The summer before I went into the fifth grade I was going to take guitar lessons. I’d always loved music. There was usually music playing every day in my house. My mom brought me up on a steady love of The Beatles, Buddy Holly, and Roy Orbison (just to name a few). When I was 9 or 10 I was obsessed with The Monkees. I even saw them in a Fred Meyer parking lot one town over. It was only three of the “band” members so it didn’t really count. It was me and a whole bunch of overweight women in their 40s wearing sweatshirts with cats silkscreened on them. I was DEVASTATED when I learned that The Monkees were a manufactured band and they weren’t real musicians. It was a real “There is no God!” moment for me.
So it made sense to me even at a young age that I loved music so much that I should be a musician. I loved guitars. That’s what I would play. I would become a guitarist. My mom looked around for places and found me a spot with a woman at a music store that is now a used car lot. This was in late June of 1989. It was already getting hot. The night before my first guitar lesson a friend of the family brought over a basket of peaches from his trees. He lived out in the boonies and had a lot of land. Granite Falls. Back then it was a quaint small town. Now it’s a haven for cooking meth.
I ate one peach. Best damn peach ever. Juicy but not squishy. I ate that first one and figured 7 more would hit the spot. Peaches were healthy. I was being a healthy kid.
That was also the summer I discovered the band Def Leppard. (My spell check just had a mini stroke when I wrote Def Leppard. I can hear it crying somewhere inside, a small voice screaming “That is not how you spell deaf or leopard. Jesus Christ.”) My obsession for their music knew no bounds. I was going to learn every single song of theirs. I liked all of the band members but mostly had my eye (and ears) on the two guitarists. Thank God that at 11 I didn’t really know what to do with my overwhelming crush. I didn’t know about stalking or fan fiction. It’s taken me over 20 years to realize I didn’t want to be the girlfriend of the guitar players in Def Leppard. I wanted to BE them. Not in a creepy “It puts the lotion on its skin or it gets the hose again” way. I loved their music. I loved the way they played guitar. I should be in their band.
(Note to self: you’ve had so many crushes over so many years. Now think carefully. Did you want to be in a relationship with these crushes or did you want to be them? Oh shit. Well, in my defense at the age of 11 I felt like I could be their equal musically. I didn’t suffer from cripplingly low self-esteem yet. I didn’t want to actually kill them to get a spot in the band. My 11 year old brain reasoned “You know what? Once they see how awesome I am at playing guitar one or both will fall in love with me or at least want to hang out.” Made sense at the time.)
Okay. Back on track. It’s 1989 and the beginning of a hot summer. I’m stoked about my first guitar lesson. We had an old acoustic guitar I’d pluck away at. I packed it up on Saturday morning after what we now call “The Peach Incident” and Mom took me to my lesson. The woman who was my teacher was ancient and had long fingernails. I studied her long nails and could feel those peaches arguing in my stomach. It felt like vases and dishes were being thrown at walls in my stomach. Huh.
I dropped my guitar case and ran outside to the car where I threw up. Wow. That was a lot of peaches. Just….wow.
Mom came out of the music store to make sure I was okay. I was not. She packed her mess of a kid and the guitar and drove home, maybe a little faster after I said I could feel another exorcist-worthy spew fest coming on.
She got me home in time. We had one bathroom and thank you sweet Baby Jesus no one was in it. I was burning up from the hot day and from throwing up my own mini peach orchard. I threw up some more. And then my body upped the ante. Puking? Nah. That’s for amateurs. Puking and shitting? You’re an overachiever, Jennifer! I sat on the edge of the tub, the most comfortable position to lean over the toilet. Nope. You peaches are coming out but not the way you came in. They were tired of being thrown up. This time they decided to evacuate my body South of the border.
Next thing I know I’m shitting in the bathtub and throwing up. Oh yeah. That was also the year I got my period so I was puking, pooping, and perioding (yeah, I know that’s not a real word…spell-check just had another mini stroke). My mother, who could have yelled at me about eating all those peaches, that I deserved the humiliation of throwing up in public and then shitting in the bathtub, cleaned me up, cleaned the tub and put me to bed. I know everyone feels like their mother is a saint but I know I’m right about mine. Here she had her hands full with a kid that was exploding from all ends and she made sure I was tucked into bed and turned the TV on to MTV. Remember when MTV used to play music videos? They did when I was 11. I watched Def Leppard’s Hysteria video. I kinda fell even more in love with their guitarist Steve Clark. But it was my first (but not my last) brush with an inexplicable sadness. I didn’t even make it through my first guitar lesson. I pooped in the bathtub. I was such a loser.
I eventually went to my guitar lessons, rolling my eyes at having to learn Row, Row, Row Your Boat and Buffalo Gals from that ancient woman with the Dolly Parton fingernails. I went on to other lessons from different teachers, each of them giving me parts of music to put together for myself. I was actually an okay guitar player. I could (and sometimes still can) play music by ear, pick out melodies and play them on a piano or a guitar. I wasn’t a musical prodigy (since I’m pretty sure none of them shit in a bathtub) but if I loved a song enough I would find a way to pick out the notes and play them for myself.
I’ve been listening to A LOT of Def Leppard in the last two weeks. I don’t know why. Their Hysteria and Pyromania CDs have been living with a bunch of other forgotten about CDs in a desk drawer. I opened that drawer one day, looking for something else and there were my Def Leppard CDs. The first album I owned (and still have somewhere) was Pyromania. My favorite song on that one was Photograph. I decided to put all of their music on my MP3 player and I’ve been getting into my “way back then” time machine every time I play one of their songs. I have them to thank for a love of T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, Thin Lizzy and other glam rock bands.
I stopped wanting to be a guitar player or any kind of musician when I was 13. That shit was hard work. I didn’t want to have to practice 3 hours a day. I just wanted to learn how to play Photograph. I discovered writing. Well, the Sumerians did that. Or was that the Mesopotamians? Shit. Anyway, I liked the act of putting words onto paper. I didn’t write song lyrics and I wasn’t into poetry. All the songs and poems have been written, in my eyes. Steve Clark, the shy and quiet lead guitarist for Def Leppard died when he was 30 from alcoholism. I was almost 14 at the time and had moved on to other music but I cried a little when I heard about his death because even if he’d been my music hero he wasn’t allowed to be a flawed human. My almost 14 year old brain didn’t understand that just because a person had this enormous talent it still didn’t mean they could find comfort and solace with it, that their talent would keep them from self-destructing.
I lived, breathed, puked, shit their music. I had dozens upon dozens of their posters and photographs ripped out of magazines and taped on my walls when I was 11. But last week sitting in front of my computer at work I couldn’t really remember what any of them looked like. I couldn’t bring up any of their faces, especially Steve Clark’s. I don’t know if the inability to remember his face was something my brain did to help bury the pain of his death or my brain was already filled to capacity with other memories. I googled him and his face came back to me: a sweet man’s face, a face that I looked at with a 36 year old’s eyes and thought “Oh yeah. Something was dogging that poor man’s soul.” I felt a grown-up’s aching pain in my chest as I looked at his face. I didn’t have the words then, not at the age of 13. We all fuck up for reasons that are a mystery to us and a mystery to others as well. Back then I was angry that a man who had been a musical god to me had let himself die, had basically committed suicide. Last week, all I could think looking at his picture was “You poor, hurting man. What you put yourself through, what you put your loved ones through.”
I stopped listening to Def Leppard after he died and they brought in a guy named Viv. I’m sure he was an excellent guitar player but I was having none of it. I packed that part of me away. I packed away a lot of things that year, some I’m re-discovering little by little. Some things I dug up I’m reburying. There’s no place in my life for some memories but they’re like splinters: they’ll try to work themselves out somehow.
As for peaches? I didn’t eat a peach or anything peach flavored until I was in my 20s. You think it’s traumatizing when a God of Rock dies? Try shitting down the side of a bathtub.