I remember my 14th birthday like it was yesterday. It was the birthday my parents bought me my first electric guitar. It was a 1986 Squier Stratocaster. Blue with white pickguard. They’d bought it with the help of my guitar teacher at the time Jim Howie from Paradise Music Store. In my hometown at that time(it was December of 1987) there were two music stores you could go to: Butterfly Records and Paradise Music Store. Butterfly was a guitar shop and a record shop(and if you knew how to ask you could probably score some weed or coke, too.) Paradise was the more legit of the instrument stores in town, and my guitar teacher knew the owner pretty well.
Anyways, back to the birthday.
I sort of knew that my mom and dad were getting me an electric guitar. I’d started taking lessons the summer of 1986 and had begun on a cheap acoustic guitar that was purchased at Paradise Music as well. It wasn’t a great guitar, but what it did was force me to play a lot. I learned on a guitar that the strings were really high off the fretboard, which made it difficult to fret chords. That’s what I call a “make it or break it” starter guitar. You’ll either power thru and get some great callouses going, or you’ll give up because it’s just too damn hard to play. I was the former and started teaching myself all kinds of songs from Bread, Boston, and then AC/DC. The first two I taught myself completely wrong, but AC/DC I’d gotten a songbook. I’d taken that acoustic guitar with dobro-like action and ran with it.
So for my 14th birthday my parents had said they’d “look into” getting me an electric guitar. Me being me, I started snooping around the house when they weren’t home and located a guitar case under their bed. I saw it, and I was 99.9 % sure my dad or mom hadn’t taken up the electric guitar, so I knew it was happening. I was stoked. I didn’t go so far as to open the case. I had my limits to snoopery. I was just out of my head excited that I’d finally be able to strap on a electric six-string and make “Highway To Hell” and “Rock and Roll Damnation” sound the way they should sound.
On December 2, 1987 I was presented with a Fender hardshell case and inside of it was the Fender Squier I would go on to play exclusively for the next 7 years straight. Through guitar lessons, poorly planned jam sessions, two high school talent shows, a Hot Licks guitar contest(I came in 4th out of 10), and many late nights in my bedroom with headphones on playing thru my Tom Scholz Rockman teaching myself Eddie Van Halen finger-tapping, that guitar was my Excalibur. I loved that guitar, and still do. It’s currently in my studio, a little under the weather, but plans have been made to give it the proper upgrades and renovations needed to do some more rockin’ in the free world.
Yesterday we celebrated my son’s 14th birthday. His gift was an iPhone. Not a new one or the most state-of-the-art, but one that does all usual tricks and actually acts as a phone(yeah folks, you can talk to people on them, too.)
I have to say I was a little disappointed that what he wanted was a phone. Yeah sure, I get it. It’s the times, man. Cool gadgets that let you watch time-wasting videos and make “memes” and “gifs” and chatting snaps or whatever. But up to this point his birthday requests were collectors action figures and Lego sets and comic books. That’s the kind of stuff that gets the synapses poppin’ in your noggin, man. That gets the creative pistons firing at top levels. As a dad and a former action figure collector myself there was something really exciting about buying those gifts for my son. Mainly because I’m still that kid way deep down. I’m that introverted pre-teen that set up battles with Star Wars, GI Joe, and Transformers action figures on the basement steps or in the backyard. At 12 I traded in action figures for rock and roll. It wasn’t a hard transition because I got that same electrical charge that shot out of my fingertips playing the guitar and learning songs that I did planning battles for the Kenner and Hasbro collectives. They still light up those same spots in your brain.
What’s a phone do? It sure doesn’t do that.
Oh well, I’m a relic from another time. I see a phone merely as a tool, where I see a guitar as a means of expression. I see a guitar unlocking creative roads within you that allow you to explore. Action figures and comics do the same. He’s 14, I know. That’s a tough age to still be in the toy game. Punks get wind of that at school and you’re called out like some leper.
“What?!?! You still play with toys? Get a load of the baby, fellas!”
You know, I had that happen to me in the 7th grade. I liked this girl in my English class. We “dated” for a couple weeks. Meaning we’d see each other in the hall and smile awkwardly, and in class we’d talk about nothing in-particular. We’d also talk on the phone after homework. This was of course taking place in the kitchen on the phone attached to the wall, so there was no hiding or privacy. We’d talk as my mom was doing the dishes. Anyways, one day at school she comes up to me and says “So someone told me you played with toys last year?” I looked at her and said, “Well, yeah. But I don’t anymore”, like I was talking about quitting black tar heroin or sex trafficking. It was an awkward moment, and one that stuck with me. Some asshat I went to elementary school with for 6 years was telling this girl I liked that I play with toys, like it’s something to be ashamed of. And at that moment I was ashamed of it, but I shouldn’t have been.
So I do understand why kids seem to grow up so much sooner. It’s just as a dad it makes me a little sad is all.
I got a guitar on my 14th birthday, and my son got a phone. I guess what matters is that we were both equally thrilled, and that we both were extremely grateful for having parents that loved us enough to give us what we truly wanted. Though, I may have snuck in one collectors action figure as well. You know, for displaying purposes only.
It’s an investment…in his future.