When we moved from Oklahoma to Virginia, I encountered the first school that had a guitar class as an elective, and I jumped on it. I’ve talked about that class before in this blog, and once again today I’ll talk about it without ever giving the class its due. Sorry, Ms. Wagner. Someday.
As part of our lessons, we were provided with handwritten mimeographed sheets of lyrics and chords. When they were passed out everyone in the class would take a quick sniff of that unforgettable mimeograph smell before looking at what we were about to learn. Some of the music introduced new chords or picking styles, others were collections of music by a particular composer or band that we were learning for one of our school concerts.
Early on, I’d stuff these sheets into a pocket folder. When the sheer volume of sheets became unwieldy, I got a four-subject spiral notebook and glued all the sheets into it. Of course, our teacher was never kind enough to hand the songs out alphabetically during the three years I was in her class, so the pages were in a very random order. Add to that, the Xerox copies of sheet music, lyrics for songs I was working on, and songs I figured out by ear -- the songbook grew quickly. By the end of high school, the book was thick and had become a priceless possession since it contained almost my entire repertoire.
Being a military brat, I know how to hang onto things through a move and I held onto that songbook while moving in and out of several dormitories during college, and apartments thereafter. Then the songbook went with me to Germany and on every temporary duty trip I went on as well. While I was in Germany, I noticed the mimeographed pages had begun to fade so I started to transfer everything from the book. When my shifts were quiet, I’d type out a few songs at a time. While I made a serious dent in the contents of the songbook, I didn't finish it.
While in Guam, I began typing out the songs again – then I made a mistake -- I let a friend who I used to jam with borrow the songbook. Pat was a customs cop and someone I trusted. I trusted him until he returned to the US and took my book with him. The only solace I had was that between what I had typed out in Germany and the further work I did in Guam I lost very little.
Fast forward a dozen years. I was in the final year of my career with the Air Force and working as a reservist in headquarters at Scott Air Force Base. One day, I was heading down a crowded stairwell when felt a tap on the shoulder. I turned around, and there was Pat. After a few minutes of catching up, he brings mentioned that he still had my songbook and wanted to get it back to me. Being eager to get it back, I offered to go over to his house that afternoon and pick it up. Sure enough, I went to his house and was presented with the songbook along with a few beers and a couple of hours of reminiscing about our time in Guam. We even played a few songs together before I left.
Okay, so how is this relevant today? I was looking for something in a closet and came across my songbook. I pulled it out and thumbed through it for an hour or so, remembering all the songs, folks I had played them with, and of course, Ms. Wagner, my high school guitar teacher who was responsible for most of the songbook’s content. It was a great escape.