I can still see the photograph in my mind.
Me, playing my bass, surrounded by two friends, one on the drums and the other on the piano. There might have been someone else in the picture, playing the guitar or some miscellaneous brass instrument. But that third who didn’t matter as much as what our chorus teacher, who took the picture, said:
“I just know that everybody in this picture will be famous someday.”
Well, that someday came for some of us.
* * *
We were “those kids.” The screw-ups. The artistes. The musicians. We didn’t belong to any cliques because we transcended cliques. We were the tastemakers of our school, as much as any small town in the middle of the White Mountains could have tastemakers. The bands we listened to were automatically assumed to be cool. We weren’t the smartest or the best looking, we weren’t the star athletes or the student body presidents, but we seemed to have a coterie of admiring girls anyway.
I’m exaggerating a little bit, but you get the point. For young men of a certain, shall we say, disposition, music was the key to social capital. And when we played at school concerts or at the Battle of the Bands, when every eye was on us and we were baring our souls in a way that words can never hope to do, the feeling was magical.
* * *
For a guy from a small town in the middle of nowhere, I sure know a lot of famous people.
Okay, make that two, but considering the statistical probability that they came from my town and that I knew them personally, it’s pretty striking.
One is an actress now. I was never close friends with her, but she was nice enough. She left our sleepy little hamlet after high school to seek her fame and fortune in Hollywood. After years of struggling, she landed some bit parts before hitting it big as a prominent member of the ensemble cast of a well-received show. When that show got canceled, no biggie. She just went out and got her own. That’s what I call landing on your feet.
The other is that piano player from the photograph. One of the best musicians I have ever known. Even in grade school, you could tell he was a prodigy.
It wasn’t just the piano. The guy could play anything. He was Prince-level talented. Guitar, drums, bass, trombone, xylophone . . . but the piano was his baby.
Oh, and he could sing.
Yup. That’s him. On TV. And you know what? I’m not jealous.
Not in the least.
Why on Earth would jealousy even cross my mind in the first place? Let me tell you a story.
* * *
I was friends with this guy mostly based on our mutual respect for each other’s musical prowess, not exactly the basis for a lifelong friendship. He wasn’t a bad guy, we just had wildly differing values and that’s that.
Still, I learned a lot about music from him. Not just the theory, not just the catalog, but the feel. Music is definitely a vibe. I don’t particularly like jazz, for example, but I understand it thanks in large part to him.
We jammed, we had projects start and stop, we had our disagreements, and after high school we drifted apart the way so many young men do. In fact, I never really thought of him once college began, and I’m sure he never thought of me.
Every once in a while, especially after the advent of social media, I’d hear about this band he was playing in doing this and that. And then the next time I’d hear about him, things were getting bigger and better.
At first it pissed me off in a petulant, bitchy sort of way. While his star was rising, I had been kicked out of a band that I had put my sweat and soul into and was on the cusp of making it. It wasn’t fair, I said. No, I didn’t say it . . . I whined it. Woe is me was my chorus to those dark days. Woe is me . . .
The old me would still think like that. That’s because the old me was a loser. The old me blamed everybody and everything for my problems without taking stock of the most powerful driver of my own misfortune.
I didn’t stick to music. I didn’t dust myself off, pick up my guitar, and keep playing. And I certainly didn’t hitch my wagon to my old musical companion’s star and ride down that path to stardom.
And that’s okay.
I’m a firm believer that no one ever really leaves high school. Real life is like high school with money and all of that. But I’m talking more about the psychological scars that high school leaves. The emotional ones.
And not just the scars, but the bonds. Bonds you can have with people you knew when you were kids and haven’t seen in years. Decades. Sometimes all it takes is knowing that somebody you used to know is making good to bring back a lot of these feelings.
Feelings that only wisdom and experience can change from sour to sweet. Feelings free from the poison of jealous and envy that used to be there.
I don’t feel envious. I feel inspired.
This musician, and this actress, they followed their dreams. Their passions. They honed their crafts and didn’t let the naysayer tell them what they could and couldn’t do. And here they are, living the lives they want to live on the power of their own hard work and sheer talent.
Get after it, you two. Kick some ass.