It’s kind of funny how one memory can trigger all sorts of others, no matter how buried they may be. In writing that last post alone, many repressed memories flooded my frontal lobe and momentarily flushed the deepest crevasses of my mind. Now, I don’t want to go on about all of them or bore you with each and every recollection. So I’ll keep this as tidy as possible by mentioning the two (in a series of posts) that made me smile the most. I should forewarn you though that due to the nature of the last post, most of the memories had to do with Neil Young’s music and how it, somehow, worked its way into my life. So, if you were slightly disinterested in what I laid down a couple days ago, that feeling may reemerge.
In the fall of 1999, a friend and I had gone to see Phish in Memphis. We arrived a few days early in order to make the most of the situation. C’mon, the ink on the Elvis portrait that decorates my forearm was still drying as we boarded the Greyhound. Anyway, once we got there we made sure to hit all the hotspots. Graceland, Sun Studios, the Civil Rights Museum, Stax and we of course hit Beale Street for great food and music. But when our belly’s were full and no one was playing, we’d poke our head into a few of the shops to get a look see at some of the gaudiest (awesomest) Elvis memorabilia you could imagine. While my empty pockets failed to produce funds enough to purchase those great EP sunglasses, or that sweet TCB necklace, I managed to come up with a couple of bucks to by a cheesy harmonica that adorned a Christ-like portrait of my man, E.A.P., on the box. Now, I had no clue how to play the bastard but I was positive that someone like me, an overweight kid that never picked up a musical instrument in his life and likes to follow jam bands around the country, absolutely had to have a Elvis sponsored harp. Truth be told, it stayed in the box the remainder of the trip.
It wasn’t until a week after we got back to Milwaukee that it came out of the cardboard and made its way to my mouth for an extremely short period of time. As another friend and I were pulling away from parent’s house en route to the next Phish show in Normal, IL I remember digging around in my shirt pocket for one thing or another. Having forgotten that it was in there, with a large smile of excitement on my face, I pulled it out, glanced at my friend and started to quietly play it along with the Radio. Surprisingly, “Love Me Do” was on, and even though I thought that I was keeping up and playing smashingly along with the recorded harmonica, I know that was not the case. I was fucking horrible. My friend laughed momentarily but soon got rather irritated. She begged me to stop. “After this song” I said. “I got it,” I said. Well, when the song was over I put it down and told her that I would only play it again if another song with a harmonica came on. She, absent mindedly not thinking of the colossal amount of harmonica in classic rock, agreed.
So, sure as shit, not five minutes later the first chords of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” start t to fill our ears. About 15 seconds in, trying not to push her too far, I gently blow into it, sounding absolutely awful. I rest. She grins. I tap my knee and wait for my next opportunity to show off my skills. But when that time rolls around, right after the first verse, I completely blow my fucking top. I start to play that thing so damn hard and loud that steam shoots from my ears and the hat I was wearing ends up in the “way” back seat. Best thing is, I don’t stop when Neil does. I just keep going. Feeling the groove and having an absolute blast. No words are audible, Neil’s stand no chance up against my new fascination. It is all that can be heard. And that is the exact moment that my fascination ended. Seeing the fun in my eyes, the spit dripping from the harp, and the steam of joy coming out of my ears, my traveling companion grabbed it from my clutches and through it right onto I-43. I don’t think we spoke a word to each other until we got past Beloit.
So, if you’re ever driving down old 43 and you happen to catch a glaring object in the sun, if you’ve got some extra time on your hands, pull off to the side of the road and see if it’s the only musical instrument I’ve had the pleasure of purchasing in my entire life. I can’t offer an reward but I can guarantee good karma.