The sun was too bright to be outdoors anywhere but my beloved beach, the playground of my carefree youth, so after lunch with my friend, I stopped on the way home at the Guitar Center that now dominates a corner in West Los Angeles where a Pioneer Chicken stand once stood, and where I once had a memorable experience: I had ingested an hallucinogenic drug, and my friend and future bandmate Ralph bought himself a pastrami sandwich, this before embracing vegetarianism. He was one of those people who would open up and inspect a sandwich prepared for him professionally, whereas my own policy has always been to leave well enough alone. As he removed the top bun to begin his inspection, I, in my altered state, saw the meat wriggling around nervously. I had had far more pleasant experiences under the influence of hallucinogens, but rarely a worse one.
In the old days, before the Internet and Sam Ash’s western expansion, I was accustomed to being treated in the sole LA-area Guitar Center, on Sunset Blvd., as I might have been treated as a dweebish 14-year-old trying to get the glamorous, popular kids to make a spot for me at the bench where they ate lunch. Such sneering! Did I have any gold albums? No? Was I headlining at the (Fabulous) Forum? No? Then what did I imagine I was doing waltzing in expecting to have my ludicrous musical instrument needs addressed when a member of Foghat, say, was apt to stagger in at any moment, intent on spending more on a pre-CBS Telecaster than I was likely to earn over the course of my musical career?
That was then, and yesterday was now, or at least yesterday. As I entered the West LA Guitar Center, a young woman stationed at the door beamed at me as though at a dear friend, and I hadn’t walked 10 more feet before another employee implored me with a radiant grin to allow him to help me. I allowed him to direct me to the drum section.
There I sat down behind a Roland TD-30KV V-Pro kit apparently worth no less than 30 times what my own pre-owned Yamaha setup cost. I was going to play a few bars on it in hope of divining what made it worth $7500, but had no sooner switched on the power than I was consumed by feelings of unworthiness. What if someone who resembled the boys’ vice principal of my junior high school should suddenly appear and demand, “Do you intend to buy that, sonny?”| I switched it back off and was looking for something humbler when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a leering young man in a white T-shirt and a baseball cap rakishly worn backward. He sat down at one of the analog (that is, non-electronic kits) and put on a deafening exhibition of technique, playing lots of 16th-notes with his bass drum foot, and then looked around to ensure his performance hadn’t gone unappreciated.
I was tempted to shout, “All right!” or, “Look out, Ginger!” but contented myself with glancing over at the pleasant, pained-looking young man who presided over the drum area. His look, if I’m not mistaken, said, “He comes in and does this every afternoon, and never buys so much as a pair of sticks, and sometimes I want so badly to tell him to get lost that I have to bite my tongue, but if I did I’d get fired because who’s to say for sure that he won’t find a group who wants a really showoffy drummer, and that it won’t go on to headline the Forum?”
[Incidentally, my birthday is coming up. A Roland TD-30KV V-Pro kit would be an exceptionally thoughtful and generous gift.]