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"Don't Call Me Dude" • Scatterbrain (by Brian A. Salmons)

I got called “crybaby” a lot. I cried in the car on the way to what was supposed to be my last guitar lesson with Joe Rodriguez. My mom didn’t understand why I cried. I just started, and I wouldn't stop, and it freaked her out. In the parking lot at Dr. Music, the music store where Joe worked, she turned around and asked me if I wanted to keep taking lessons. I nodded and let out a deep, spasmed sigh. Ok, she said, wait here

I imagined what she said to Joe. Before he said he wanted to quit lessons, but on the way here he started crying, she explained, like it just sunk in today. He said he changed his mind. I just wanted you to know that learning guitar from you means a lot to him and he’s not ready to give it up. Joe was shocked, maybe even touched. 

When they finished, my mom fetched me inside to see Joe. Hey, buddy. You ready to play? I nodded weakly. Alright, let’s go. He was caring and comforting, or at least he was as caring and comforting as a 20-something year old metalhead could manage with a crying teenage boy. I felt better. Almost like it never happened. We walked into the practice room. It was basically a closet. 

When Joe was a kid, he learned to play guitar by ear, lifting the record player arm up and back, up again and back again, for each bar, until he could play what he heard. Bouncing off the walls in a dark hallway, he described it in an interview decades later. Not the best way to learn, but it's all I knew to do

Once, instead of practicing chords and scales, I asked Joe to use our time to transcribe a song into guitar tab, so I could play it myself at home. I didn’t read music, and still don't. It seems unnecessary and obsolete, unless you think playing a song precisely the way someone else plays it is necessary. I don’t. 

If that’s how you want to spend the hour, it's your money, man. The first song I asked for was, for some reason, "Don't Call Me Dude", by Scatterbrain. The next was "All Along the Watchtower", by Jimi Hendrix. After that, "Open Letter (To a Landlord)", by Living Colour. At some point, it was "Cliffs of Dover", by Eric Johnson. Come to think of it, I actually learned that from the tab in an issue of Guitar World, but whatever. I learned a lot of songs through Joe’s ear. He flipped the switch in the dark hallway, and I could see. It was the best way to learn. 

Eric Johnson was actually his hero. One time, Joe said in that interview, he waited outside the backstage door of a concert just to get Eric Johnson’s autograph and maybe a tidbit of advice, but also to give something: a copy of his self-released cassette tape album, Antares: Always Fighting (BABe Records, 1990). This would have been the same time I knew Joe. He gave me a copy of the tape, too, which I still have. 

I looked up to Joe. But I didn’t see him for what he actually was: a young man, working hard to make a living in the music industry. In my teenage mind, he was a veteran rocker, just teaching weird kids to peck out Master of Puppets and Rust in Peace in a closet at Dr. Music while he cooled off from the fast lane of the metal scene for a bit. Like a prematurely retired spy. 

I didn’t know Joe had a hero, too.

Brian A. Salmons lives in Orlando, Florida. He writes essays, poems, memoir, and plays, which can be found in Qu, Marchxness, The Ekphrastic Review, Autofocus Lit, Stereo Stories, Memoir Mixtapes, Arkansas International, and other places. He's on IG @teacup_should_be and X/Twitter @brianasalmons.


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