This is a continuation: part one is here.
After leaving the studio in St. Louis Saturday night, I found myself with the luxury of having absolutely nothing to do until one o’clock the following day. My guitars were locked up, I’d left my laptop at home, and I didn’t have so much as a magazine to read. This was not by accident. Sometimes it’s important to have no plans, to deliberately encounter what I think of as a “null state”.
The Transit Connect and I wandered past Forest Park, where just a few blocks separate gated-off private streets and boarded-up low-income housing. The white panel van is welcome everywhere; it is universally recognized as a vehicle driven by the service class. I waved at a security guard who silently swung a huge wrought-iron barrier out of the way and let me into his deliberately isolated neighborhood. Twenty minutes later, two vicious-looking men in a street full of broken-down cars and idle observers stopped their hand-waving disagreement to let me through. I am nobody in particular. I am here to fix, install, adjust, clean.
The invisibility conferred upon me by this little van made me think of all the times I had felt invisible in my youth, cleaning tables in restaurants, working on construction sites, bagging groceries. I realized that I could stop and sleep anywhere, that this van could come to a halt in an industrial-center parking lot or out in front of the largest home in St. Louis. This was freedom: I am nobody, and I have nothing to do.
From I-170 I saw a parking lot full of Sprinters, overlooking a manufactured lake. It looked calm and quiet, so I pulled in to an empty spot between of the big vans. I rolled the windows down a bit, folded up a pair of jeans to serve as a pillow, and before I could try to relax and fall asleep, I fell asleep. Nine hours later, I woke to the drumming of morning rain on the sheet-steel roof. A few of the Sprinters around me had left. I took a few pictures next to one that remained, just to show just how small the TC really is.
With a few hours to kill, I rolled the Ford down to the Gateway Arch. Although it’s a tiny van, it still doesn’t fit in most parking garages. I had a long walk to the Arch.
In the post-Patriot-Act America, it is necessary to stand in a long line, remove one’s belt, and grovel before security personnel just to enter the area beneath the Arch. Paying ten dollars secured me a ride in a very Tomorrowland-esque little capsule to the top, 630 feet above the river. I thought for a while about the America that would build a stainless-steel arch for no particular reason, and the America that would make you remove your belt to get close to it. They are not the same. I grew up in the former and I cannot stand the latter.
Time to go to the studio, where I had a chance to see inside the old tape machines. The motors that spin the old full-size reels are serious business:
I forgot to mention that there had been a bit of a controversial “Best Of Show” award at ElectraFest the day before. Here’s the nominated lineup:
One of those things is not like the others. The guitar on the far left is an 1982 X145 20th Anniversary Edition, known derisively as a “sparklecaster” by vintage guitar fans. It belongs to me. I didn’t nominate it, and I didn’t vote for it, but it was popular with the people watching ElectraFest over the Internet and it won Best of Show, in a vote that was, ahem, controversial. Color me sparkly-pleased. I also won the raffle and received the 1980 X130 Phoenix:
So I’d arrived with twelve guitars, but I’d be leaving with thirteen. It seemed impossible that the weekend could get any better. I hadn’t reckoned, however, on the sheer pleasure of playing a five-hour jam session with a group of immensely talented musicians. I played guitar briefly for a rendition of Freddie King’s old song “Hideaway”, and I led the group through some of my usual Wednesday lunch-set stuff (“Misty”, “The Nearness Of You”) but in general I played my Phoenix X640 bass because playing guitar in this group was roughly similar to stepping in as point guard for the Celtics.
For the amusement of Andy, the drummer, and myself, we ran through a quick learn-by-doing run of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name”. Yes, it was recorded, but I am not eager to share it, if only because I had to stop halfway through and look up the rest of the song on my Droid. Maybe Steve, the studio engineer, can clean it up…
When Steve announced that it was already past six-thirty and time to shut the studio down, I couldn’t believe how quickly the time had gone. It occurred to me that my fourteen-year-old self, given a chance to look into the future, wouldn’t have been surprised at all to see me playing an Electra in a state-of-the-art studio with a top-notch drummer, but that fourteen-year-old Jack didn’t yet realize that the collision between dreams and reality is often like a motorcyclist running full-speed into a tractor-trailer. I kept telling myself, “This is where Liz Phair stood.” And then I fought the urge to lick the ground. Luckily for me, Maroon 5 came in after Liz Phair, and, well, I’m not as much of a fan of theirs, so thus endeth the dreams of floor-licking.
After a quick load-out into the Transit Connect, during which I was desperately hoping some woman I knew would call so I could nonchalantly say, “Oh, I’m just at the studio, having the guys load the guitars into the van,” it was time to point my nose at Powell, Ohio and head back. I completed the drive in just over six hours, enjoying the road, listening to Robert Cray through the “Ford Work Solutions” head unit, smiling the whole way. I hope the ElectraFest phenomenon stays strong long enough for me to bring my son in ten years’ time or so. Until then, I’ll continue to ride shotgun with my inner child on the long road back to St. Louis Music.