Mo' Misty, Wudder-Colored Portraits of the Artist as a Young Man: Some Are Born To Make Music, Others Are Made To Write About It
This is me with my first, and only, instrument I ever learned to play: the violin.
I know what you’re thinking.
Why the violin, Bomb?
That’s a pretty soft-ass instrument, especially for a real hard-rock like yourself.
Trust me…I understand that now.
I did not fully grasp that back then.
And much like far too many poor decisions a young man makes in the early stages of his maturation process, it’s a fairly safe bet that a girl was involved.
The inspiration for my decision to play the violin had a hyphenated, eight-syllable name, a name that still rolls off my tongue like a lullaby more than thirty years later:
Elisa Nino-Murcia....or “Lisa” for short.
Lisa was in third grade; I was in kindergarten.
It was an elementary-school era reversal of the old May/September romantic trope.
It was doomed to fail from the start, much like my career as a musician on the violin.
Much like the time my parents let me out of the house to attend the 1983 Sixers parade with a red sweatshirt that read “Boston” in dark-blue puffy letters, which made a big-boned woman on Broad Street berate me while demanding to know if I was actually a Celtic fan, they should have known better than to let me choose the violin as my starter instrument.
But back in “my prime”, my decision-making was generally fairly trustworthy. Not only was I reading by 3 ½ but was going to the Acme with a full grocery-list and handfuls of coupons by 4 or 5. Sure the Acme was directly behind our house, while I could push the cart from the front of the store to the last pick-up spot less than 20 yards from the front door of our home. Still I relished this taste of independence, the ability to provide for our four-member family, even if I was more of a glorified runner not actually footing the bill.
I was either 4 or 5 when I first met Lisa on the back of the school bus that took kids from pre-K all the way up to high school to the private Quaker-run “Friends” school twenty minutes away in Moorestown from where we lived in Hempfield.
Lisa was from Columbia, and at age 9 to my 5 or 6, was the finest of “the fine Columbian” that I figured Steely Dan must have been singing about.
She had thick, dark black hair that curled up at its ends, big saucer-like eyes of almond-brown and an impossibly fresh-face that seemed to glow like Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase when she broke you off with one of her big smiles in your company.
Lisa was also a violin prodigy who told me she had started to play at age 2 on a makeshift violin her father had whittled into shape out of Styrofoam.
Now that I type that out, it seems like a ridiculous lie which may have been the first lie I bought from the mouth of a beautiful girl…but was certainly not the last.
Nevertheless, by the time I met Lisa her musical chops were fully-formed, at least in the only way that mattered to my young critical ear at the time: she could play the theme to Star Wars on her now-actual-violin, a hand-crafted wood beauty that looked like a weapon wielded for the forces of all that’s good when tucked under her chin and accompanied by a bow in her right hand.
I’m not sure how many times during the two years Lisa & I spent together on that bus together that I may have made her play Star Wars.
I recall trying to be sensitive to not ask her to play it all the time, since I already had Linda the bus driver playing “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones every time I hopped onto the bus in the morning then did my move of swinging myself, from front row to the back row, by the palms of my hands on each seat.
Best not to push it with a movie theme, especially when you’ve already established theme music of your own for when you’re entering the zone.
Whatever the number was, I’m sure it was a lot.
And whatever the number of age or grade I was going to need to reach for Elisa Nino-Murcia to take me seriously as the romantic lead, I never reached in her presence.
Her parents moved her to California shortly after I'd graduated either kindergarten or first grade, which was a year before my parents pulled me out of that school anyway.
I can still vividly recall where I was standing out by the playground that day back in ’83 when I told Lisa that I wanted that red-leather Michael Jackson “Beat It” video jacket, a real one not the knock-off pleather version they were selling at Merry-Go-Round.
Lisa was talking to her friend Laurie but upon me unveiling this aspiration, she instantly grabbed the back of my head and shoved my face directly into the soft-wool of her navy Paddington Bear-style pea-coat while exclaiming:
“OH MY GOD MATT I LOVE YOU, YOU ARE SOOOOOOOO CUTE!!”
The embrace felt weirdly wonderful but the words would ring like a fist to the ear.
Here I had fashioned myself a Big Dawg, yet clearly I was being viewed as a puppy.
This was not my zone, instead it was my first entrance into the dreaded “Friend Zone”...a zone I would again visit against my will, more times than I’d care to admit, after that fateful day.
My experience with the violin extended for a little while longer after the Nino-Murcia family packed their bags for California, which to a seven or eight-year-old from New Jersey might as well have been Mars, except with a post office.
Lisa and I had some further correspondence by what the kids would now call “snail mail” but the thrill was gone like BB King used to sing with the assistance of some violin strings.
By the time I decided to quit the violin at 10 or 11 prior to middle school, for obvious reasons of self-preservation and a maintenance of coolness, I did not know yet that you could put strings to songs by cool-ass old-bluesmen like BB or to make mackadocious bedroom music like Barry White or Isaac Hayes.
I just knew that my music teachers wanted me to play Mozart, meanwhile I was still longing for the Star Wars theme Lisa played while tugging at the strings of my heart.
3000 miles away in the early eighties was a world apart, much like writing about music professionally is a world apart from actually getting paid to make it.