I have owned many guitars. One in particular changed my life. This is the tale of the Strat behind Behind The Strat. It's a tale I don't fully understand, but I am trying to get there.
I was never a complete atheist. I have never believed in God, but have instead this mental image of a golden trophy top lady, kind of a cross between the Oscar and the Metropolis robot, that I conjure up in my mind if I feel like I'm getting a cold. I would do it as a kid in bed at night, and see her standing on a pyramid, raising her arms until they were pointing straight up, and rays would shoot out of her hands, and the rays would envelop me. Then I wouldn't get sick. It still works, if I remember to do it. I'm not going to say that there is a god, like in the bible, or that there is anything like real fate, but I will now fully admit that I believe that SOMETHING IS UP. What follows is the event that has changed my belief system, and fueled my new suspicion that cosmic forces are real indeed.
In 1992, after living in my parents' basement for a couple of months, I finally got it together enough to move into an apartment above Main Street in Bozeman. The basement wasn't bad… I wrote one of my main songs there, Red Thai Sunday. I was grateful for the landing pad while I was between places. The apartment I moved into was above the only music store in town, Music Villa. One day my friend called me from the store and said, "Hey man, there is a cool old Strat down here and it's $400." I needed a solid new guitar. The one I had been using was a lefty that was strung righty and the knobs would scrape on my hand because they were above the strings. I ran down there and laid my eyes on that beautiful guitar for the first time, an antigua finish hardtail 1978 Fender Stratocaster. Some trades and a little cash and she was mine.
Cut to a montage of me spending 15 years fronting four bands in three states with that wonderful guitar. It never let me down. I did start to get obsessively worried about it though. At clubs I'd always think people were going to steal it. When I left town, I'd take it with me or hide it in weird places or leave it with my parents. It began to haunt me. That coupled with a need for money caused me to go crazy one day and sell it. I was living in Seattle, and I sold it to my hometown guitar store in Bozeman. That was that. I started playing an Esquire Tele and tried to forget about the old girl. For the next five years, whenever I was playing a show and having fun, I would look down at whatever replacement guitar I was using and think, "Man, my Strat would be loving this". It really felt like I was cheating on her.
A friend in Bozeman would occasionally text me photos of her. She was hanging in a framed case, up high in the row of not-for-sale guitars that all cool guitar stores have. I was glad she was at least safe. One day in 2012, he said to me, "Why don't you try to buy it back? It can't hurt to ask." So, I wrote the owner, made my offer, got turned down, and you know what? It can hurt to ask. Now I had to put it out of my mind again. Dream squelched. Why did I ever sell that stupid beautiful thing?
Then, one day in Portland in 2013, I was in need of guitar strings. I used to go into guitar stores almost daily. It was a hobby or passion or just who I was I guess, but for the last several years I've rarely set foot in one unless I really need something. I was running other errands, and was parked so that when I got in my car I could see Old Town Music. I thought, "Ah. Strings." I jumped out and ran a couple of blocks over to the shop. They have this cool little room with electric guitars hanging on the wall and cool old amps on the floor under them. I walked into the room and checked out the amps. Nothing I really needed, just looking… cool… not seeing the score of a deal jump out at me. Okay, to the counter then. Bought a 3-pack of XL 10s and went to the door. As I opened it to leave the guitar store that I hadn't been to in years and would probably not go back into for more years, I turned my head and said "Bye" to the guy, and then my eye caught the distinctive look of the antigua finish on a guitar hanging in that room I had just been browsing in. "Oh, wait a sec, how did I miss that? Can I pull that down and play it? I used to have one just like it."
I walked back into the room and pulled down the guitar, put my foot on a stool, and stood there strumming it for a minute. I was amazed at how much it played like my old one, and how the wear patterns in the finish and on the finger board were so similar. I thought, "I could buy this, but it wouldn't be the SAME guitar, just one of it's relatives." As I was hanging it back on the wall, my eyes were drawn to a mark on the headstock. A brown smudge, but in the shape of a Star of David. When I saw that smudge, my eyes darted back to the wear patterns that were so specific to my playing style. My mouth got dry and my hands shook. My jaw broke through the floor and my heart rate went through the roof. I had a Star of David sticker on the headstock of my beloved guitar when I sold it.
I of course immediately bought the guitar and wowed the people at the store with the story. It turns out they had rolled through Bozeman with cash and picked up a bunch of old guitars from the store, mine one of them. When I think about the variables for this instrument to cross my path, my mind boggles.
1. A store in my city out of hundreds of cities in the country had to buy the guitar.
2. A store I had to go into out of a dozen stores in my area had to have the guitar.
3. The guitar had to be for sale in the store the one time I went in there out of many months and years.
4. I had to notice that the guitar was there, which I barely did. If I had walked out without seeing it, that would have been that.
I have two theories, and luck isn't one of them. Luck that specific and in that quantity can't possibly exist. This was rigged. It would be like getting on an elevator with ten people all with the same birthday, which actually would be a shorter and less exciting story. Theory #1: The guitar is alive, smart, and found me, like Woody in Toy Story. Theory #2: There is some kind of controlling string puller, not a bible style god, but something else… and I think it may be the golden trophy top lady who is still in my life and all throughout the universe.
This great intersection of lines happened to me when I was questioning everything about music and life. The more I pushed away from playing music and writing songs, the more I felt like I was drifting out to sea and losing track of where the land was. Finding my way back to music was losing importance but somehow unbeknownst to me, gaining importance at the same time. I know some people who make their entire living from it, which can be inspiring but also confounding. Trying to be okay with where I fit in with all that was really beating me down, and I was starting to ignore my true self. Of course the day job is very important, but finding a balance with art should be a top shelf priority. When the guitar came back to me, I felt a jolt of lightning pass through me, like I was in all places at all times for a split second, like someone smashed down the button on the infinite improbability drive in Hitchhiker's Guide… I am choosing to alter the direction of my personal line because of this. Thanks for finding me, Woody.