When I was sixteen, I took guitar lessons with Bill Brown. This was a big, big deal in my world. It was Bill Brown. The first time I’d ever heard him was when I was fourteen, at the John Lennon tribute concert, which we once held annually here in Springfield, MO. And I was blown away. I had no idea that there were people who could play like that who were not on MTV. (I’m actually being completely serious about that.) I spent the next year and a half going from venue to venue around town to listen to his various bands play (his best-known group was undoubtedly the Ozark Mountain Daredevils).
I was utterly starstruck when I took lessons with Bill. To this day, I have never been around anyone so innately talented—actually, I think I could live to be two hundred, and meet the very best the world has to offer, and still never be around anyone as talented as Bill. He was also hilarious. And kind. And goofy. (He used to greet me when I came into the store by singing XTC's "Holly Up on Poppy." He loved XTC.) I can’t adequately describe how I looked forward to seeing him every Saturday, in the back room of Third Eye Guitars.
I’d already played piano for several years, and could read music. But Bill also taught me about playing by ear…most importantly, he got me to bring in some of my poems, showed me some of the basics of songwriting.
|I totally stole this pic from the FB page for Bill's '80s band, The Misstakes. It's very close to the way he looked when I knew him.|
…This past week marked the tenth anniversary of Bill’s passing (he died in a house fire with Don Shipps, another Springfield musician). Like I do every year on the anniversary, I got out my guitar and played a few Beatles songs in his honor. I also played a few of the songs I wrote when I was a teenager.
There’s absolutely a rhythm to the written word—a music in language. I can’t help but think, then, that those music lessons in Third Eye were early lessons in writing a novel. And I can’t help but think that Bill’s influence is easy to find in my books.