50 YEARS OF LIFE, MUSIC, TOM PETTY & THE BAMBOO FLY ROD

Turning 50 in the wake of COVID-19 creates an unexpected bittersweet layer to the meaning of life gravity of it all.  

Pre-COVID mortality discussions surrounding this milestone now seem seem almost trite.


The single consistency throughout most of our lives as humans is music.

Think about it. It is our glue.

So, I am paying homage to my 50 years (wow, that’s going to take some getting used to) by scribbling about music and the relationship it has created for past memories and future possibilities alike.

Growing up, music was everywhere. It now feels like an embrace when I close my eyes and remember my childhood. Our family listened to “hits” from the 40s, 50s and 60s that permeated from every orifice of our lives…and when it wasn’t somehow playing in our home or car, my mother often picked up the slack by humming and warbling loudly while embarrassing me in front of my friends.

Born in 1970, spending most of that decade in upstate New York, I have powerful almost pungent memories of my family sitting in our living room meticulously adorned with the design motif for the day (avocado shag carpet, faux leather sofa and a makeshift bar that my father cobbled together himself). There was a “reel to reel” recorder next to us as my parents played the banjo and guitar while we all sang John Denver, Marty Robbins and Elvis Presley songs.

My “cool Aunt” gave me her formable collection of Motown 45s. This was a game changer. I slept with an old record player on my bed listening to those 45s until I fell asleep. I would dream of The Supremes and knew Gladys Knight was going to be my BFF one day. I just had to get back to Detroit.

When we moved South, I was 7 and the “reel to reel” was upgraded with with an actual “cassette tape recorder” with those two magical buttons (play & the red record). I would hold the recorder flush against the radio at the end of a commercial break waiting patiently for the DJ’s slightest tease that my beloved songs may be “coming up”. Oh, the power of the radio DJ.

And then came the almighty “boom box”, the portable Walkman (the beginning of disappearing into a set of headphones) and that fateful afternoon when my brother introduced me to college radio (Atlanta’s Album 88 “rass”) and our Urban station (V-103) when I was 12…MIND BLOWN.

Live music and the venues became a lifeline of sorts. I hid behind my Walkman while begging for cash from my parents saving money, camped out for tickets (remember those days) to go to shows while trying to convince anyone or their parents in my tidy suburb life to go to a live concert with me.

Not surprisingly, I assumed from a very early age that my future as an A&R rep was imminent.

These days I watch Cutter pace back and forth with his headphones on in front of my room and when he asks to go see a band live (pre-Covid), it feels like no one else in the world understands me as he does I say yes.

I was enveloped. And while I realize this does not make me unique, it changed the course of my life once I went to college in Athens, Georgia (in the late 80s) and worked for the local music paper. Originally, I was fulfilling an obligation to the Henry Grady School of Journalism that I somehow managed to get into by interning at a “paper” (insert massive eye roll from the Dean here before he begrudgingly approved that “frivolous tabloid”). This is where I met Bill. The magazine I worked at shared a building with the local bike shop where he raced out of and turned wrenches and the rest is history too personal to tell.

So, why the trip down memory lane concerning music? We can all relate to sensory flashbacks, right? Well…at 50…during Covid, the state of the world and with just too much shit to consider even when innocently trying to going out the car I am living inside of a sonic recollection.

But there is one artist that has been with me my entire life. He’s been in my head since I laid on my canopy bed anxiously waiting to hear his poetry…if I dare to be dramatic…arguably, his music is the audible backdrop for our entire country.

From beaches to department stores to the last breathe of live radio…we hear Tom Petty so often that his voice is engrained in our subconscious.


5 DECADES OF LIFE DECODED by TOM PETTY

Yep. I am doing this.


0-10 YEARS

“American Girl”

Well she was an American girl
Raised on promises
She couldn’t help thinkin’ that there
Was a little more to life

I had a pretty ideal childhood. I grew up in a loving home (which appears to hold a certain amount of currency these days). It was the 70s…so the extent of available technology was the aforementioned tape recorder. We played outside all day, rode our bikes with banana seats until the chains broke off, fished for brim in the neighborhood pond, jumped on off the roof onto the Chandler’s trampoline, played baseball in the cul-de-sac, took turns crashing my go-cart, shot BB guns and explored the creeks as if they were an exotic distant land. In the summer, we swam all day and chased fireflies each evening. Parents were present but not really “there”…think Charlie Brown’s take on it all. Danger was someone else’s problem. The scars were minimal. My parents were wizards at keeping any strife from leaking into our daily lives.

Innocence was lauded and ignorance was bliss.


10-20 YEARS

“The Waiting”


Every day you get one more yard
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part
Oh, the hair…

If this decade of one’s life were truly broken down into anything…it should be 15 minute increments.

Change on every level embodies every moment. I entered this decade a novice. I exited sobbing on my father’s favorite Lazy Boy chair after having a verifiable epiphany. I distinctly remember the moment of this realization. There was not one single trigger.

It rarely is a single event that brings the change of this magnitude into one’s life. After said epiphany, I drove “home” for a few days from Athens. My parents did not even ask any questions as I curled up in a ball, and quite possibly for the final time, sought comfort from them. My father made meatballs and my mother rubbed my back. After three full days of borderline hysterics self analysis, I finally went back to school with a new vantage.

What caused all of this ruckus? What hit me square  between the eyes while staring at a poster on the wall of the Athens’ food co-op?

The world did not revolve around me. The universe was not created for me and me alone. Bummer.


20-30 YEARS

“Learning to Fly”


Well, some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown
So I've started out for God-knows-where
I guess I'll know when I get there
I'm learning to fly, around the clouds
But what goes up (learning to fly) must come down
WE

So, after dusting off the universe’s weighty dose of reality…I promptly got back up and made a sprint towards some additional vicious candor truths.

Self awareness makes an appearance as this decade is magical if you allow it. Personally, I found unimaginable love and ushered in “ME” as “WE”. Enter Bill.  Only hindsight is able to give this decade proper remembrance. “We” muddled hurled through the beginning of adulthood together with an insatiable curiosity taking calculated risks.

Accountability remains murky in your 20s, dreams are abundant and health clears a path for adventure.

We took full advantage. (Insert all of the incessant sporting adventures taken…really…we spent this decade on bikes, sailboats, fly fishing, scuba diving and traveling). And this was all accomplished PRE INSTAGRAM!

We were tireless with our pursuits and painfully aware of the expiration or perhaps the desire to “trade up” for more purpose.

All things seems possible. Endless hours were spent pouring over life’s options.  We were only clear about the trajectory we not going to fall into concerning the future. We knew (really from the moment we met and married a few months later) that we would not settle or take an easy path.

We are were dreamers. It was at the end of this decade that we foolishly blindly discovered Bill’s insatiable drive for perfection while tending to his favorite then hobby…

If anyone is actually reading this…you know where this is going. Take youth, energy, sprinkle in some ignorance, two dreamers…one with an extraordinary talent…the other with a big mouth an immovable devotion and belief in said talent and we put that dream on paper – a plan in motion.

Let’s make bamboo fly rods for a living. We have to at least try… What could possibly go wrong stop us?


30-40 YEARS

“Runnin’ Down a Dream”


I felt so good like anything was possible
I hit cruise control and rubbed my eyes
The last three days the rain was unstoppable
It was always cold, no sunshine
Selfie taken with a C-A-M-E-R-A

Dreaming is one thing. Implementing that vision is quite another. Ambition has the ability to sing and sting simultaneously. It can be confusing and even morally ambiguous for idealists.

Choices enveloped our lives as fate steered and cheered on our pursuit of independence. Looking back…the incredible amount of effort sticking a circle into a square failures that led to our current lives was exhausting worth it.

Life’s lessons start paying off and mortality makes several guest appearances.

Adding to the chaos, we started procreating at the speed of light (at least, it seemed that way…in truth…we only have two children four years apart). I like to say we were “sleeping” until Cutter and Veronica were born. Kids add a layer of purpose and sheer terror to your life and it’s undeniably when shit gets real.

It’s worth mentioning that this was an ego driven decade.  Pride eclipsed the uncertainty we should have been feeling while pursuing parenthood and making bamboo fly rods for a living…no sane person would have considered this option.

This is the decade to prove your worth while wading towards meaning.

40-50 YEARS

“I Won’t Back Down”


Well, I won't back down
No, I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down
I'm gonna stand my ground
Won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from dragging me down
Gonna stand my ground
And I won't back down

I can say with utmost confidence that my 40s was a shit tsunami the most fulfilling yet fatiguing decade.

The “Hang in there Kitty”poster hanging in my bedroom from the 70’s all makes sense now.

The first 40 years as life’s bullpen prepare you for inexplicable complications that awaken a brawn deep inside until you inevitably grow or implode on Main Street with a baby on your hip after your drunk builder brings you an unexpected 180K invoice that you rip up in his face while your husband is “off the grid” on a motorcycle trip in Mexico. And that was nothing compared to what came next…

We learned to identify and remove obstacles a threat while tirelessly gravitating towards a more altruistic life.

If you are lucky, your ego is transceded by wisdom.

As my body has begun to fail, my mind has entered a new chapter of insight and acceptance in spite of the 40 second delay it appears to be on to process words. Inevitable physical failures escort in an acute comprehension of mortality that is only understood through the aging process and your friends dying of natural causes.

But wait…

It’s not as depressing as it sounds.

In fact, it is quite liberating.


It’s similar to the freedom I felt the first time I pumped the swing in my backyard with my own legs to go as high as I dare. There was no one there pushing me. There was no one there to catch me. The possibilities were endless. The wind caught my braids as they lifted off my shoulders and shot straight back, the play set threatened to flip as I studied the top of trees on an entirely different level. Soon, the swinging turned into acrobatics and eventually led to eating it in the dirt not so graceful dismounts.

Still, once you kiss the sky…you never settle for less.


On my more enlightened days, it feels as though time is my new highly evolved best friend who loves shopping for boots and is giddy about a recently discovered (yet strangely familiar) perspective.

I find myself on sensory overload and simply so grateful, I want to cry.

On angrier more painful days, the universe reminds me of my 7th grade PE teacher standing in tight gym shorts holding up a bullhorn to our little red faces yelling, “Youth is Wasted on the Young”!

So, as I bask in 50 years…I’ve pretty much forgotten everything I know. True story. I guess this may be my version of a mid-life (assuming I live to 100) crisis. But, in some strange way…it feels like I am starting over.


I think I’ll go find the closest swing.

Wish me luck.


“Square One”

Had to find some higher ground 
Had some fear to get around
You can't say what you don't know
Later on, won't work no more

Last time through, I hid my tracks
So well I could not get back
Yeah, my way was hard to find
Can't sell your soul for piece of mind

Square one, my slate is clear
Rest your head on me, my dear
It took a world of trouble, took a world of tears
It took a long time to get back here

-slo

8 thoughts on “50 YEARS OF LIFE, MUSIC, TOM PETTY & THE BAMBOO FLY ROD

  1. Having spent a week under Bill’s tutelage making what will forever be a “prized possession” I’ve followed his progression as an engraver and all around fantastic person. My week in Blue Ridge also allowed me to meet the Oyster family.
    Shannon, I continue to enjoy your writing and only wish you would connect with a magazine or better, author and publish your own tales of a life well spent.
    Wishing you the best- Jeff

    Like

  2. At 70 and, having built an incredible Oyster fly rod, and experienced so much of what you have so elegantly expressed – thank you.

    Like

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