My Life According to.
By Marvin Payne
Okay, can I write a column about a topic that will be completely alien to most of my readers, and still get them to read the whole thing? Hey, I saw a three-actor play called “Copenhagen” about the math behind atomic fission, and for over two hours I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. But I couldn’t take my eyes off them! (Maybe I just have a high gibberish threshold.)
Yes, I can do this.
No, I’m gonna go fix the lawn mower…
…Well, couldn’t do that either, so yes, I can do this.
Many many months ago you and I visited here within these hallowed cyber-walls about the notion of choosing some constantly recurring aspect of your life and writing a personal history around it. As in, “My Life According to the Cars I’ve owned,” dredging up memories that are associated with each vehicle, like who was there to ride in it in those days, how did we manage to pay for it, which of our homes did we park it in front of, where did we drive it on vacations or escapes, which of our children totaled it–stuff like that. And, then, of course, each of those memories triggers more memories and pretty soon we have “My Life In Fifteen Weighty Volumes According To Everything, A Broad View.”
So here we go with a model, mostly written in July of 1980, a pattern from my own journal, interspersed with the kind of fresh memories that I threatened would come during such a process. (Said memories will be [bracketed]. ((Parentheses can be tiresome to some readers, I am told.)) )
My Life According to the Acquisition and Disposition of Various Fretted Instruments (Abridged) by Marvin Payne
[I may have this on my mind because one of my fretted friends is languishing in a pawn shop even as I write, and my customary late-night response to this unfortunate circumstance is not to contrive a way to redeem it, but to crawl the Internet for even more expensive guitars to replace it. See http://www.elderly.com/vintage/items/10U-2892.htm. Click on “headstock-front” and salivate. Then click on “body-front” (this is not a pornographic site, I promise) and dare to tell me the Parthenon is more gracefully proportioned. Double-dog dare.]
When I was nine years old my mother bought me a ukulele. It’s coloring was kind of blonde sunburst. I had found a booklet in the piano bench called “How To Play The Ukulele In 5 Minutes,” and was disappointed when it took nearly a half-hour, but not so embittered as to forsake music. Later, in the sixth grade, I became famous for ukulele [this would be in my classroom–hey! elementary school memories galore!], but I played the teacher’s uke. [The little decal on the headstock said “C.F. Martin est. 1833” but I didn’t know that meant anything.] I also owned a plastic uke and a banjo uke, but I can’t remember where I got them, or why. [Please remember that this is a Pattern, not a Panacea– …hm, suddenly I’m remembering a very interesting and history-worthy missionary companion from Panacea! Oh, no, it was Panaca.]
In my childhood I found an antique mail-order guitar, very small-bodied [and unplayable], at the Bishop’s Storehouse [where my dad was the Storehouse Bishop–ta da (!) lots of memories now flowing into my head about where my dad worked, like the contents of his top desk drawer, including a shark’s tooth, a hara-kiri knife he got from a Japanese boy scout, and several unfired .22 rounds he found on the roof of the storehouse (this was Los Angeles)–there was a California History mural on one wall of the lunchroom, and a scale model of the (as yet unbuilt) Los Angeles Temple].
In about fifth grade, I was tracted out by a music-lessons salesman working for a full-blooded musical Hawaiian [exTREMEly rare] who happened to be the father of my best friend, John Kapua. That Christmas my parents surprised me with an electric guitar. It was solid-body, blonde and thin, and remarkably nice-looking [this is not a pornographic site, I promise] for a cheap guitar. I remember plunking out the melody line of Rick Nelson’s “Lonesome Town” in Primary. [We used to kind of “get down” in Primary.] I had learned maybe four unrelated chords. I sold that guitar several years later to my cousin, Chuck Jonkey, who got famous as a guitar player because of it. [And whose musical curiosity eventually led him into the Amazon to record fire-ants. No kidding.]
Turning the corner into high school, I became enraptured with folk songs. The Kingston Trio fell only just short of the Apostles and Prophets in my esteem. I liked the Limelighters until they did an album with drums. I took binoculars to Peter, Paul and Mary concerts to learn the chords. [I could write how a few years ago, I sat in Peter Yarrow’s room at Snowbird and told him about the binoculars as we swapped a couple of songs. He was highly amused but, as I recall, didn’t show me any chords.]
I went, as a freshman, to hear Joan Baez at the Hollywood Bowl and was one of a very few there who’d even heard of her surprise on-stage guest. Most others in the audience tittered at, or were at least puzzled by, his performance. It was Bob Dylan [I could write here in my personal history about how the next time I saw Dylan live was forty-three years later, and I couldn’t get close enough to tell him apart from a microphone stand–or to recognize his drummer, who I later realized had played drums on my first album, and also swept the studio in which it was recorded.]
I bought a twelve-dollar Silvertone guitar at Sears that cut my fingers. Later that year, my parents did the first of many happy things. They gave me the $150 for a little C.F. Martin guitar [00-18] from the local music store, the only Martin I had ever touched. [That guitar lists now for $2,849.] An impossible dream had come true–I was fourteen, and owned a Martin.
That ecstasy was compounded a short time later when I found a 1944 Martin [0-18] hanging in a pawn shop. They wanted $20. They got it. Fast.
Somewhere in here my dad [who apparently cared more about my musical passion that he did about life and limb] took me down to the Fifth and Main district in Los Angeles to troll pawn shops for a five-string banjo. [I can’t even TELL you how dangerous this neighborhood is.]
There I became acquainted with the old Jews at Eagle Music Exchange [rising above waves teeming with treacherous sharks, a tiny island of treasurous wonder] where we bought a nice little Kay banjo. That banjo, which I gave to Dena Turpin [very nice girlbuddy (not quite “girlfriend”) who lived around the corner–hey, how about “My Life According To The Acquisition And Disposition Of Various Girlfriends”!
This is not a pornographic site, I promise], was replaced by a beautiful Muse, which I acquired with Dad’s $200 from a guy in the Young Americans, a group I played with while I was a high school sophomore. I had it through my first year of college, when I sold it to help finance my mission. It had Scruggs pegs. [These are marvelous devices (now exTREMEly rare) that reside on the peghead among all the pegs who ordinarily live there, but these particular pegs turn little pins against the two center strings, moving them just enough to raise their pitch by a half-step–enabling the player to do these cool “bee-yow” and “bo-ing” moves in the middle of a song, twisting notes down (“bee-yow”) or up (“bo-ing”) respectively.]
Late in high school my dad surprised me with a Mexican 12-string he’d picked up. [No kidding, he saw it in a store window and thought, “Hm, that looks like something my son might use.” This is not unlike buying someone’s dental work for them out of a catalogue–but it was a great guitar!]
In my senior year, I bought (with my own money) a nice Guild classical guitar, rosewood with satin finish, which I subsequently gave to Ann Hollingworth, a safe thing to do, I thought, because I intended to marry her. [I didn’t marry her. This would be the memory springboard for the amazing story of why.]
Just earlier, I traded $90 and my first Martin for a jumbo Gibson [J-50] at Eagle. It was my workhorse for years, accompanying me into adulthood.
In West Berlin with the Southern California Youth Chorale, I bought a Framus 12-string, which I sold in France a couple of weeks later.
I bought a little Japanese classical guitar on my mission, and gave it to the mission president’s son when guitars were outlawed among missionaries by Howard W. Hunter, who made his living as a young man playing sax on cruise ships to Japan but wasn’t a missionary at the time. [Before this giveaway, I had sold it to “Laurie Tredrea, Sultan of Swap,” a pawnbroker in Adelaide, South Australia, and thought I was rid of it. The following Sunday evening after sacrament meeting an Australian brother said, “Elda Pine, there’s a parcel for you in the clark’s office.” He had seen me walking into the pawn shop with a guitar and out again without it and had bought it back for me. A Gift of the Magi.]
Shortly after I was married [putting down roots in Utah], and had done some professional recording, it became apparent that my Gibson had too much “thump” for sensitive microphones, so I bought a very nice Brazilian rosewood Martin D-28 from Jimmy Moore. The actual transaction was precipitated by David Zandonatti [of “Moby Grape,” “The Free Agency,” and “Natty Bumppo,”] coming by while my wife was sick and I was gone and plunking down a small check for a down payment and walking away with my guitar. The check was signed by Orrin Hatch, who will probably be President of the United States. [No one knew in 1970, except Brother Hatch, that this was actually plausible. Nor did anyone in 1970 suspect that he would someday become a Nashville-haunting songwriter, which I think, personally, he is enjoying a lot more than if he were President.]
In 1972, living on Silkie’s farm [now this, for example, could springboard the stalled personal history writer into an irresistible memory flow–including the story about being invited to dinner by the young couple in the next house further down the dirt road, where the discussion centered around why the very odd taste of their well water differed from the very odd taste of Silkie’s well water, and the conjecture finally being that it was the difference between Holstein and Charolais–great journal stuff like that], we rented a Chickering piano from a store in Provo. Then we inherited the old family piano [a gutted player-piano that I used for a space ship as a child–can you sense another potential history-springboard here?], and so traded our “rent-to-purchase” piano equity for a Japanese 12-string and 6-string [the latter being a Yamaha FG-180], an excellent guitar [this model showed up on “Hee Haw” a lot] which Yamaha soon after phased out in favor of an inferior guitar. Both these guitars served me well on the “Utah” album [#3].
I was out peddling records in East Provo one night [my own records–this five-year vocation could easily produce a volume of colorful history all by itself] and found a coed [colorful] with a very sweet red-sunburst Gibson J-45 [also colorful, for a guitar], the value of which she could not appreciate. I traded her the two Japanese guitars for it that very night.
In those days, Bob Steineggar became notable as a builder and repairer of guitars [fixed guitars for the Everly Brothers–the story of the violence inflicted upon one of these guitars by the Everly Brother who got mad at the other Everly Brother and whacked him with it onstage belongs in a personal history for sure, but maybe not mine]. I traded my two remaining Martins (one of which had spent the last several years in Bob Taylor’s locker in a Las Vegas firehouse [okay, insert here a few hundred memories of high school buddyhood that otherwise would have gone unremembered, singing in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, sluffing school at the beach, both dating Sue Patterson and comparing notes–stuff like that]) for a Steineggar copy of a pre-war [this would be WWII] Martin Herringbone D-28 [so named because of a peculiar inlay pattern along its edges]. Bob’s guitar had already become the object of much curiosity and praise. It’s now owned by J.A.C. Redford [celebrated composer for film and the concert hall who used to be a sideman in my band–very funny stories that could fill a chapter or two].
Just before the “Please Imagine” album [#6] I fell in love with the sound of the Gibson Howard Roberts jazz guitar [Florentine cutaway and oval sound hole–ignore these luscious details if uninterested–my wife has already warned me that this column will try the patience of even my regular columnreaders–see opening columnsentence]. I don’t play jazz, but it was the first electric that didn’t feel utterly alien to me. At $1002, it was clearly the most expensive instrument I’d ever bought.
Long gone, it still [July 1980] secures at least one credit union loan. I used it a lot and eventually sold it to buy another [same model] with nicer coloring. [An exTREMEly rare guitar that’s nearly impossible to find today–I might be the only guy on the planet who ever owned two of them.]
On a long tour in the Eastern U.S. with Guy Randle [whole book’s worth of stories about songwriting and recording collaboration, and chili consumption on the concert circuit] I got to feeling that there wasn’t enough volume and fulness to my Gibson. So I wired $1000 to Norm Harris in L.A. [he sold guitars to Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson, and, well, you’ll see in a minute] for a 1955 Martin D-28 Guy and I had earlier discovered while killing time in L.A. because the van broke down there.
The guitar had been owned by Bob Dylan [yes, Bob Dylan–yes, this is true–he traded it back to them for an old mandolin and I bought it, yes]. I will probably always have it. Beautiful guitar.
26 September 1982. Bob Dylan’s D-28 destroyed [should have knocked on rosewood–its utter demise in a baggage-sorting machine at O’Hare airport while enclosed in a steel-reinforced flight case (I still avoid United Airlines) would be a painful chapter in my history, but hey, your personal history can’t be just a “good parts” version]. I have G. Randle’s D-41 [very ornate Martin that he graciously sold me for the (insufficient, not to say “paltry,” “niggardly,” or “parsimonious,” which I hardly ever say anyway, except when pushed) airline insurance money].
Dec. 1982. Sold D-41 and an old frailing banjo in East Lansing, Michigan [at Elderly Instruments, one of the best guitar stores on Earth–oh wait, you’ve been there, clicking on their web site back in the first paragraph of this memoir(!)]. Bought there a Yamaha classical guitar to replace the old Vitali I’d appropriated from my wife. [Took it to Chile for a few weeks and almost got used to it. Nylon strings are not macho. Unless you’re Willie Nelson.]
This is the end of the first twenty years (left out the Stratocaster, the Guild electric, the antique Les Paul, the ES-125, the mahogany Epiphone, and three bass guitars). You’ll have to wait for a month for the next twenty years, but hey, I had to wait twenty years for the next twenty years. While you’re waiting, try this–except with something else like cars or jobs or U.S. Presidents or toothbrushes–unless you, too, are a fret freak. And see if you don’t find yourself remembering like mad and frequently going, “Wait! I gotta write about this!” “Wait! I gotta write about that!” “Wait! I gotta write about…!” Only don’t wait. Just write.
And while you’re writing, I’m going down to see if I can get my latest guitar out of hock.
“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)
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