Of Music, Manners, & Dreams...
I’d like to talk about instruments and the social trappings that can be attached to them. In order to explore that subject to the depth I’d like, and to do so from my own experience, I'll have to mention a particular brand. Before I begin, I’d like to make the statement that I have nothing against that particular brand and think they are a fine brand. My discussion is about people and attitudes, not about the brand, so please understand that I actually have admiration for the Martin Guitar brand. With that said…
I'm from Dolly Parton country. I grew up in the heart of old-tyme music. No kidding, my hometown literally kicked out the Grand Old Opry in the 1920s because the city fathers “didn't like their kind” and stuck with old-tyme music.
Now, as a result, in my society there was this "rite of passage." Everyone in the community knew you were someone when you "got your Martin." It was simple. An eight-year-old would get up in front of a crowd and play "Soldiers Joy." The farmer next to you, farmer, mind you, not guitarist, would look over at you with a twinkle in his eye and say, "Ain't he something? That there is a Martin guitar. He got his Martin, at eight." It was like some universal musical and spiritual meritocracy existed. If you were good enough, the skies would part and a Martin would descend to you from, uh, I don't know where, because the eight-year-olds surely couldn’t afford them, I don’t think. Clearly a Martin wasn’t something you bought, it was something you earned. A badge of rank bestowed from on high.
Rich kid guitar players got their Martin before the rest of us and I began to notice that it was often before they were any better players than us. That did cause a pinch of doubt to grow in my wondering heart but I was still a believer. I waited for mine. Now, a Martin guitar DID make the rich kids sound better and gave them more audible authority than someone with a Japanese guitar. At least I think it was the guitar. While I was still working my soda jerk job to save up for a decent guitar, the rich kid players flaunted their Martins rather gleefully. In a jamming circle, they'd look you in the eye, smirk, lean into their "lap cannon," and drown out your Japanese plywood special when your turn came. They would also form a clutch while we were jamming and declare to one another that only a Martin was good enough, right amongst the other guys who clearly couldn't afford one. Uh, we're sitting right here... And then there was that look when you opened your case and didn't pull out a Martin. Nevertheless as I got better, it was just assumed that eventually even I would ascend and get my Martin.
Only I didn't. The sky never opened up. I never got my Martin. I never got the badge.
Call it the rebel in me, but once I grew up, every time I had a little pinch of money, I'd get a little twinge inside me and remember those guys and how they made me feel, and then I'd think, "Do you want to be like them? Do you want to be competitive and aggressive and dismissive like them?" Of course, the pragmatist in me has always given all the brands I had access to every chance. It just so happens that whenever I've had money, the best guitar I could find in its class was always something else. And then there's that little twinge, or maybe I'm still a true believer underneath.
Over forty years later, I guess I'm still waiting for the skies to open.