When I was twenty years old, I was a junior at Ohio State University and playing in the band Watershed. My friends and I formed the group on our 8th grade playground. We now lived near campus in a house 5 miles down High Street from where we grew up, Worthington, Ohio.
Worthington was an idyllic, white bread suburb, where college wasn’t a privilege, but an entitlement. The summer before my senior year, my Dad would pull off to look at various universities for me to consider as we happened to drive by. “Wittenberg is a nice university son”, my Dad would say as we walked the campus. I would quickly reply, “Ohio State is where the band is going. That is where I am going. There are lots of clubs to play and besides if I have to go to school, I want to get football tickets”
My family had moved to Columbus, from a blue collar neighborhood in Baltimore, MD. My dad was the first one in his family to graduate from college. My mom was a teacher. Obviously, they were intent on their only son getting a higher education and with good reason. They had planned well and though I was an average student, they would pay for my tuition and books as long as I made good on the grades.
The thing is, I already knew what I wanted to do with my life which was write songs and play rock n roll with my friends. No degree needed for that endeavor. Watershed had been making good headway around the O.S.U. scene and even got local luminary Willie Phoenix to produce one of our records. Our house at 65/69 E.Patterson became well known as the place to party. So much so that after we would perform around the corner at the legendary rock club Stache’s, the crowd would follow us home and we would continue playing in our basement. Much to the disappointment of our neighbors I might add.
Around this time, longtime Watershed confidant and future tour manager Mike “Biggie” McDermott (he was to us what Ian Stewart was to the Stones) returned home after doing a stint roading for C-bus megastars, “The Toll”.
Arriving back at our house (which we shared with 10 other people and a raccoon) with 6 weeks of professional touring under his belt, he sat me down and read the “rock n roll” riot act. “If you want to play music for real, we need to drop out of school this second, we need to chip in and buy a van, and we need to put a big map of the USA on the wall and start booking gigs”
An inspired speech followed in which Biggie laid out a “domino theory” of giving in to “the man.” “Why not go to college before you play music?” “Why not just finish college, then you can play music?” “Why not just get a steady job and once you’ve saved some money you can play music” “You’re dating …now, don’t you owe it to her to stay home on weekends?’ so on and so forth
Next thing ya know, you wake up all comfy and the dream is gone.
In theory, I agreed with everything Biggie said. I had no interest in school and only passed classes because I didn’t want to take things over. All I had ever wanted to do was write songs and play music but…
Still- I’m gonna give up a free college education, lose my health insurance, get cut off from my family both financially and emotionally all when I am going to graduate in 9 months anyway?
No.. Out of the question..I would finish my senior year and we would be ready to rock. End of story...
6 weeks later- Biggie and I find ourselves driving down the west coast of Florida on some sort of “spring break” expedition. I wasn’t thinking about much of anything as we popped in cassettes and admired the stars over the gulf as we made our way from Panama City to Clearwater.
We were listening to the Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Racing in the Street came on. I listened and stared out the passenger window into the gulf. In that 5 minute moment, something clicked and as the final notes faded I decided in that instant that I was a writer and musician first. Everything else was secondary.
I dropped out of school 5 days later, sold my books and hung a big map of the U.S.A. on the wall.
(I did eventually finish and earn my degree though it was 10 years later. It is currently in a box, in my basement, somewhere)