I’ve had a number of nicknames over the years – Goomball (third through sixth-grades, and don’t ask me who came up with it or why I was forced to suffer it for three years), Goldmember (for seven years with the Badweather Blues Band), B.G. (years ago), Goldy (on occasion), Scoop (not very original, but it’s been following me around since I began writing for our hometown daily) and, most recently, Patch (thanks Melissa). Yet the most memorable nickname I’ve ever had the honor of earning would have to be – Sparky.
It was my junior year at Norwich High School and I was playing guitar with the Purple Tornado Marching Band for the Pat Metheny-themed show of 1993. We were several competitions into the season and I’d grown (somewhat) accustomed to the frigid temperatures which typically accompany marching band performances at that time of year. One particular show, however, remains forever etched upon my memory.
We had traveled to New Hartford on a cold and rainy day, probably sometime in October of that year, and I was hopeful our performance would be moved inside. What can I say, I don’t know many guitarists who enjoy playing with frozen fingers, especially in those damp conditions. Unfortunately, the sleet-like rainy mixture had ceased as show-time rolled around, and I found myself going through the usual motions – lugging my 80-pound Twin Reverb amplifier onto the field with my red Fender Stratocaster strapped to my back.
Everything was moving along according to plan until it came time to actually perform. I’d run my instrument cables, tuned up the guitar and, as I’ve done a thousand times, reached to the rear of my amp to juice it up. Let me tell you, I was definitely getting power, and not in a good way.
The first little zap of electricity wasn’t painful really, just unexpected. I’d been in similar situations before and, while uncomfortable, I was typically able to ignore the electrical tingling which accompanies a bad ground. This time, however, as I went to play my first guitar-run (known to us music-types as a lick) the shocking result was anything but normal. In reality it was more-than-a-little painful.
Not wanting to draw attention from the show, which may have detracted from our overall score, I simply turned down the volume on my guitar and patiently awaited for the end of the first selection. It was my thought that I could sneak over to the other side of the pit orchestra and at least contribute some percussion to the rest of the show. And that’s when it happened.
Foolishly, instead of flicking off my amp first, I lifted my precious guitar up and over my head. As I did so, the instrument jack (where the cable plugs in) hit the side of my hand. Shocked – literally and figuratively – I accidentally dropped my guitar. My natural instinct kicked-in at that point and the electrical jolt I received as I caught my guitar in mid-air, wrapping my left hand around the neck (and metal strings running up and down it), was beyond anything I’d ever experienced. Still, it never occurred to me to drop my guitar again, something I would never purposely consider. Instead, I carefully leaned it up against my amp while an unknown amount of electricity coursed up my left arm and, as I felt it, through my entire body.
Minutes later I was standing beside my good friend Bill, who was performing on the marimba, staring in confusion at my blackened hand, which was, I noticed with a detached kind of fear, smoking. I remember saying to Bill something about my hand, which he at first ignored, until a quick glance caused him to stutter in his playing. I saw his eyes go wide and realized I’d electrocuted myself, badly.
The rest of that evening was spent, first in an ambulance, and then at a hospital in New Hartford. The doctor’s prognosis was no help at all, and he warned of possible nerve damage to my left hand. Luckily for me, he said, the electrical current I’d received hadn’t been strong enough to kill, only to maim. Thankfully, the damage wasn’t permanent.
I returned to Norwich later that evening to a distraught girlfriend, whose father the next day dubbed me Sparky in an attempt to raise my spirits. The nickname has stuck around with a small group of my friends through the years and every once in awhile it makes a resurgence. Definitely one of the “most shocking” events in my life and one I’m sure I’ll never forget – or live down.