Written by Joey “Chicago” Walser (DEVOUR THE DAY)
When I was 14 years old, the world was beckoning me in every direction with beautiful questions. Life felt like an endless hallway of unopened doors, and I wanted to see what was behind all of them. I was a freshman in high school and had no idea how complicated life would become, but I didn’t really think about it. I was right there in the moment and I didn’t want to miss anything.
A lot of big moments happened that year. I was a part of an undefeated sports team. I drove a car for the first time (when I snuck out of my house in the middle of the night for the first time). I won a ribbon at the first art show that I entered. I smoked weed for the first time. I had my first “real” girlfriend. and I lost my virginity. I also made a decision that would end up being one of the most vital of my life. Sometimes I think about how much it changed my course, and how much it led me to where I am now. I wonder if I would have met my best friend. I wonder if I would have traveled. I wonder if I would have had my children. It almost seems unreal.
I had been trying to write little pieces of music on my dad’s acoustic guitar a lot that year. I found myself fumbling around on the old Martin’s fret board more and more. The only song I learned was “Smoke on the Water,” because my father had taught it to me. I wasn’t really interested in learning other people’s music though, because it didn’t give me any satisfaction. It definitely wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate previously written music; I most certainly did. I was listening to every kind of music that I could get my hands on. Funk, reggae, jazz, hip-hop and rock and roll were my lifelines to a life not yet lived. Every new discovery was decorated in sonic mystery.
I had been in the school band since the fourth grade playing clarinet and saxophone, but beyond the basic ideas of conception and arrangement, I had no idea how any of it was made, so my brain processed it the only way that it could. I remember in the beginning how colorful music was in my head. I had always been a visual person, and each sound inspired bursts of vibrant changing color, like paint being thrown into a black room without gravity. I saw the colors swirling and mixing, floating and dashing in all directions as each new sound overtook me for the first time. I became obsessed with hearing anything and everything musically (as long as it was new to me). Sure, I had my “go-to” bands and jams that were my favorites, but I was constantly adding to my collection. I wanted to hear it all. Merely appreciating the artists and their art wasn’t enough though; I wanted to join their ranks. I wanted to craft my own bursts of floating color, and I set out to do just that.
I wrote music like I painted. I didn’t know where any of my ideas were headed when I started, but when I let it, the artwork would start to show itself to me. I often found myself cataloging the music that I had written by the patterns my fingers made as I played. Even when I was younger, and playing in the school band, I had memorized the patterns needed to play my assigned music, not relying upon the written music itself. Maybe that’s part of the reason that I didn’t want to learn other people’s music. Doing so felt academic and forced.
As my collection of little riffs and patterns began to grow, I began to notice that I was drawn to one particular aspect. I was drawn to, what I felt was, the driving backbone of what a song would be. I realized pretty quickly that I was writing bass lines. I would play these lines and patterns over and over in my basement, begging my fingers to get stronger and more precise. The acoustic guitar wasn’t enough. It was small and thin and too quiet. I wanted to move air. I also wanted my own identity, and was drawn to the electric bass. My heroes were bass players who were always behind the scenes. Everyone knows the singer, but if you really love a band, you know all of the members (at least that’s how I felt). I realize that I sound like a spokesman for underappreciated, hardworking octave lows everywhere.
That Christmas, I asked for one thing and one thing alone. When Christmas morning finally arrived, I was shaking with anticipation. I knew what I was getting because I had made it clear that my life would be over without that instrument!
I’ll never forget holding my first bass. It was an Ibanez four-string. It had a wood-grain finish (just like the bass I play on stage today). It was beautiful. It was perfect. It felt as though I had had a ghost limb for the first fourteen years of my life, and the appendage has just been returned to me. It was like it was always supposed to have been there. I think now about how many times this instrument has been there for me, and how many years I have depended on it to provide for my family and to support my dreams. I felt the weight of all of it when I held it in my hands for the first time…I was complete.
I couldn’t do this alone though, this dream of mine. I needed a team. I needed a band………
Tune in to Chapter 3 of “My Rock and Roll Journey,” to see how the story unfolds…
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