Alexplorer Goes Time Traveling...

If you're just joining this series already in progress, then it means you don't have a time machine, so here's the short version: Every Tuesday (your present), I come back from my adventures time-traveling around MySpace and fill you in on what happened to people from my past as they keep slippin', slippin', slippin' into the future.

Ah, here's one now...


Yeah, this is a long one.  Like about 90% of what I post, most of this started out as email, in this case it was swapping stories with Hope (see her Time-Traveling episode) who also knew "Eric" and family.  The three of us had a class together in high school and used to hang out over at Eric's place from time to time.

Eric (not his real name) and I met in high school.  He was kind of scattered, but he was really funny and was into a lot of music.  I used to borrow tapes from him all the time.  One day I went over to his house, and he was playing guitar.  Let me stop here and say that you know how people throw around the term "genius" like they're everywhere?  It's like when someone says they "love" ice cream when they just "really like" ice cream.  Calling Eric a musical genius wouldn't even scratch the surface of what he could do already when he was just a junior in high school.

Actually his younger sister was a genius too, but the whole lot of his siblings (there were five of them altogether) were pretty decent musicians.  I guess this was the inevitable consequence of their mom being a life-long hippy and their dad being a rocket scientist.  No, really.  Their mom was a tie-dye-wearing broad who knew the entire back catalog of Dylan by heart and their dad literally worked as an engineer for NASA.  All that math and music got in their heads and this brood was to the Partridge Family what Yes or Rush or Pink Floyd were to the Monkeys.

Going over to Eric's place was a blast.  Never mind that I had a crush on the aforementioned younger sister; there was always music going on.  They literally had two pianos in the house, and they turned a shed out back into a really nice practice space where they were always jamming with kids from all over the area.  Their home was a magnet for anyone in the surrounding fifteen miles with any musical talent or interest or aspirations.  You wanted to learn how to play a song you couldn't figure out on your own, you called Eric or someone in his family.  Their home got hit up for more knowledge about music than most websites.

Eric never exactly gave me guitar lessons, but he got me started by explaining how guitars work (e.g., the tunings, how you make a chord, etc.).  I bought my first instrument from him: A bass that belonged to his brother who was in the army.  He wasn't supposed to be selling it, but he wanted to buy something for his then-girlfriend for xmas.  I think he told his brother that it was stolen.  At the price I paid for it, you might say it was.

We had a beginning keyboard class together in high school, which was ironic considering how far beyond even the most advanced student in that class while I and most others were blank slates.  We practiced our pieces in the keyboard lab with headphones on, and Eric used to sit next to me making up things... or maybe "discovering" things would be a better way to describe it.  Sometimes he would just be jamming out on the keyboard.  One time he turned to me and said, "Listen to this," and he put his headphones on me.  He couldn't even hear what he was playing, but he was making up wild jazz improvs that proved beyond a doubt that he knew what he was doing.  I needed the headphones, but he was hearing it in his head.

Eric used to show me how to play various bass lines and, later, once I bought a real guitar, showed me a few licks.  His parents owned a snowball stand where he or his siblings worked during the summer, and I remember hanging out over there with him (or the sister I was crushing on) and playing guitar together between customers.  Eric was obviously completely awesome whereas I completely sucked at the time, but seeing how much room there was for improvement was inspiring rather than daunting in this case because I so much wanted to explore the musical territory he and other musicians roamed at will.

I used to go to local clubs and watch him and guys approaching his ability play.  Mostly it was just conventional cover songs, but they would certainly bring things up to their level.  I remember them doing "Great Gig in the Sky" from Dark Side of the Moon and wondering a few bars into the piano intro, "Who the fuck is going to sing Clare Tory's part?"  Answer: Nobody.  They played it flawlessly note for note on guitar with he and another guitarist trading off for each of the three movements of the piece.

Once we graduated, I didn't really see Eric that much for a while, then he turned up at the college I was going to at the time.  I happened to be taking a music appreciation class that semester, and Eric was always in the building practicing in the piano rooms.  He enthusiastically showed me whatever he was working on at the time, stuff that was even more abstract and highbrow than the progressive rock albums he introduced me to on his stereo a few years earlier.

At one point I went to a recital concert given by jazz students on campus, and Eric was backing them up on guitar.  It was just a bunch of horn players with a bass player, drummer, and Eric.  The horn players alternated playing together, then taking a solo, one by one.  In the middle of the concert, the horn sections took a break and left the remaining three guys on stage to fill the time with their own jazz number.  They just about burned the place down.  When they finished, the audience (myself especially included) gave them a standing ovation.  These guys (all three, not just Eric) blew the horn players out of the water.

I had only just started to get decent on guitar by that time, but I never really found the time to hang out with Eric much outside of random encounters on campus.  I didn't have a whole lot of talent, but he was definitely an inspiration as significant as anyone on any album I listened to that kept me striving to play better and better.  However, I transferred the next year and, oddly enough, ended up going to school with my schoolboy crush, Eric's sister for a while (not sure if she transferred or quit or what), but I never ran into Eric again.

He moved around a bit but ultimately married a girl he met at home.  They live up north now.  He earned his bachelor's in music education and a master's in jazz performance and has been teaching guitar, bass, mandolin, and banjo for most of the time since he graduated.  He's still playing music and recorded a couple of albums on local independent labels.  These don't feature the blistering electric guitar styles that I most remember him playing in high school, but rather more of that late-era Clapton and Dylan thing of retreating into folky and bluesy material.  In other words, pretty much what those guys did after going through the more energized phase early in their careers.  The fact Eric's doing in his 30s what they didn't get around to until their 50s and 60s maybe speaks to the caliber of musician we're talking about here.

I realize mainstream radio and Mtv is more about image than good musicianship, but I would have thought by now Eric would have something on the web like that YouTube kid rocking out to Pachelbel, but even as a teenager Eric was always embarrassed by his level of talent and would never show off.  If you ever heard him play on the level he's capable of, odds are your head would explode.

Hypothetical letter I'll probably never send to him:

Thanks.  Really.


p.s. Does your sister ever mention me?

Copyright 2007 Ale[x]plorer.  All photos are of the actual individuals described above because, seriously, I can't make this shit up.
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