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Music Lesson To Life Lesson And Back To Music.
Just add glue, blood, sweat, and tears. via

Just add glue, blood, sweat, and tears.

Personal history is tricky. Everyone has one and they’re all better than yours.

At least that’s the idea of avoiding writing personal history stories.

How many times have you told of an experience and someone listening says, “The same thing happened to me, except…” and their story is so much better that you regret speaking up?

This one is hard to top. If you’ve lived in the same place long enough, though, it could happen.

It starts with a cup of coffee. There’s so many ways to get coffee that the old fashioned way of walking up and asking for one seems so, well, old fashioned.

Since baby boomers are getting older and need a dose of exercise wherever they can find it, the smart move is skip the princess parking space near the front door and walk across the parking lot.

Skip the drive through, too. What would you rather do, sit behind ten cars pumping exhaust into your air conditioning, or walk to the counter with one person in line?

Take the walk. That’s what I did recently and it turned into something else. What’s the one thing that happens in the drive through, besides getting coffee? Crash into the car in front? Get crashed by the car in back?

In a pre-coffee daze I stood at the counter and asked for a venti with room. That’s Starbucks talk for their biggest cup, but leave room for cream.

The young man behind the counter said, “One venti with room. How’s your son doing?”

If you’ve lived in the same town long enough, it happens. When it does I race through my memory to fix the face to the event. Coached them in soccer? Basketball? Football? Baseball? Indoor soccer? Wrestling?

Kids change in ten years or more, but we don’t. And it’s nice to be recognized minus the “you were an awful coach and you ruined my interest in sports” vibe. But it happens.

Not this time. The millennial face didn’t match my flashback through team pictures, but instead of giving myself a virtual kick in the pants for a failing memory, I figured he had me mistaken for someone else.

But he knew my name and my kid’s name. From where? He seemed like a good guy and I didn’t want to brush it off with a, “alright, good to see you.”

Turns out he was one of my music students. I did a series of guitar classes when my kids were in middle school. Neither of them took the class like I hoped, but enough kids showed up to make it interesting.

One of the students was exceptional, playing and singing her own songs like an 8th grade Mozart. I asked my old student if he remembered the little girl and her guitar. He did. She touched everyone who heard her play.

Here’s why: She played a nicer guitar than anyone in the class. It wasn’t the practice instrument parents buy kids to see if they’ll take to it. Her guitar was professional quality, so was her voice.

One day her mom came to pick her up. I asked about the guitar. Mom choked up. The girl teared up. They told my an awful story of betrayal that sent the son/brother to prison on a weapons charge he was framed into.

He’d been hanging out with new friends. They’d meet at an older guy’s apartment then head to downtown Portland and the all-age clubs.

One night they changed plans and dropped by another apartment house. The older guy took my guitar girl’s brother into the hallway outside a door while the other guys stood outside by the window.

“Okay kid, here’s a gun. You shoot through the door. That’s the signal for the others to start shooting through the window.”

Turns out the older guy recruited kids for his revenge plans, and this night was the big test.

The brother wouldn’t shoot until the older guy told him he’d shoot him in the back and leave him to die in the hallway if he didn’t.

Bang, bang, and my guitar girl’s brother went away to prison. If she had a song for him it might sound like this:

Our family was small, just me and my brother,
happy to live with our single mother,
our daddy died brave, she always said,
not that it matters when dead is dead,
I was still young, but Jim grew up fast,
Going downtown to rave ups and blasts,
He talked about dancing, and how he could spin,
And how much he trusted all his new friends,
They’re just like family, he told me one night,
Stand for each other, won’t run from a fight,
It feels like a dream when we’re all together,
We promise each other we’ll stay tight forever,
My father is gone, and I never knew him,
Mom always said, he looked just like Jim,
Now my brother’s gone too, far far away
Where mom says he’ll meet our daddy one day.
It’s sad and lonely when you don’t have much,
When all that you love you can reach out and touch,
One person missing makes living so hard,
In dreams Jim is walking alone in the yard,
He raises his head to say don’t do what I’ve done,
Get caught in a corner with no place to run,
I miss you my sister and it will never be fair,
With me living here and you living there.
It’s sad and lonely when you don’t have much,
When all that you love you can reach out and touch,
One person missing makes living so hard,
In dreams Jim is walking alone in the yard.


I took the coffee that morning at Starbucks and left, but turned for one more question.

“Do you still play guitar?”

“All the time,” he said. “I teach others to play, too.”

Can you say ‘Make My Day?’

We all leave little trails as we move through life. Sometimes we leave enough crumbs along the way for others to pick up.

The thrill of knowing another person latched onto playing guitar hard enough to keep at it and teach others the basics was no small thrill. Will he be the next Jeff Beck or Eric Clapton? It’s enough that he still plays and remembers where he learned.

Most of the time we don’t know the effect we have on others. All we can do is hope for the best.

What I know for sure is I got the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.

How has music helped you?








About David Gillaspie


  1. Great stuff, man

    • David Gillaspie says:

      You don’t think Beatle George would take offense? When we try and sing our song and it turns out wrong, it’s not the wrong song, it’s a chance to do it again until it sounds right.

      • Or, in George’s words,
        “If you’re listening to this song
        You may think the chords are going wrong
        But they’re not
        He just wrote it like that”

        • David Gillaspie says:

          The right way for George was quiet and thoughtful. At least from what the media revealed. Turns out he was more than an add on to the Beatles. Good for the rest of us to know that when we’re feeling the same way.

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