The Tom Tragedy: A Lesson on Counting Your Eggs

Oh, Tom. When I think back to  you I am weakened by the story of your spoiled potential.  You were petty friend lost to the zoo of premature success.

The Birth and Death of a Rockstar

Tom was one of those success stories that turned out not to be a success at all.  You see I first met him my freshman year of High School.   He was sitting in front of the library plucking the steel strings of this rusty old guitar.  Back then  I knew a thing or two about guitar so I grabbed it out of his hand.
“Here let me show you how to work it,” I only knew a few chords but I could strum them with acute precision.

He looked at the guitar like I had just turned it to gold.

“Can you teach me to do that?”

“I don’t have time right now,” I said handing it back to him pretentiously and  feeling like Jimi Hendrix.

A little about my short career as a guitarist:   You see, looking back I didn’t take guitar THAT seriously.  People acted amazed when it appeared you knew what you were doing.  I liked that people adored me for the few songs that I COULD play.  However I was like Peter Keating in Ayn Rands “The Fountainhead”.  I liked the stature that knowing the guitar gave me yet lacked the passion to put in the time or effort it took for mastery.  Basically I just wanted to know enough to get by so people would like me.

However Tom was more like the Howard Roarke.  He had this passion for the instrument that seemed a genuine romance.  I’d see him putting in the time and every time that banjoey timber sounded a little bit better.   He spent ALL his time playing that thing.   After we became friends as I was walking up his driveway I would always hear the sound of music wafting from out his room.

note: When you first take up a vocation you are always the first to fall in love with your craft.  It’s a one sided love at first…this is natural.   You dedicate yourself to this one thing and it is only after molding the craft, refining your technique and spending hours honing your skills that slowly this craft that you’ve devoted your time to begins to love you back.   

The Dawn of the Stratocaster

roland-g-5-vg-fender-stratocaster-630-80 2

By sophomore year Tom and I had become good friends.  Anyone and everyone who could play guitar at the school would eventually find themselves being personally interviewed by Tom and a friendship being established.  He started as our student but little did we know he was sizing us all up.

On Christmas of our Junior year Tom’s mom bought him a Stratocaster guitar. Now Tom was already pumping music out of that rinky dink guitar.   All those years of playing on that dirty hobo instrument had refined his fingers to precision bullets: In his hands that Stratocaster purred.

  note: A bad carpenter blames his tools (meaning a good carpenter can work with anything)   

By Senior year he was literally shredding the guitar:

  • He won the battle of the bands
  • He played at the party of the century (seriously this party got so out of hand this girl called the cops on her own party)
  • He was about to sign a deal with a small time record company
  • He appeared on the news.

All this attention was starting to make him popular.  I mean he was dating one of the most popular girls in school.  Yet the problem with High School is that it creates this self contained small scale society.  Hierarchical elements emerge and a highly stratified caste system dominates the social landscape.   The bottom feeders tend to have a better ability to stand outside of the social order and handle the rigors of the hierarchy(they know it is not a reflection of mainstream society).  Thats why there are so many kids that are “cool” in High School and end up working at Mcdonalds for the rest of their life. They thought High School was “real.”  Now Tom was becoming a “cool” kid.  This was the worst thing for him and his Guitar career.

Soon after his success I noticed that when I would go visit him I there was no more music coming from his room.  Not even the sound of him tuning up the strings.  Just the wind moving through the trees.

“Thats incredibly Odd,” I thought to myself.

After Colllege his parents sent him away to Music school.  I did go to visit him once in his apartment in Hollywood and it was a sorry sight.

When I walked in I was hit by the aroma of beer stained couch seat pillows and a ceiling that had probably been soaking up years of Cigarette Smoke.  His instruments lay dormant in the corner of the room as he lay on the couch. His guitar was cold.

I noticed a used needle on the table in front of him (heroine).

“Dave,” He said reaching out a hand.

“Why aren’t you playing your guitar?”  I said.

“I played it this morning,” he said with a take it or leave  it timber in his voice. I knew he was on drugs,   his defunct brainwaves were making his derailment show.

Eventually he got kicked out music school for excessive use of drugs and alcohol.  The last I heard of him he was living in his car.

ultimately this is a lesson in counting your eggs before they hatch.  If your going to be a rockstar realize that you have to make something of yourself first before you start the party.

“If you start out by promising what you don’t even have yet, you’ll lose your desire to work toward getting it.” 

-Paulo Coelho

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