The door opens… do you go through?

Philosophers (amateur, professional, and inebriated) have debated the reasons for this thing called “Life” for millennia. As soon as we were aware of our existence on Earth, we began asking why we were here. Some of the proposed answers have been fairly amusing; others have been fraught with despair and horror. Try and discover as we might, there are still no conclusive answers to why we as a society and species were allowed to attain consciousness on this third rock from the Sun… although I am sure there are people who dogmatically disagree.

Even in our personal journeys, things don’t always go according to plan. The career my parents were hoping I would one day have was that of an ophthalmologist or optometrist. “Eye doctors only work four days a week, and always take off Wednesdays to play golf,” I remember my mother telling me all those years ago. What a great life I could have if I became an eye doctor.

But along the way in life’s journey, we encounter pivotal moments – critical points and crucial junctures that can turn a life in a completely different direction than was originally intended. My pivotal moment came in the summer of 1976.

It was the Bicentennial Year in America. (We had special quarters minted for the occasion.) It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in high school. My football career had ended due to a knee injury while I was in middle school. I had acted in a school play, but other than that, I had no real extracurricular interests. Although I had an ear for music and could pick out some chords and melodies on my mother’s upright piano, I certainly wasn’t any sort of musical prodigy. And for the most part, my classes bored the crap out of me. I was a spinning compass in an area without any magnetic North. For reasons unknown to me at the time, I was selected to attend the Civitan Youth Conference in the mountains of upstate South Carolina near a little town called Cleveland. I looked at it as just a chance to get away from home and enjoy the mountains for a week, and not much more. But life’s pivotal moments don’t usually give out any warning whatsoever.

One of my fellow campers that week was this otherwise nerdy, skinny kid with a large red afro. And he had brought a couple of guitars with him. I didn’t, however, pay much attention to him until the camp’s Friday talent show. He began with an instrumental piece he played on his acoustic guitar. I was mesmerized. So were the rest of the campers and counselors. After a heartfelt ovation, he picked up his electric guitar – a Gibson S-1 – and proceeded to inform the audience that this was now an electric guitar, and that things were going to get loud. And they did. And it was good. He performed another instrumental composition, and it was amazing how he bent the strings, played amazing chords, and wrestled the piece right out of the guitar through the amplifier and into the camp’s rec hall.

Watching everyone watch him play was my pivotal moment. The switch had been turned on, and the door was opened. And right then I knew – even though I had never picked up a guitar in my life – that my future somehow would be intertwined with carved wood and steel strings.

Coming home from camp, I informed my parents that I really had to have a guitar. My Dad told me that he really needed me to get an A in algebra. If that happened, I would get a guitar for Christmas. Let me tell you how long the months between July and Christmas were for a high school sophomore in 1976. I read everything I could get my hands on about guitars and how to play them. I would try and schedule time to spend with guitars owned by my guitar-owning friends. And I got lucky enough to have Coach Reid as my algebra teacher. He was the best math teacher I ever knew. I got an A, and I got my guitar. And since then, I have lived the rest of the story.

Although I never did become that eye doctor my parents wanted, I wouldn’t change a thing about my career direction. Playing music has always been my day job – and, more importantly, it is the reason why I am here.


John Bartus is a singer/songwriter, former Mayor of the City of Marathon, and President of the Rotary Club of Marathon. John performs tonight (Friday) at Cabana Breezes, Saturdays at the Key Colony Inn, Mondays at the Castaway Restaurant, and Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing!


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