That was no ordinary fool you saw driving down Route 219, steering with his knees, both hands cupped in front of his mouth and shaking his head in that crazy way guys do when they are playing blues harmonica. That was no ordinary fool. That was me.
My secret is out. I am coming out of the closet. I am a rock 'n' roll star trapped in a photographer's body.
Before I go too far: This confession makes no claim that I possess any but the smallest degree of talent. Though in my mind and my imagination I feel like a cross between Jim Morrison and Van Morrison, in the real world I have only slightly better musical skills than Morris the Cat.
Back when I was married and first started messing with cross harp and had the money to buy a few Marine Bands in a couple of different keys, our two felines would come running, wide-eyed and excited, and practically climb up my legs as soon as the tiny instruments would touch my lips and I blew and drew the first notes.
Initially, I thought the high pitches must be extremely magnified by their super-sensitive ears, but then the confidence-diluting idea came to me that what they reasoned in their little kitty-cat brains was that behind my cupped hands I was shoving some protesting prey into my mouth. I had to realize that my practice notes sounded to our house cats like the dying wails of a tortured and terrified little bird. Beginner harmonica playing can be that bad.
But I live the fantasy. Here in my little space of this big empty house I have a Shaker Madcat microphone that I plug into a Crate VC 508 with some tubes swapped so you can crank up the gain and get that dirty Chicago overdrive sound. And I spend many a Saturday night blowing blues harp in gigs I sit in on by tuning into WYEP.
Or sometimes I turn that off and tune up the gorgeous guitar I own. And since I've been practicing the same three chords for years I have gotten to the point that I can crudely play along to whatever meandering melody I make up like a musical daydream through the C harp I have in a rack that mounts around my neck. Or I know a few songs and I have a notebook full of lyrics and chords and I sing "Heart of Gold" and it sounds almost nothing like the song Neil Young wrote. And I sing my version of Tom Petty's songs and the Bee Gees' old love songs and even one or two that I actually composed.
The art to my technique is that no one ever hears, so my New Year's Eve Birthday Unplugged show was one of my best performances as I played my heart out and everyone who was there thought it was great.
When I sing a certain Tom Petty song I think of Stacie and I remember the sweet taste of cherry lip gloss. When I sing The Eagles' songs I remember what it felt like to be a teenager in summer. There is something about singing that is an expression of the soul. When one closes his eyes and has no fear of making a fool of himself, he can ride his vocal chords, guitar chords and a lonesome inner wind that blows from the heart through a harp to a musically meditative state of being much like dreamy content. It is there that I can forget myself and then reinvent myself and I pretend that I am singing to you from a stage.
I really do wish that I was a rock 'n' roll star. There is nothing in this world that moves me like music. I wish I had the talent to stir souls like Bruce Springsteen can. But my abilities and skills have landed me in the life of a photographer. That is not such a bad gig and at least on the weekends I play in a traveling show. Just an ordinary fool, steering with my knees and blowing blues harp in the slow lane.
(Staff photographer Roger Vogel can be reached at email@example.com.)