You Can’t Have a Jam Session By Yourself


My father taught me to play the tremolo harmonica when I was a kid, after I had failed miserably at piano, clarinet, and all my other music lessons. As a Chinese kid who couldn’t play a musical instrument, I must have brought great shame to our dynasty. The harmonica was last stop before we hit cowbell.

I threw mine under the bed.

Then Tom Petty came along and recorded You Don’t Know How it Feels. I was a self-pitying angst-filled 12-year-old, convinced that I was experiencing the depths of human suffering, when I first heard it on the radio. No one knew how it felt to be me, but Tom did.

I pulled my harp out from under the bed and played along to the strains of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers recorded on my parents’ Philco. We had daily imaginary jam sessions together. I finally learned to play.

Many years later, I gave my little brother a dollar-store diatonic harp for his birthday. He’d been playing the violin since he was 3, had a degree in music, and should have picked it up easily. Instead, he used it as a paperweight. This year I totally forgot that it was his birthday and didn’t get him anything. As his present, I made him sit with me and finally learn to play the damn thing.

He’s been rocking out ever since. All he needed was somebody to jam with.


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