Tom Petty’s a Heartbreaker, But I’m Still Runnin’ Down a Dream.

by K.M. Zahrt

(Note: The following is a non-qualifying, example entry for our “A Dickens Christmas Contest” by one of our Senior Editors. Enter by Wednesday, December 18, at 11:59 p.m. and you could win a handsome Christmas present from Michiganders Post.)

It was the best of Christmas, it was the worst of Christmas. I was anxious to the max. Not anxious like a child wishing the earth would spin faster and bring Christmas morning around sooner. No, more nervous than anything. I had just turned thirteen, and I was in a hurry to wear black t-shirts, play loud music, and thumb my nose at the establishment in an ironically status quo-compliant way. So, I asked my parents for a guitar for Christmas.

I always had a fear of asking for things I wouldn’t properly use. Something like a guitar created additional concern not only because it was pricey, but also because it would take a great deal of time and effort to learn how to use. I didn’t know if I would be able to learn it, and if I did, I didn’t know if I would want to use it enough to justify having it. I remember being so worried I almost wanted to wish the request away.

Christmas morning came, and there it was, wrapped in a box that looked like an upside-down coffin. It was a black Stratocaster-style Epiphone with a white pick guard. It came in a set with a “gig bag,” a cord, and a 10-watt amp. After Christmas, the training began. Every Wednesday, my mom drove me 30 minutes to Beerman’s Music House in downtown Muskegon. I had a guitar instructor named Dave—a muscular, little hippy with a crew cut and a Californian accent. We started with “We Three Kings,” then moved on to “Plush” by Stone Temple Pilots—eventually hoards and hoards of AC/DC and Metallica.

Guitar lessons lead to band practices (below; far left). That’s when my parents probably realized the problem with the gift would not be lack of use, but rampant overuse. I don’t remember asking if I could host band practices in my parent’s basement, but I don’t remember any formal prohibitions either.

Band 1

Band practices lead to bar shows (below; far right), which seems absurd, now, as I type this in my work-a-day get-up—khaki pants and an American Eagle sweater. What a sellout!

Band 2

I dug through all my stuff this weekend to find some old recordings. The songs below came from a band we called Label (me on guitar, Nate Proctor on bass, Chris Derks on drums, and Mike Chick on vocals), sometime around 2001-2002.


“Lullaby (Instrumental)”

Eventually I sold the Epiphone and went on to pursue other arts that may or may not lead to fame and fortune, let alone a paycheck, but I still break out my guitar every so often to ad-lib lyrics to “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers just to remind the wife that I could quit my day job, join a band, and be a rock star any day of the week, if I wanted to, although my vocal performance might argue otherwise.

Nevertheless, what I received that fateful Christmas was not just a shoddy guitar starter kit, although it was every bit of that. Even if the amp didn’t slur all the notes together, the neck on the guitar was too fat for my young fingers to nimbly maneuver anyhow. What I received that year was the gift of rock. It was, indeed, the best of Christmases!


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