At my 50-year high school reunion several people brought up my musical career. I played guitar starting in the third grade. In high school I started out trying to sing like Jose Feliciano. Then I decided I was going to be the next Paul Simon and started writing songs. The first song was influenced by a Christian Science camp I went to and was all about love and peace and called “The Spirit.” Our folksinging club performed it for the whole school. I think it was the week we were about to play Bay Village in football. You can imagine us singing, “Reach out for the spirit is love and peace and understanding and truth,” as the team prepared to kill Bay. All right, it was 1970 and we all wanted to be hippies then. My wrestling coach, a former marine, thought the song was naive and aerie faerie.
In high school I also wrote another song called “Summer Tree” for the play of the same name. Somewhere at Rocky River High School there is a recording of me singing it. My music teacher, Harlan Thomas, was so encouraging. He opened my mind to dissonant harmonies. I and others ended up writing another song we performed for high school graduation (and screwed it up). I still dreamed of being like Paul Simon.At least that was better than my imitation of Jose Feliciano.
In college I joined a male singing group at Stanford called The Mendicants. Some of those musicians were really good—far more talented than I was. I did get to play the guitar for “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” on a recording. (It’s not that hard if you know the tuning.). Then I went to study in Colombia. Being a clueless kid in his twenties, I hit my parents with a bombshell when they came to visit me.We were in Bogota and one night we went to a movie in English. “Lenny” was about the famous comedian, Lenny Bruce, who died from a heroin overdose. We went to dinner and that’s when I informed them that, after I graduated, I wanted to pursue music in the bar scene. My mother almost had a stroke. They’d paid a fortune for my college education and she thought I was going to end up a drug addict.
My father came up with a solution. If I wanted to be a musician I should study music at a university. After graduating in economics I enrolled at San Jose State. There were so many talented musicians in that program. One day my guitar instructor let me know where I stood. He suggested I should consider business. Still I didn’t give up the dream.
I started banking in Chicago and continued writing songs with weird tunings. I was working at The Northern Trust Company and kept my folk singing passion to myself. One night I played for a college professor I was attracted to and she loved my playing. She became my wife of more than thirty years and we have two grown sons. Music mission accomplished.
About ten years ago I visited my parents in Cleveland and saw a vey elderly man with a walker shuffling across the floor of the building’s garage. I introduced myself and he said his name was Harlan Thomas. He was my old high school music teacher. Harlan was in his nineties then and I didn’t recognize him after forty years. I told him I was writing books and he said I should have published my song, “Summer Tree.”
I can’t even play a bar chord now.