I have long wanted to talk a bit about how being a bass player was a transformative event in my life. With the reader’s indulgence and patience, I will set my hand to relating a story that is to me, intensely personal, heart wrenching, and ultimately completely celebratory. God give me grace to get it across.
Setting the Scene
I grew up in a large Catholic family in Southfield Michigan. A typical suburban city outside of Detroit. My mom was a committed Catholic, and we went to church every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, like the Feast of the Circumcision. A day which we always kind of scratched our heads and said “we’re going to church for that?” So, it was normal for us to be enrolled in Catholic school. I went to St. Bede’s, which was a very modern, progressive, Vatican II kind of congregation. We had a long haired priest (Father Dennis Bagley) and we even had Guitar Mass, which featured guitars and (gasp!) drums in church back in 1970. The school was great for me, and I was just an average kid with no particular issues or hang-ups. Pretty well adjusted.
Then, change happened. My parents (whose marriage was beginning to show serious signs of distress) decided that they could no longer afford to keep all five of us kids in Catholic school, so we were sent to the local Public Elementary School. Evergreen Elementary. I had gone to Kindergarten at Evergreen, as St. Bedes didn’t offer it, so the school was familiar. As I entered my first day of fourth grade, I had the normal fears and anxieties of any nine year old. Even though this school was in my neighborhood, none of my friends went there. My best friend next door had just moved away, and all my other friends went to St. Bede’s. School was going to be a very new experience. My first day started out well, until about the third period. I pulled out my glasses, which boasted standard issue turbo-geek styling and put them on so I could see the blackboard. I was already pretty blind without them. I had attracted the attention of one of the fourth grade bullies. This provoked a chorus of insults and chiding that were more than good-natured jibes. They were cutting, cruel, mean public school put downs. They went straight to my heart. I wasn’t used to this. St. Bede’s never allowed that kind of crap. Demands for my lunch money started. Then threats, mockery and cruel comments. I remember the fear and hatred that I felt toward this person. I can still feel it today. I told my Dad about this on one of the nights he came home. He made me feel ashamed that I was being picked on. I shouldn’t be such a wimp. I felt completely outnumbered, though. This kid was popular, he had friends. He had been at this school since Kindergarten. I was the new weird kid who wore glasses, and I had no friends. Once you demonstrate weakness, the sharks smell blood in the water, and they begin to circle. I began to sit alone at lunch, and slide into a very passive and quiet demeanor. I just didn’t want anyone to notice me, because if they did, it was always bad. Better to be ignored and sneak through the days. I was to make a terrible decision that made things even worse.
Our school made the announcement that there was going to be a fashion show, and they were looking for boys and girls to be models at this event. I had no idea what a fashion show was, and somehow, my name wound up on the short list and I was selected. As a fourth grader, I was the oldest boy that would be in this fashion show. Oh, and by the way, it was going to be held in the school gym. I went to Jacobsen’s with my mom and picked out some clothes. I had no idea what awaited me. On the night of the fashion show, the gym was absolutely packed. I remember looking out and seeing all these people, adults, my classmates, it seemed like all of Southeast Michigan had showed up. Why my parents ever let me get involved in this is beyond me. I had to go out not once, but twice and model. This was as bad as you are imagining it to be. The humiliation and mockery started even that night, as some of the fourth grade kids were there, and I became the lightning rod and the object of negative attention in a major way. I became “the fag who picked his nose in the fashion show”. The die was cast, and my school career was to be nothing short of unrelieved misery until my senior year.
But something else happened. Something that was to alter my career, though at the time I didn’t know it. Like when Bilbo found the ring. It would become my ticket out of this hellhole that my life had become. It was an event that divides my life into two sections. BB and AB. Before Bass and After Bass. I was in store for a seismic change.