrant godmother telling me that the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan last night.It was a really big deal!
    Guitar saved me -at age 12 -from terminal uncoolness.Especially since I had been chained to an accordion since age 4, relegated to playing Yiddish favourites for my parents’ friends on Sunday afternoons.

  12. Frank says:

    Terrific posts! My cousin and I used badminton racquets(!) to imitate the Fab Four, much to our parents grand annoyance..
    My mom gave me a “folk” guitar at about age 11, I promptly dropped a tape recorder mic in there and oh, the playback! I’d invented distortion before Ozzy!
    However, seeing B.B. on ‘‘twas my epiphany, I had to have an ES345, and my dad said..”work for it”. 4 years of shoveling, mowing, dog walking, and basic car-tuneups later I brought home the only 345 Sam Ash Long Islandever had, which I’d “demo’d” about a million times.
    Sadly stolen in the east village, I’m always looking at ads to see if it’s out there (distinctive chip on the headstock), or looking for an affordable exact replacement (cherry, slim neck, trapeze, stereo). Much contentment found on this site and a bit of Reverb.
    Keeps me sane. Thanks Charlie and all!

  13. okguitars says:

    I heard the “work for it” or “earn it” line from my Dad every time I wanted something.

  14. okguitars says:

    Back in the day, playing the accordion was about as uncool as it got. Even in podunk backwoods Scotia, New York, accordion players were the musical equivalent of being the president of the chess club. But even if you were terminally geeky, you were instantly cooler the moment you picked up a guitar. It could have been worse. Your parents could have loved polkas.

  15. Charlie: Of all the posts you’ve written (thousands?), and of the many I’ve read (hundreds…?), this one in particular brought me right back to that fateful day-in all it’s wonder and life changing glory.
    So similar: myself (2nd oldest child and oldest boy…) of 5 children, clustered around the little B & W Zenith like a warming campfire; suffering through the other acts (Topo Giggio, etc….?), until the moment the 4 lads came on and did their thing (you’re right sir: Life Changing).
    As my dear brother Pete has said many times: “A UFO landing in the back yard might’ve had about the same effect on us-maybe!”
    I stared at the cover of “Something New” until my eyes were blurry, looking at John’s little Rick-the most beautiful thing Id ever seen (It’s still up there…).
    Been too long since I’ve been to your wonderful shop, and seen you and the equally wonderful town of Kent!
    All The Best, My Friend,
    P.S.: My list of things I Love that are important is nearly identical: Memories of Dad & Mom, Sister, Brothers, Wife, Dog, GUITAR(s), Fab Four, and 60s in general (by the way, from your post we are the same age)!

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