Aiming For the Top

Aiming for the Top

When I was in 7th grade, I think 12 years old, I lived in Nottingham NH. Essentially the town consists of woods, farms, ranches, and a nice lake called Pawtuckaway. Nearest neighbors were 1/2 a mile down the road.

One day a kid moved in a few houses down named David Wagner. He played the drums and had been playing since he was 7, so he was actually really good. He used to play along to songs like “Fly Like an Eagle.” I was really impressed. I’d sit there banging out the rhythm on his BB gun. I decided I wanted to play guitar.

I earned $25 helping my folks tear down a wood shed and haul it off to the dump. I spent the money on a cheap, used acoustic guitar. My mom had a song book with stuff like “Coming Around the Mountain” and “On Top of Old Smokey.” I holed up in my little kid bedroom and taught myself how to play guitar.

After a few weeks, my folks had a guy over that played guitar who offered to give me some free lessons. His name was Dick Norton. He was a delta blues and swamp rock player. He taught me some Tony Joe White music like “Polk Salad Annie” and “Eudora.” Then I brought in a Radio Shack cassette player with some Steve Miller songs that I recorded off the radio and asked him if he could teach me “Take The Money and Run” and “Jet Airliner” which he did. (I was amazed that he could just listen to the song and then play it. Today I pride myself on being able to sit in with people and play music I’ve never heard before.)

As I got better, I found that I loved to sit around and make up chord changes. I would record my original music on the cassette player, and then play lead guitar along with the grooves.

My dad saw that I was getting serious about it and bought me a used electric guitar and amp. When Dave, my drummer friend, saw me getting half decent at playing guitar he decided he wanted to play guitar too. We’re still friends to this day, some 40 years later. He plays guitar in a band in Phoenix called Tripwire. He played drums on “Come Take My Hand.”

That’s a quick synopsis of how I got started in music. But it’s not really the point of this post.

Dave and I and our friend “Stumpy” were walking down a country road one winter day, doing kid things of the day like throwing rocks at trees. So I picked up a rock and I proclaimed with confidence, “I’m going to bounce this rock off the top of that telephone pole.” I launched the rock. It bounced squarely off the top of the telephone pole. We were all amazed and high fives ensued.

When I made the claim that I was going to do it, I knew the odds were pretty slim of me actually hitting the top. But if I were just aiming ten feet up on the side of the pole, the odds of me hitting the top would have been zero. By aiming at the top, I could have hit anywhere on the pole and been happy that I came close.

So, here I am 40 years later. I’m walking down a new road with new friends doing new things. At the age of 50 I decided to make the leap to becoming a full-time musician. A year later I made the leap to becoming a full-time solo artist. A year after that I made the leap to becoming a professional songwriter. I’ve never felt so clearly focused in my life. This is my life’s passion and it’s been staring me in the face since I was 12.

Songwriting is my rock and the movie, video game, and music business is my telephone pole. I’m not aiming to be just one of millions of songwriters. I’ve told my friends that I’m aiming for the top of the pole. Getting someone big to record one of my songs, or getting one in a blockbuster movie or video game is the top of the pole. I know the odds of me hitting the very top are slim, but I’m sure that if I keep a laser focus I’ll hit pretty high up on the pole. If I were to just aim at eye level that’s as high as I’ll go.

Every day I visualize that rock bouncing off the top of that telephone pole, and the amazement I will feel when it happens, and the friendly high fives that will ensue.

I’ve already made a good paycheck on one my songs. I know hundreds of songwriters and very few have ever had any kind of publishing deal, so I feel very proud of achieving that early on. I earned enough to record my best 4 songs professionally, giving me more and better stones to throw.

I will soon have the second rock in my hand, ready to pitch. I’ll be aiming for the very top of the pole. And I’m going to keep throwing rocks as high as I can until I bounce one off the top.