One of my favorite songs is actually one of the least played for the group: “The Real Me” by the Who, from their often-underrated album Quadrophenia. I’m not some renegade on a scooter driving around looking to avenge the destruction of my machine, though, I just always related to the tone of the song.
Can you see the real me, can you? Can you?
When I was young, and I’m talking very young, high school and early college, I really didn’t think people could. I knew who I wanted to be, I even could see myself, guitar slinger extraordinaire, with the writing and journalist thing on the side to keep me grounded. We had a consultant once tell us that, other than praying we wouldn’t lose it and just fall apart going to black instead of on-air, we needed some sort of real goal. Something that was finite we could strive toward. I jokingly put I want to win an Emmy and a Grammy, not necessarily in that order. The consultant thought I was dead serious, looking to that as a very lofty but worthwhile goal. We all laughed.
But when I met Andrea, I really didn’t have to hide my thoughts and ideas with that kind of sarcasm or humor. She saw the real me. The one thing that kind of got pushed to the side, though, was the musician part. Not music, it played throughout our house, I had my Dobro hanging on the wall, but Andrea just did not anticipate what it would be like being married to a musician. When we first started going out, I was in a band, paying an ill-fated gig opening for the one-hit-wonder a*%hole band Foghat (who stiffed us the mere pittance of $3-400).
But once we were really going out, the times where we spent nearly every night together, the whirlwind, amazing, emotional time where you think all your love’s flaws are actually cute, I’d left that band. I wasn’t a gigging musician any more. Then we were married, and while I had that old band play my reception (their wedding gift to us!) and my brother sat in with them, it still hadn’t sunk in to her. Even after I wrote her a song and (yes, I did, you can’t ignore it!) serenaded her on the dance floor, she always thought it was just a phase.
Still, the itch hit me hard, and I started playing with that same-said Omaha band again, and Andrea even helped me gain the confidence to start my own group, something that got a gig far too quickly and with only me and drummer at the time. I was starting from scratch and it drove her nuts that I was working on starting this band on my own. We started getting contracts for gigs, even playing a lucrative night on . . . Valentine’s Day. Now, most guys will say the same as I do, I think, when you ask if it’s OK and your wife says “sure, no problem, what a great opportunity,” you should know full well that even though you know deep down, in your heart of hearts, that this is a made-up Hallmark holiday, that she would want more than anything else for you to NOT be at a gig but at home. Last-minute, the night of Valentine’s Day, the bar had over-booked the night. The act they had before us decided to go very long, have technical issues and the bar was a mess. Nobody stayed, even our fans had left thinking they’d gotten the night wrong. When the manager asked us if we could wait another hour before we hit the stage I told him to stick it and we left. I still had time to head to the store, get something for Andrea and have a semi-romantic evening.
We did, of course. She kind of forgave me, but not fully. I made a fancy dinner, filet mignon, asparagus, whole nine yards. I’d gotten her a bracelet, something I had seen her looking at through the jewelry store window about a month before. If you wonder how I could be so insensitive, so stupid, so naive, you have to see things from a 22-year-old Midwestern boy’s perspective. I had gigged and taken all these nights playing to pay for said diamond bracelet. I was hoping it would lessen the blow, not that it would take the place of the night. My reasoning was that I had a contract, a full-on legal commitment to play unless they screwed up and we were able to leave, which happened.
Andrea, you see, had a paranoia about musicians. She’d married one, even if he was part-time, but her father had informed her that the life was horrible, the hours awful, that they’re never home, that I couldn’t make it and gave her horror stories of what her life would be like. None of which, of course, took into account whether I would actually think of going on-tour or the fact that he’d been a musician prior to marriage and in the 1950’s. So many incorrect factors but the influence your father crushing her heart into getting angry with me for every transgression that involved music.
But this night, that first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, she wasn’t mad I was a musician, she wanted me to spend the whole night with her. She didn’t want surprises, but I wanted to give them to her. I gave her the bracelet, which she promptly returned to get the one she really wanted. It didn’t make me mad, just made me wonder why she’d been looking at the thing in the first place. She didn’t really have an answer for me. But she came over, sat on my lap, and kissed me, finally apologizing that the show got cancelled, and I think she really meant it.
She also unbuttoned her shirt a little and showed me the lingerie she’d bought me for my gift. It was worth far more than the diamonds.
Then we had Abbi . . . November 3rd. (I won’t do the math for you.)
I worked in an industrial video department at an insurance company and I realized it was going nowhere. I was watching my life rust. I decided it was time to do something drastic. So I went back to news, back to storytelling. I worked part-time at the first station I’d worked all over again. I delivered newspapers at 2am, just so Andrea could go back to school and become a Pharmacist, and gigged as many weekends as I could get. We ate some weeks because of those gigs.
As time wore on and I moved, the musician in me glowed but hadn’t burned for some time. The guitars were relegated to a back room, often kept in their cases, played occasionally. I hated it but was never well enough established to be able to play even part-time again.
But after I lost Andrea, the one thing I gladly made that adjustment for, I needed something, anything to figure out what I was doing. In the days and weeks after the funeral I found myself, during my inability to sleep, holding and playing a guitar again, like it was part of my arm, an outlet that I didn’t have. I wrote songs, a lot of music, one full piece that I recorded with my brother just a couple months ago. It was like, without Andrea here, the literal better half, I needed something to release that part of my day. I’d never thought I’d be a full-time, touring, massive star of a musician. I just felt most comfortable there, on a stage in front of a group of strangers. It’s easier than laying your soul bare in front of a single person. Andrea didn’t make me feel that way. I told her everything, made decisions, felt like myself.
She saw the real me.
Now that she’s gone, I can only do what I know. I can keep the house – well, a lot of the time. The laundry’s a mess and the kitchen needs cleaning, but we’re able to walk in the house – but I still need that something, an outlet, something to push those problems out and away. So I went to what I know, what is part of me. I am not the person I was before I met Andrea, I didn’t revert to being too shy, too quiet and without any self-confidence. I need to lose some pounds, need to feel better about myself, sure, but I’m not afraid to talk to people or have a pleasant conversation. I’m . . . me.
So last night, I set up the last of the guitar stands and put what I have out for me to play when and wherever I wanted. My amplifier sits in the living room under the alcove with our television, directly between the stereo speakers. “Wow, it looks like a museum in here,” said Sam, meaning it in the best of terms. They knew I had the guitars, and they’re not sprawling in the house everywhere, they’re just accessible now. Part of me.
Tonight, my kids all helped me, one with pliers, another with a flashlight, one with parts, another collecting the leftover stripped wire, and I replaced parts of one of my guitars with new pieces. They all watched, it’s now normal. Where they fought thinking it a little unlike our normal lives, our normal lives changed, drastically. There’s no reason for us to live in the past, though I still…do more than I should.
But as I put the last pieces back on my Fender Esprit, they all looked at me and asked “well what’s it sound like Dad?!”
It may be a little different. May not be the typical household you might all think about, but we ceased being that normal household in March. It is one of the things that separates this story from the last one, the move to try and get going to where we need to be. To laugh, to love, to sing, and make new memories that don’t have us looking backwards and wondering how much better they’d be with her here.
Now our home is what it needs to be and my kids can see it. They understand, and they see the real me.