ElGardner

I’m a humble guy who always has a lot to say, however saying a lot about myself is another matter.


I’ve been creating characters and stories since I was very young. For hours at a time, I would play alone in my room, just me and my Star Wars figures.


I didn’t act out the three original Star Wars movies, which were all that existed back then. Instead, my figures were the actors in the stories I created each day. That was all I needed and I was happy.

For most of my formative years, I lived in rural New England. My family and I moved from one state to the next just about every five years. I was born in New Hampshire, but we immediately moved to northern Massachusetts, then to upstate New York, then on to central New Hampshire, then central Vermont and finally to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where I lived throughout my high school and college years.

Because of this, my ability to make and maintain friendships was adversely affected. Don’t get me wrong, I had friends along the way, normally one or two very good ones, because a social butterfly I am not. But I was never upset or worried about moving so often during my childhood. In fact, I found it exciting. My ability to burn bridges to my past and to look forward to the future is something I inherited from my mother and from my grandfather.  

For most of my early years, it was just me. Sure I had my sister and occasionally I saw my friends outside of school, but they all had one thing in common, they were not me. Only when I was alone, could I control all aspects of my characters, my plots, and my Star Wars figures. It was my imagination and my world. I didn’t need and certainly didn’t want the input of anyone else while I was playing. Plus, I saw how the other boys from school treated their toys and I absolutely abhorred their gross negligence of something that I valued above almost everything else.

Every day after school, my imagination and my plastic Star Wars toys, transported me to other fantastic and exotic worlds. I did not have an Atari 2600, which was the game system of the day, and for this, I am profoundly grateful.

I knew another boy from church and even as a young boy, I could tell he was addicted to his video games. My imagination, the stories, places, and characters I created was my entertainment. I didn’t have and didn’t want a story that was written for a video game.

To this day I mourn the fact that generations of young people have been raised in a culture that continuously saturates their minds with video games and other visual media, allowing no time or space to use their given imaginations.

Today, the saturation of the 24-hour binge-fest of online handheld entertainment only feeds the machine that is pumping out compliant drones who have no desire to use their imaginations to create art. Choosing pre-made emojis and decorative frames around selfie pictures does not count as using your imagination.

I have monumentally digressed and I will now step down from my soapbox and attempt to write about myself from here on out.

Like everyone else, eventually, I put away my childhood toys and grew out of that phase of my life. Later in elementary school, I discovered my passion for music. In grade 5, when I began playing drums in our little school band, I also found the cute girls across the room playing clarinet and flute. That year two new passions were found, my love of making music and my love of pretty girls who tossed looks at me while we played. A whole new and exciting chapter in my story had just begun.

I continued playing percussion in band and loved every aspect of the process of music. I enjoyed every practice, every song and especially every public performance. This is where I discovered the exhilaration of performing live before an audience. Between grade 5 and 9, I also took piano lessons and joined choral groups, both at school and as part of a community vocal ensemble.

Twice I was part of a large community chorus who sung with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and one of those times was with my Mom. This was when my Mom and I sung Mozart’s Requiem with the full symphony and our large choral group. The entire experience is burned into my memory. Singing in Latin and feeling the might of the symphony before playing along with us while performing one of the best pieces of music ever written was an event of a lifetime.

In the summer before grade 10, my mother sat me down and asked if I would be okay if our family moved to Cape Cod. After visiting my grandparents and uncles on the Cape my entire life, this special place represented the vacation days of summer and Christmas and family. Needless to say, I was more than happy to make the move.

Sure I left behind one of the best friends I’ve ever had the honor of knowing, in fact, one of my sons shares the name of my friend from Vermont. The move to Cape Cod was important and changed my life for the better. Immediately I was on the Cape and started the 10th grade at Barnstable High School. Like Vermont, music was my cornerstone and the only thing I cared about.

I had never been part of a REAL marching band before, marching was basically a running (marching?) joke in Vermont. But our Barnstable Band was like the military, in the good kind of way. Before long I was a vital member of our band’s tenor saxophone section.  We learned brand new, three-song shows every year, we completed all over New England and performed at all of the home games of our school’s football team. All of this was brand new to me and very exciting.

But the most important change in my life came from the friends I made and the family I gained by playing in the band. During the school year, I spent several hours a day practicing and playing music with an amazing group of people. We called our band director UT, for Uncle Tony and he was there in all of our other groups as well. I have always loved singing as much as I love playing instruments.

When marching band concluded its season, we began concert band and then jazz band and then I joined a local drum core, where I played the xylophone. When band and my assorted after-school jobs were not keeping busy, I also joined every choral group the school had to offer.

My ability to sing helped me land a role in West Side Story when I was in Vermont. On the cape, I auditioned and got a lead role in our musical Scrooge, which was a stage version of the excellent 1970 movie with the same name. Scrooge, starring Albert Finney, had always been a favorite of my mother and mine every Christmas. I had an entire scene in the play, where I acted, sang a solo with “December the 25th, danced and best of all wore a fat suit.

In 11th grade, I landed a role in our school production of The Sound of Music. Like Scrooge, I had grown up watching the classic 1965  Julie Andrews movie and knew all of the songs. This time I played Rolfe, the “boy” who is in love with Captain Von Trapp’s daughter. I didn’t enjoy playing a young Nazi, but sharing an entire scene with just my costar on stage was exhilarating. I acted, sang “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” and learned to dance for real this time. The entire play and the friends I made during the practices and productions changed my life.

In my senior year of high school, I was very busy. Like the two years before, my final year at Barnstable High started our rigorous marching band practice schedule. I had to balance the needs of music with one of my many, many summer jobs. That summer was most likely at a restaurant, waiting tables. Practice time went directly into weekly football games, where we played our entire show at halftime, marching around like the musical maniacs we were. At the same time, we competed in statewide marching band competitions and spent countless hours on chartered buses traveling on and off Cape Cod.

After marching band was done, concert band and our winter drama club musical occurred. I was probably the only person who also took part in every choral group as well. Throughout the fall, until Christmas was spent with either band, chorus or drama. If you asked me then, “What do you want to do with your life? What do you want to major in at college?” I didn’t yet have an answer. I had no clue, but I wasn’t worried, the answer was coming.

The spring brought more fun, this is when Jazz band took place, which like the fall semester, coincided with chorus and drama practices, performances and trips to regional and state competitions. I made the cut and took part in regionals and state for both singing and for playing my tenor sax.

Outside of music, regular school work, classes, and studies were still happening. Although these matters never did receive, I dare add, deserve my undivided attention. My GPA was a 3.4 my senior year and I was 73 out of over 400 students, so I wasn’t too worried about impressing anyone. In addition, I was already accepted into the one college I applied to, so I was college bound and not much else mattered, save for music!

Strike that, save for my English class of the final spring semester of my senior year of high school. All of my best friends and I were in this class together and we had a young and relatively cool teacher. When she learned of my interests, my inclinations and my unbridled need to cut up in class, she suggested that I make video presentations instead of her normal writing assignments.

I have two takes on this.

Take One: I accepted my English teacher’s offer and my friend, Boyd and I went and made several comedic videos to show in class. Boyd’s parents had a Hi-8 camera, totally essential back then for making videos. Thank you, Boyd. We went all over our school campus and beyond shooting, staging, planning and laughing. I then taught myself how to edit between a camcorder and a VCR, basically making edit points by pressing record and pause, play, pause, record, back and forth between the two devices. Crude, basic, yes, but the videos were a big hit in class and best of all our class laughed at our videos. Keep in mind, this was 1993, I know, I’m old, don’t remind me.

My experience of directing, shooting, editing and showing my own videos ignited something I didn’t know I had laid dormant inside of me. This was something that has been with me since I was very young.

Since I was just an analog kid, I would cut out newspaper advertisements for the latest stereo and television technology, as advanced as the early 80s could provide. I taped these pictures of TVs and stereos on to the wall above my bed. These were my electronics and I used to pretend to press the buttons in the pictures, dreaming of a day when I had the real thing.

Around the same age, sometime before age 10, my parents had a cassette recorder, which I would borrow to record the opening jingles and theme songs of my favorite television shows. I would wait until the top of the hour and press record just as the last commercial or TV station identification ended. I created my own mixtape with the songs from my favorite shows.

In junior high, after school, I scrubbed pans and mixing bowls for a local bakery. I saved every penny until I had enough money to buy my own CD player. This was a very important, very monumental day for me. I could play my favorite music, mostly Rush, in the pristine quality of “digital” sound.

In high school, I saved all my money from my various jobs and built my own component stereo system, one unit at a time. Finally, I had a Sony Receiver, Sony CD player, Sony dual cassette recorder/player, and two huge speakers to blast my Rush, Yes, Dream Theater and Living Colour.

You know what’s funny? Nothing has changed since I was a teenager. Sure I have MUCH better components and real speakers now and my music library is streamed over my 10 GB network to my Denon receiver from my Synology NAS. But nothing ever really changes that much, not to the things that really matter. I love listening to music and I have loved technology my entire life. Of all places, my passion for television production was born in an English class. This was destiny calling. Thank you cool English teacher, wherever you are.

I graduated high school and worked all summer at Hoyt’s movie theaters in Hyannis. Don’t look for them, they’re not there any longer.

 

More coming soon…