Smell is the sense that triggers the most vivid memories.
The year is 1964, and “Meet the Beatles” sweeps the United States like a fire cleansing a mountain. Even the sleepy village of Painesville, Ohio gets scorched. By summer ’64, little six-year old Jimmy here probably listened to that record a hundred times. A thousand. I wanted to grow my hair long. I wanted a grey collarless suit with black piping. By the fall, I had convinced Mom to get me guitar lessons.
The big store in downtown Painesville was Carlisle’s. It was your classic department store, everything from fashions to appliances, and it was so big that it had a front door on the town square, and a back door that gave out into the parking lot on East Washington Street. Right next door to Carlisle’s was the only music store in town – I think it might have been called Pfabe’s.
Mom marched me in there and rented a nylon-string guitar. It came with a leather strap. She bought the requisite Mel Bay big-note primer and a couple of really thin picks, and I was on my way.
I can still remember the smell of that guitar and its leather strap.
John Winston Lennon, it’s all your fault.
I wanted to play “Tell Me Why”, and all I could coax out of that guitar was a single-note rendition of “Red River Valley”. I wanted to rock “Twist and Shout”, but those flappy nylon strings made El Kabong noises. I tried a G-chord, but my fingers were too small.
The lessons stopped when we moved around, but the influx of Beatles records didn’t until “Let It Be”. I was a Manson-family fearing young teen hippie by then, protesting the war and trying to play drums, and the hot summer riots were only just beginning to recede in the rear view mirror. It was Nixon-time in the U.S, and Kent State lay before us. Paul “quit” the group, and I was just sad, but I can’t say I was surprised. We all knew it – the Beatles were spent.
Years later at parties, if someone asked me “Beatles or Stones” instantly I’d blurt “Beatles!”, as if anyone could ask such a thing. Really.
John, I love you, and I love the guitar the way you do. Every once in a while, I come across a guitar that has that same old deep wooden smell, and I think of you. You’ve taught me so much. How can I ever repay you?