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Observations: My guitar rocks on. Should I gently weep?

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image ASIA’s guitar player, Grammy Award winner, Bruce Bouillet on stage in Minneapolis. A few months ago, that guitar was sitting neglected in my closet. Tom Wallace Photo

My guitar has gone on to better things than I have.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

When I was in high school, I took a class entitled Death and Dying. As part of the final exam, students had to plan their own funerals in complete detail. In my funeral plan, I listed the usual stuff such as friends I would like to have as pallbearers and the clothes I should be dressed in, but I had one unusual request: I wanted to be buried with my 1972 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe guitar.

As I grew older and developed a modicum of maturity, I realized that it would be a near-criminal waste of a fine instrument to bury it with my dead body. But I kept the guitar. As the years went by, I played it less and it sat in a closet more, something that struck me as also near criminal.

At the beginning of July, I traded it to a good friend of mine, a very successful photographer, for a bunch of camera gear. I knew that he loved the guitar and I needed to upgrade my cameras to be ready for the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis, the historic last shuttle launch. At the time, I thought it would be worth it.

Atlantis, of course, launched successfully and I got my photos — one of which ran five columns on an inside page using what is called spot color. It wasn’t full color, just black, white and blue. The night before the launch, I slept in my car in the parking lot at the Kennedy Space Center press site. Due to the massive influx of worldwide media, we were told that if we left, we might not be able to get back in. As the sun rose hours before the launch, I set up three still cameras ranging from wide angle to extreme telephoto, and a video camera. Everything worked flawlessly, and it was a thrill to see the space shuttle lift off for the heavens.

But then it was over, and I realized that for the first time since I was 13 years old, I didn’t own an electric guitar. I’ve written in the past about how my wife Michelle changed all of that, bringing home a relatively inexpensive guitar she noticed me admiring on a website. But that was my story — my old guitar’s story is more interesting.

My friend handed the guitar off to a luthier (a guitar builder / artisan) for a complete refurbishment. The luthier ended up replacing the bridge, pulling off and replacing each and every fret, and replacing the nut (the string guide near the top of the neck). He also refinished places where the varnish had worn off and filled a few holes for a guitar strap that had been there since I bought the guitar in 1980.

His work (and the guitar) was so spectacular that the entire refurbishment ran as a three-part series in Premiere Guitar Magazine. And then there was the kicker:  my friend posted a photo of Grammy-award winning guitarist Bruce Bouillet playing it onstage with the rock band ASIA. My old guitar — the one that I had planned to be buried with, the one that spent a few decades sitting in a closet — was onstage.

It seems my guitar has gone on to better things than I have.

I have a question for everyone who reads this column, and I hope you will take the time to respond. I hope to hear from both older readers who can provide some perspective and younger readers who can provide some up-to-the-minute reality on modern-day life. My question is “Has your life turned out the way you expected it would?”

How I’ve envisioned my life has shifted over the years. In truth, I no longer remember what the younger me expected my life would be, but I know with certainty that this isn’t it. I expected something more from myself. I expected accomplishments and success that I don’t feel have materialized. And now as I approach my fifth decade, I am finding that I need to reconcile the fact that the dreamy, nebulous success and accomplishments may never materialize. I may not have enough time left. That isn’t a complaint, mind you, it is simply a…discomfort. I have a wonderful wife, a good job, I live indoors and have a few toys, and I can buy groceries. I am blessed.

CBS News recently ran a feature about families in Florida who have lost their homes to foreclosure, have run out of money for motels, have given up on overcrowded homeless shelters and are now living in their cars. No one knows how many people are living that way, but I think it can be assumed the number is frighteningly high. Whole families who have never before been homeless are living in their vehicle, that is reality today, particularly here in Florida.

In light of that, I’d slap myself silly before allowing myself to whine about my lot in life. Even if it all collapsed today, on the whole I’ve been an extremely lucky guy. Yet sometimes I feel as though I am in the wrong place, but I have no idea where the right place is. Am I alone in that feeling?

The guitar that only a few months ago was sitting in my closet has made it big. Bruce Bouillet only borrowed it for the ASIA concert in Minneapolis but, knowing my friend, I have a feeling it will go on to even bigger and better things.
Hmmm…if it can do it, perhaps it’s not too late for me. I’m not sure where the right place is, but I feel it might be nearby. I guess I’ll keep looking. Are you still looking?  Are you there?  I’d love to hear from you.

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