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Like A Road, Leading Home…

Mike Lawson • Perspective • January 10, 2020

This issue marks the beginning of my sixth year as editor of SBO, the end of my fifth, and a small but significant milestone for me.

I think back to how I got here, editing a magazine for the only teachers I really ever enjoyed having as a student. I think about my earliest general music classes over six years at Lucille Moore Elementary School with Mrs. Sullivan. I think about the magic of an era before videos games at home were very common, where playing them meant needing a pocketful of quarters and going to an arcade. I think about my attempts to play alto saxophone in beginner band in junior high school. When I got frustrated with the sax, or “strongly discouraged” by my older brother to not attempt to practice it if he was within two blocks of the house, I could pick up my guitar and satisfy my need to make music. I could sing while playing it, which with sax, is an either-or and not simultaneous activity. I think about that first band director, Fred Boswell, our butting heads because of my lack of progress versus his expectations, and my desire to not advertise that things were perhaps not so happy at home, which hindered a lot of my academic potential at the time. I eventually dropped out of marching band and doubled down on all things strings and frets.

My first guitar was purchased by my mother for me on my ninth birthday from the local K-Mart. It was a ghastly little 3/4 size acoustic with a bright red sunburst and a double pickguard, which was important to me, because I am left-handed, and I could string it left-handed and it did not look upside-down. Within a year, somebody pointed out that I was not going to have very many options for cool guitars and would have to turn them over like Jimi Hendrix or McCartney if I stayed left-handed. At 10, I went home from Leitz Music, my local store where I had observed that only one lefty guitar was for sale out of probably 50, and restrung mine right-handed, and started over. I got a better, dreadnaught-sized acoustic from the Sears catalog at age 12. Within a few months, it was quietly replaced by my mother with one that looked very similar to it, when my brother kicked it and the side was cracked. My mother didn’t want my father knowing it had been damaged, desperately wanting to spare an ugly scene at home. And it was with that Alvarez 5222 acoustic guitar that I played many of my first gigs. It was a mother’s love that got me my first guitars, drove me to the store, or let me take a city bus to one, to buy strings and picks. It was my mom who bought me cut-out-bin live Sha Na Na records crammed full of 1950s early rock and doo-wop covers, that allowed me to plant roots in hundreds of songs that helped me set out performing at clubs as a teen. The road from those days to today is a long one, high roads, low roads, twists, turns, and dangerous curves along the way. What a long strange trip it’s been. And it was possible in its earliest forms, from taking me to choir practice at church and school, picking me up from school jazz band practice, to getting me instruments, letting my teen bands practice at my house, and more, because of my mom.

She passed on the third of December, about 12 hours before I had to get on a plane for NYSSMA. Her final wish was cremation and placement in the water in Florida where I grew up. When I arrived in Rochester the next day from Nashville, my rental car had Florida plates.

Thanks for everything, mom. I haven’t forgotten, and I won’t forget.

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