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40 Years in a Phone Call
I can't not talk to people.
This Iteration was going to be about some of my recent musical explorations into things like VCV Rack and the Arturia MiniFreak (which I may actually end up selling), but instead I’d like to share a recent story with you that sort of blew my mind.
Music has always been a part of my life in one way or another as far back as I can remember. My mom and dad both loved music, and whether it was the doo-wop sounds of the Del Vikings or The Platters, Motown artists like Stevie Wonder or The Supremes, or Elvis, they always had music playing in the house. So I grew up listening to a ton of different kinds of music. I briefly played trumpet in fourth grade, but I didn’t really like it, so I started playing drums in fifth grade and continued into high school. The first concert I ever went to was Air Supply, which was great, but thanks in part to my friend Skyler who introduced me to progressive bands like ELP, King Crimson, Yes, and Genesis, my tastes really started to shift. On an honors biology field trip to Joshua Tree during my sophomore year, a chance encounter with an amateur astronomy club introduced me to the music of Tangerine Dream, which started a journey into electronica that I’ve been on for nearly four decades. I still listened to the prog bands I mentioned, as well as Pink Floyd and Rush, but to that list of artists I added names like Jean-Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, who was a catalyst for a ton of other music that I still listen to.
After poring over liner notes to see what kinds of gear artists were using, I decided that the drums were no longer my thing, despite feeling a profound connection to Rush drummer Neil Peart. I wanted to learn to play the synthesizer and this is where the story I mentioned at the top comes in. There was a music store not far from our house that I would ask my mom to take me to because they had a whole room full of synths that you could demo and play. They had an Oberheim OB-XA and an OB-8, a Yamaha DX7, Junos, Moogs, and the iconic Prophet-5 from Sequential Circuits, which I remember begging my mom for. Of course there was no way she was going to spend four grand on a synth even if we had it, which we didn’t. Fortunately, there was a guy who worked at the music store named Hai, who was great about letting me loose in the synth room. He and my mom would talk while I plunked around on the various keyboards that I would never own. We used to go to the store quite a bit, and at one point, Hai asked whether we’d like to come hear his band play, which we did. I only remember two things about it. One, they were called The Ambassadors of Now, which I thought was super cool. And two, they had a song called Monocaine about the fictional drug invented by Dr. Jack Griffin that rendered him invisible and ultimately drove him insane.
Despite remembering Hai and The Ambassadors of Now, I had completely forgotten the name of the music store. In prepping for this Iteration, I tried Googling things like “Pomona music stores 1980s” and “Holt Boulevard music store 1980s” and couldn’t find anything. Then I remembered the Folk Music Center in Claremont, which has been around since I think the late 50s or early 60s. If anyone would remember the name of another local music store from the 80s, it would be someone there, so I called. A guy named Jerry answered the phone and I told him that I had a really weird question for him. “Okay,” he said, “I’m sitting down.” I told him that I was doing some research and I was trying to find the name of a music store I used to go to on Holt Boulevard in the 80s but I couldn’t find anything online and without missing a beat, he said, “Do you mean The Guitar Store? It used to be right next to AJ’s Pawn Shop.” That was it and I literally gasped. “Yes! That’s the one.” He told me that he used to go there too and that he had bought his first Telecaster there in 1985. I told him about Hai and how he would let me play with the synths whenever I came in with my mom and asked Jerry whether he remembered him. He told me that not only did he remember him, he stills knows Hai and he just talked to him the other day. He said that Hai and his band, The Ravelers, were going to be playing their last gig on Monday in Claremont and invited me to come out and see them. I told him that I would love to but that I lived on the East Coast now. Jerry gave me Hai’s Facebook info and told me to reach out to him and said that he would get a kick out of hearing the story. Unbelievable. 40 years of history came to a point on the back of a single phone call.
I was telling Sean this whole story and he said, “That’s what makes you you, man. Most of us would have done some Googling, not found anything, and left it at that. But you just can’t not talk to people—and look what it got you. That is so cool.”
I’m planning on reaching out to Hai and sending him this Iteration to see whether he remembers me coming into the store all those years ago. I doubt that he does, but I’d still love the opportunity to connect with him, if for no other reason than to thank him and to let him know that who he is and what he did for me had a real impact that I’m still exploring nearly 40 years later.
Thanks so much for reading.
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