Thanks to gifts of guitars from my maternal grandparents to my parents, being allowed to play them as much as I wanted to, the extraordinary experience listening to the Houston Symphony at Jones Hall and Mrs. Durfee's subsequent formal influence in junior high orchestra class, music afforded a rich, private world of auditory wonders I could happily escape into exploring notes and chords to spin melodies and harmonies for hours at a time. I was spending so much time alone in that world in my early teens my parents worried I had discovered and started doing drugs, but I wasn't. The sounds of music coming from the instruments as I strummed and plucked at them were all the high I needed, effectively carrying me into deep trancelike states more addictive than any drink or drug ever experienced later in life. I remember playing for a next door neighbor on our front porch one day while still living in Bellaire and falling into a trance only to be startled out of it by him shaking me and telling me in a quiet, concerned voice "Hey! Hey, man. You're drooling on your guitar!". I was so embarrassed but he understood, just saying "Wow, you were really getting into it," instead of making fun or ridiculing.
About the time I started learning to play 5-string banjo at fourteen, I met a kid named Scott at school in Midland who reminded me of a friend from grade school in Sayre named Ricky. They weren't at all alike in appearance (except that they both had straight, blond hair), but they both had a great sense of humor and exuberance for life that made them a pleasure to be with. Ricky befriended me in third grade, Scott in ninth grade and they both introduced me to family and friends who revealed musical paths in life I never would have taken without having known them.
The same year I met Scott, Ricky reintroduced me to his older and younger brothers–Jimmy and Gary–who both played guitar, and his little sister Sherry, their parents Betty and Winston, grandmother Beulah and their dogs Teeny, Tramp, Lady and Bobby. More about them and their strong influence (and limitless tolerance of me) later.
Scott introduced me to a bunch of his friends who were all in a local children's theater group and they talked me into going with them one day after school to the theater for auditions. I knew nothing about theater and didn't know what to expect or what I was getting into. Scott and his friends were so crazy and energetic. We had seen their theater group down at a park near our new house doing something weird as we drove into town for the first time ever that summer. Dad had groaned aloud upon spotting them and pointed, saying "Look at the hippies playing in the park. They're probably all doped up!". We giggled together as a family. Dad has mellowed a lot since then, thanks in part to them. So I was a little apprehensive about the auditions. I just hoped it wasn't going to be like school because I hated school.
It wasn't anything like school. The children's theater director, Ed Graczyk, put us on stage individually and in groups to perform different ways including free-form improvisation, which was fun because there were no rules we had to follow to do that. One kid named Bryce did an amazing rapid-fire solo performance of The Wizard of Oz, acting through each scene and playing each part in character. This was near the end of 1969 when rules were starting to grate on the nerves of teenagers whose only firm prospect in life was to soon be drafted into US armed forces and go fight the endlessly bloody war in Vietnam.
That day of auditions at the Midland Community Theater I happened to have my 12-string guitar with me (Scott had asked me the day before to bring it to school and I can remember him holding it for me, chewing on the handle of the guitar case as we rode the bus from school to the theater–the nut). Mr. Graczyk at one point asked me to go up on stage alone and play a couple of tunes, anything I wanted to play. So I played House of the Rising Sun (just the music, no singing) and Classical Gas as best I could without drooling all over the place. He seemed to like it, I was granted a scholarship to be in the Pickwick Players when I told him I couldn't pay the tuition fees and he teamed me up with Gerry Pyle who played keyboard and composed music for all of his original plays. Mr. Graczyk had been working on a musical at that time titled "Electric Folderol" which called for a rock band to appear up on stage on a raised platform wrapped in mirror mylar throughout the play (instead of down in the orchestra pit), playing Gerry's original backing music for singers as the scenes of the play unfolded below. I did my best playing electric guitar parts from Gerry's hand-scribed scores, but it was scary and Mr. Graczyk kept having to urge me to turn up the volume on my guitar.
A few days before the closing performance of the play I found out the group had a tradition of having a party to celebrate the achievement. Bill–a Pickwick Players friend (and lead role actor in the play) I was staying with at the time while my family went on a camping trip in New Mexico–urged me during a group meeting at the theater to ask my parents if we could have it at our house. Bill and I had been fiddling around with my Dad's reel-to-reel tape recorder and Bill had taken up guitar while I was staying at his home. We had grown fond of each other's company so I told everyone I would ask but doubted they would go for it, revealing that my father thought Mr. Graczyk was gay. I had a bad habit of speaking too quickly and frankly at that age and immediately regretted saying what I had just said, fearing I had offended Mr. Graczyk. But he just laughed heartily at my blurted statement then promised to be as butch as possible if my family ended up hosting the party. Which we did.
Mom and Dad went to the closing performance of the play and after it was over, the entire cast and crew trooped right over to our house en masse. The party was a blast. Mom provided lots of snacks and drinks and Dad seemed to actually enjoy the spoof of the play the cast put on out in the back yard–performed by the "hippies" we had seen down at the park on our first day in town. I was enthralled by it all myself and forgot to keep an eye on Mr. Graczyk during the party to see how someone acted butch, but after it was over my parents seemed to have enjoyed it. They actually seemed to have softened a bit that night too.
All in all, that experience was significant and positive. It stoked my enthusiasm to become a professional musician somehow, actually earning a living performing my own original music somewhere, possibly even making a record album in a recording studio someday. So I began writing my own music and songs in earnest, recording them for posterity on Dad's reel-to-reel.
Almost fifty years later, I'm still writing original pieces. I just cranked one out today after having one of those ultra-vivid daytime dreams while napping after lunch. A dream so vivid I was compelled from the moment I woke up to get the dream story expressed in music and words.
We found a portal behind a huge pile of guano in a cave called Jester.
Jet black in the center and blue around the edges, we stepped through without hesitation.
Not a brilliant move, but it was worth it.
~ . ~
On the other side we met these pale-skinned imps, who were wearing bright, white boxer shorts with little red devils printed on 'em.
My youngest brother commented on how much he liked their style and they smiled and fed us food and drink . . . like nothing we'd ever had before.
Then things really began to get strange.
~ . ~
They marched out a pair of giant, blind white crawfish that started dancing the Macarena right there in front of us.
We didn't know what to think.
My middle brother fished down in his pockets, pulled out some change and tossed the coins at the feet of the dancing crawfish.
~ . ~
This seemed to go over pretty well and there were cheers all around as the party carried on throughout the night.
At one point blind catfish flew into the chamber and handed out party hats made of bat wings.
We all donned the party hats and posed with each other and with the catfish and crawfish for selfies.
Then the little imps all fell asleep.
We exited the cave.
~ . ~
Back outside, we looked at each other and wondered if what we had just experienced had really happened.
Then we started laughing.
We were still wearing the batwing hats.