Essay and ReflectionJay Kerner

Sixty-six Going On Sixteen

by Jay Kerner

Sixty-six is a funny age to be. First, I guess you have to be grateful to get here. Plenty don’t. By this age, the folks in the obituaries have gone from grandparents of people we know to parents of people we know… to us! For the majority of us, our life’s work is done, and we all of a sudden have a little time that’s not filled with other obligations. What do we do with it?

Everybody’s heard of the “Mid-Life Crisis,” where otherwise sensible adults go off the rails trying to recapture their passing youth. This isn’t that. I’m not 45, wishing I was 25 again. I’m 66, but thinking like 16. At 16, our dreams were hyper-focused, Technicolor visions. The things we’d do! The places we’d go! The things we’d have!
Then, before long (for some of us a little longer), life swallows us up and fills our waking hours with jobs, families, and enough other distractions to push those teenage daydreams to the back burner. But if you’re lucky, that burner is never completely off. It’s been quietly on warm while you spent a half-century cooking and putting out fires up front. At 66, a lot of us have flipped the stove around.

You’ll see a lot of guys my age buying the “muscle cars” they couldn’t afford as kids. Or the sports cars. Or the motorcycles. But me? At 66, I’m starting the “garage band” I should have started at 16. A dream that started with the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Need I say more? I had a crummy guitar at 16, but no idea how to play it. I didn’t even know how to tune it.

But I banged around on it and posed with it, and every once in a while, somebody would show me a little something, and eventually, I became a “bad guitar player.” That’s the guy with just enough talent to play pathetic versions of a scarce few popular songs. No real players want to play with that guy, so he mostly rocks out in his mom’s basement to a crowd of no one. My level stayed right there for the next four decades or so, till I finally set my mind on getting better.

The barrier of entry is a little demon called the “barre chord.” The human hand is not meant for this position and rejects all early attempts. The ligaments between the left thumb and index finger aren’t used much in our modern world. Maybe prehistoric man cracked nuts with them or something, but generations later, they’re essentially undeveloped. Subjecting them to barre-chords is torture. And you have to torture yourself over and over to temper those tissues. Very few ever do, at least proportionally.

I finally crossed over after watching a video instructing me to play the three-chord classic “Wild Thing” until my hand screamed, then shook it out and started over. It sucked, but it worked! And it opened up a whole new world of bad guitar for me. I’m getting better. I’m still a “bad guitar player,” but I have my sights set on “mediocre.” You get there by playing with better players. I’m doing that too.

I’ve put a little group together. Dudes around my age with serious chops, yet willing to humor me. I call this little collaboration “The Players 2B Named Later.” And we’ve got a regular gig. Our friends at River Bluff Brewing in St. Joe have us hosting their River Bluff Ramble every Sunday from 4-6pm. We invite a guest artist each week and do some tunes with them before letting them do some of their own. It’s going really well. We’re building an audience that’s there for the music, which is awesome!

We’re doing some songs you know, and a few of my originals. Surrounding myself with such talent lets me sort of hide in plain sight, jamming with several of my “guitar heroes.” You should come. You’ll see me smiling my fool head off while backing away from the mic during the guitar solos. Letting the professionals do their thing while I try to stay in the groove and take it all in. The sixty-six-year-old back will be sore tomorrow from the load out and the load in, but tonight, the sixteen-year-old heart is full to bursting.

Rock on, friends, rock on!

Sign up for Joe Mail 👋

Sign up to get all the coolest local stories each month.

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

Barbosa's Restaurant