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TRUE FACTS ABOUT JOE NORMAL #9

TRUE FACT #9
 
 
"The bitter comes out better on a Stolen Guitar" - David Bowie
 
 
"...on a stolen AMP, actually!" - Joe Normal
 

It was never easy for me to save my money. I had to desperately want something in order to have the discipline to save for it.


As a teenager, friends would front me the money for a bottle of brandy, wine, games of pinball or pool, cigarettes, the money for a concert ticket. I saw The Clash, The Who, and David Johansen in 1982 and don’t remember paying my buddy back for that. Being responsible where earnings were concerned was a real challenge for me. That made paying back my debts an even tougher burden.

Maybe I was just lazy. Perhaps the truth is that I was, even at such an early age, so focused on what and where I wanted to go in my life that doing anything unrelated to that vision for money felt like a complete waste of time and effort. I was certainly reliable, responsible, and motivated when it came to anything associated with my music, band, or guitar playing. But, the idea of working in a factory or getting a job doing construction was for people whom I didn’t want to end up like… about 99.9% of the people in my hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey. What a fucking dead-end town.


I was always borrowing equipment from friends. A guitar here, a pedal there. My first summer job as a janitor at the Mravlag Manor Projects' outdoor community swimming pool afforded me my first proper electric guitar. A $125 Univox Les Paul Junior Double Cut Away with a single P-90 pickup.


My first real amplifiers were either borrowed from a friend and never returned, or borrowed from a friend and returned after a long delay… a really LONG delay. What with rehearsals, auditions, jam sessions, gigs. I was doing this thing solely on borrowed gear and broken equipment that I found in the trash. How long could I keep this shit up? I needed to be self-sufficient in the amp department but could not afford to or figure out how to get there.


Then, the Gods shone down on me, and the owner of one of our local Music stores died!


I’ll get to that in a minute…


At one time there used to be 6 music stores in my hometown, and 2 guitar shops that were quite far, but walk-able if you were a teenager like me without a car, and you were up for the hike and a good long afternoon of trying out every guitar on the shop’s walls to get your money’s worth after such an exhausting walk. The lure of these golden instruments awaiting my fingertips was all the inspiration I needed to make the 2 or 3 mile trek by foot, despite the inevitability that the store manager was going to kick us out eventually for not buying anything.


Now let me rewind again for a second… 8 Music Stores, all diversely different, and all accessible by foot in one shit-hole little working class town. My how times have changed. We have Guitar Center Corporation to thank for that. Not to mention the general apathy toward the Arts held by towns people like mine and our education system across America.


Does it seem that people just don’t VALUE playing musical instruments like they used to… or maybe they used to NEED it more and had to have closer access to it to help cope with the dreadful hopelessness of living in a town like Elizabeth, New Jersey. I guess cable TV, home video games, and the internet have filled that void. Whatever the distraction, we now have to travel farther distances to access good guitars, and have far less choices at that, and simply zero or next to none on a local level.


Thank god for eBay. But there is still nothing like feeling something in your hands first before you decide to buy it.


I still recall the names of our local music stores. I will list them here as to pay homage and perhaps to carry their memory to future generations who may be reading this… (yeah, right).


Hume’s Music - (Morris Ave)
Anthony’s Music - (Elizabeth Ave.)
Cimino’s - (Elizabeth Ave)
Gutowski’s - (E. Grand St)
Rondo’s Music - (Rt. 22)
City Lights Guitars - (Westfield Ave)
City Lights Guitars II - (E. Jersey St)
Bastardo’s Music - (Yes, real name! Rahway Ave)


So back to my story.


A stroke of genius came to me when I had heard the news that Mr. Bastardo, had died, and the huge Victorian home that housed his music shop on Rahway Avenue had been boarded up. As fate would have it, Bastardo’s Music was only a couple blocks from my bass player’s house. We were rehearsing there when the most brilliant idea came to me.


I dared my friends and band mates to come sneak into the old house with me to see if any musical gear got left behind!


In hindsight, I recall this was an impulsive idea that seemed more like divine intervention than breaking and entering. That thought never even entered our 16 and 17 year old heads, that we were doing something criminal or derelict. It was like a voice beckoned me. Like destiny calling me to do this thing. I was going to be okay.


Someone went in through a basement window and let the rest of us in through the side door. I recall standing in the very same spot inside this music shop seven years earlier with my mother as she rented my 4th grade clarinet and bought a box of reeds from the old man himself, Mr. B.


But now the place was deserted and dusty. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling corners, and the glass display counter before me was devoid of the various products that so many musicians for decades had come in to purchase to further their craft and stay employed or inspired in their chosen field or pastime.


The wooden floors creaked eerily and the emptiness all around still fumed with the scent of violin bow resin, woodwind cork wax, and instrument polish. I felt urged to explore further, hastened by the thought that if there was something in there to find, that I had to find it first and claim it before my buddies saw it… whatever it was. So, I found my way upstairs to the attic, and THERE IT WAS.


It was a brand new “NOS” new old-stock 1965 Epiphone Pacemaker Guitar Amplifier with the original tags, having never been sold and probably never even played before. It was just sitting there in the middle of this attic floor, with the late afternoon sunlight casting in through a window behind it, framing this thing like the burning bush, and there I was, like Moses about to receive my gift from the Gods of Rock ‘n Roll.


I remember the excitement and adrenaline rush, and specifically thinking that God and the Universe had saved this one for ME, and they wanted ME to have it. That I was special, and this was their way of saying, “Stay the course my son! You are on the right path! We’ll help you get there!”


And people wonder why my dreams and ideas are so grandiose! My musical life has been filled with small miracles like this, time and time again. Being the right guy, in the right place, at the right time.


What made this amp so special to me in some twisted Spinal Tap way is that it had only one knob on it… LOUDNESS!


Not surprisingly, I quickly outgrew that amp. By the end of that summer I had blown that thing up and the single speaker finally gave out. A testament to the passion and fury I played with as I endured the tireless frustration of always having to play on sub-par equipment.


I’m okay with that now and accept it as part of this musician’s journey. Always pushing the boundaries and limitations of the gear I acquire… I equate it to a new pair of hard denim Levi’s. Eventually they’ll end up with ripped knees and a hole in the crotch… that is if I’m the guy who’s wearing them!
 
Rock On!
 
 

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