Hazy Days and Cloudy NightsHow It All Got Started 002: Carson
Monday, June 18, 1984
Carson Meunetti’s ears were getting smarter.
The very first time he’d tried to tune his bass guitar, Carson used the cheap pitch pipe that came with it and tried to do what he read in a Mel Bay instructional book. He was baffled.
The pitch pipe’s lowest note was a bland honk that bore no resemblance to the smooth, but undoubtedly off-tune, note that came out of the little practice amp when he plucked the E string on the bass.
He kept turning the tuning key on the bass, blowing through the pitch pipe, turning, blowing… until the damn string snapped like a coiled metal whip.
For a while after that, Carson settled on tuning the bass to itself. E-string, fifth fret, equals open A-string; fifth fret on the A equals open D, and so on. He was sure it was off, but bass strings were expensive.
Besides, he didn’t want to risk losing an eye or getting sliced up by another broken string.
The breakthrough came when he bought the sheet music for U2’s “New Year’s Day.” He had the record, War, so that finally provided a frame of reference, even if the band tuned their instruments a half-step off.
The first Monday of summer vacation, 1984, Car sat crouched on the edge of his bed and practiced tuning his bass and training his ears to know a low “E” when he heard it. He was almost ready to retire the pitch pipe. No more over-tuned, suddenly snapping, life-threatening metal cables, thank you very much.
Next step? Harden the bleeding blisters on his fingers into callouses.
The only way Car knew to do that was to keep playing. His fingers bore green stains from the coiled metal strings, which were, in turn, stained red.
Car gritted his teeth and played along with the radio. When a commercial came on, he tuned in a different station and tried to keep up with whatever was playing, no matter what that happened to be.
This is why he was fumbling around in a futile search for a bass part to some long, unknown, classical piece when his mother knocked on his door.
He hadn’t heard her come home. He glanced at the digital clock radio on his nightstand. It was just after one o’clock. Early.
She cracked the door and stuck her head in. “Hey, kid. Making progress?”
Carson sucked on his fingers and spoke with mouth full. “Kinda.” He pulled his fingers out, shook his hand and grimaced. “I’m getting that whole pain-gain concept.”
“That’s how that works,” his mother agreed. “Take a break. Your dad and I have a proposition for you.” She nodded briskly and disappeared.
Car found both his parents in the living room, sitting on the couch.
“Didn’t expect you guys for a few more hours. What’s up?”
“Sit down, Car,” His father smiled and beckoned to the opposite couch.
Car did so with a half-smile of his own. “You’re scheming.”
“That we are, kiddo,” his mother said. “That we are.”
Still grinning, his dad leaned forward and put his elbows on the knees of his blue slacks.
“So here’s the thing. Your mother and I have been asked to attend a conference in Costa Rica. It’s pretty short notice, but we can’t pass it up.”
Car’s parents were lawyers who worked on behalf of human rights groups. International travel was nothing new. “Cool. When do you guys leave?”
His mother beamed. “How about, ‘when do we all leave?'”
Carson’s fingers throbbed. “Huh?”
“See, we felt bad,” his father said. “You’ll be headed off to college before we know it… we thought this would be a great way to sneak in some world travel before you have to buckle down again.” His eyes sparkled like it was the bestest idea ever. What kid wouldn’t want the chance to visit a tropical country? “Call it a graduation present.”
His mother said, “You won’t have to do the conference; don’t worry about that. You can play tourist while we’re trapped in the hotel doing our thing.”
“Unless you want to,” his dad said. “See what all the world-savers do, and all that. Good practice, eh?”
“Pretty cool, yeah?”
His parents exchanged a tired look. “You don’t sound overly grateful,” his father said.
“No, it’s… it’s awesome.”
“Well, like you said, I’ll be headed off to school in a couple of months. This is pretty much the only break I’m gonna have for the next, like, forever.” Car looked at his hands. He felt like he was in a kindness trap.
“Going to one of the most beautiful places on Earth isn’t how you wanted to spend you summer vacation?” His dad’s voice was still mostly light, but familiar exasperation was a shark cutting tight circles just below the surface.
“I just…” Car sighed. “It wasn’t what I had planned. I don’t mean to seem like I’m not grateful.”
“You made plans?” His mother jumped right from ebullient to irritated. “This is something new for you. What’s the plan? Sit in you room and play guitar for three months?”
“Bass,” Car corrected with a scowl. “Some, yeah. Plus, Tess is leaving for Fordham in the fall. This is probably it for us, this summer.” That totally sucked, too, but for the son of Ted and June Meunetti, Fordham was not a serious educational choice, so Car and Tess would have a continent between them.
His mother looked at his father, who frowned. “Look, kiddo,” he said, “I hate to pull experience on you, but you said it yourself. You and Tess had a high school thing. High school is over, you’re both moving on, going to college, starting the next phase of your lives. For you, that includes two weeks in Costa Rica: beaches, rain forests…” He looked quickly at June. “…hot Costa Rican bikini babes…”
“Nice, Ted.” June’s lip twisted wryly.
He grinned without taking his gaze off his son. “Okay, so you get two fewer weeks to draw things out with your girlfriend. What’s two weeks next to a life-changing opportunity?
“You don’t want to pass this up, champ. We’re on a plane Friday afternoon.”
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