The Last Place I Ever Thought I’d Be by Chuck Cooper ccooper@soundandsong.com

Most of my life I have been tolerated; not embraced - tolerated. After being given a Ricky Nelson plastic guitar at the age of six, it didn’t take long before the other kids, especially the young girls, wanted to know if I could play and sing like Ricky. Sadly, I could not. To a child born in the fifties, rejection wasn’t really understood. After all, this was a time when anything was possible.

Not too many years later the Beatles came to America. I was one of the seventy million watching Ed Sullivan and thinking, "Could anything be better than this?!" By this time in my life, I did own a real guitar, though. A friend of my family had confiscated an Epiphone Melody Maker electric guitar from a tenant who had failed to keep up on his rent. To be sure, this was a dubious way to be endowed with a tool of the trade. Therefore, when the Beatles arrived, not only did a I have a real guitar - it was electric! Everyone soon wanted to know if I could play Beatle’s songs. Sadly, I could not. But this was not a problem; after all, it was the sixties - anything was still possible.

I loved my guitar so much I decided to go to college and study classical technique. I wasn’t so much in love with classical music (although that love later grew), I just wanted to play the guitar. Needless to say, "high-brow" musicians (have you known any?) had a problem with electric guitar music, and the effect pedals that are part of the guitarist’s arsenal. When asked if I played Bach or Beethoven, I had to reply, "Yes, but not well." This was still not a problem. After all, it was the seventies, and I was in my prime. After college I formed several rock & roll bands and was convinced that my fame and fortune were right around the corner. Sound familiar to anyone?

By the late seventies, reality had begun to get its hooks into my life. I had spent my best years learning to play the electric guitar, only to be replaced by electronic keyboards and formula music. The vitality of the "live" band was being supplanted by DJs and flashing lights. Disco now ruled supreme. This was a problem! Guitar players were just not tolerated anymore. Gracefully accepting my fate (how much tide can one player sweep back?), I left the music business and took my humble place in the world of neckties and stress. A bigger problem arose: it was now the eighties, and somebody decided that economic gain should rule the world. (Sadly, this wasn’t new with the eighties - we had just gotten two decades of relief from this reality.) I quietly went to work each day, with all the discipline of a guitar player. I fostered teamwork among my peers - just like a band member would. I worked diligently to be better at my job - just like a musician would. I played dutifully polkas and "Proud Mary" at Christmas parties and weddings - with the dedication of a professional musician.

It is now the closing act of the nineties, and life has taken an unexpected turn. I was asked by a friend to play my electric guitar at church. I had once been told by a girlfriend (whose family was very conservative), that the electric guitar was the "devil’s tool." Ouch! I wonder now what she would think if she heard me break into a lead, pop a harmonic, and lean into it with my whammy bar to make it sound like an angel singing? If that weren’t enough, the other members of the praise team turn around, smile, and say, "Great!" Better yet, the pastor’s wife sometimes steps up (after I’ve gone where no guitar player should go in church) and says, "I can’t wait for you to cut loose and show us what you can really do." I can’t stand it - my whole life I’ve been searching for an experience like this, and here it is in church! Not only am I tolerated, I’ve been accepted and loved for who I am and what I do. This is the last place I ever thought I’d be playing what I play.

"To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season ... " I am in the midsummer (aw, face it, it’s early autumn.) of my life, and the Lord invited me into His home. I first thought I was being asked to be the entertainment. After all, my time on this planet has been spent attending parties and the like - not as an invited guest - but as the hired help with the ax. But He has shown me that He always had a place for me and my guitar. My dedication to learning to play was not just for me, but rather, part of a plan that finally makes sense. God did not allow a voracious world to simply accept my talents as they were, and chew me up (I’ve known friends who were chewed up and spit back out.) No, God ordained that I should be merely tolerated until I was ready and worthy to be accepted for a greater cause - His cause. Thanks, Lord, for your sense of timing - and I’m sorry about that gig in the seventies that I should have played better.