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Down Pat

Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius By

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Pat spent the eighties like most of us, working on having really good hair and trying to avoid a social disease. —Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius
It has been said of Pat Metheny that if Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, and Charlie Christian had somehow all been involved in fathering a single child, that child would grow up to be pursuing her master's in developmental psychology at Stanford while working as an assistant manager at Border's. Where they sell Pat Metheny CD's. How ironic is that? Not ironic enough, according to Microsoft Word's irony check, which rated this paragraph as only 34.7% as ironic as it could have been and suggested that the child grow up to be Pat Metheny. I reminded Word that the definition of irony is when things turn out opposite of or in mockery of the expected result and, since everyone probably expected the child would grow up to be Metheny, it was precisely ironic. The whole thing degenerated into a big megillah and I ended up having to finish this piece in WordPad.

Meanwhile, somewhere under the Eastern sky.

Patrick Bruce Metheny was born on August 12, 1954, in Lee's Summit, Missouri, the second son of Dave and Lois Metheny. Their first son, Mike, was five years older and had been received in a trade with the Cardinals for a utility infielder and a player to be named later (Orlando Cepeda). From the very start, the Methenys were a musical family. Lois enjoyed listening to a wide variety of music from classical to big band, while Dave had an accordionated abdomen and could be played like a concertina. Early on, Mike took to the trumpet while young Pat aspired to play the Electro-Who-Cardio-Floox from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. When it was pointed out that the EWCF was not a real instrument, his second choice was the birdaphone (made famous by bandleader Spike Jones). Upon discovering that the birdaphone was not a real instrument, either, little Pat warily selected the guitar. After receiving independent confirmation that the guitar was legitimate, he devoted himself to learning the instrument.

While most kids his age were catching frogs or skipping rocks or whatever in the hell kids that age do, Pat was discovering the Beatles (he had a summer job as an A&R boy for EMI/Capitol records, the lemonade stand and lawn-mowing rackets being glutted in his small hometown). So influenced was he by his exposure to the Fab Four that for years afterwards, he spoke with a slight Liverpudlian accent and could not bring himself to grant his drummers a full measure of respect.

After an unusually precocious passage into adolescence, Pat happened upon one of those epochal, life-changing events that are so common in stories like this where professional writers know how to give the people what they want. In 1968, while attending the Kansas City Jazz Festival, Pat heard Wes Montgomery. His parents had come to scout the Athletics for a little brother for Mike and Pat, unaware that the A's had moved to Oakland at the end of the previous season and the expansion Royals would not begin play until the next year. From that moment on, he devoted himself to playing jazz guitar.

Within a year of his fateful decision, Pat made his debut as a jazz musician at the age of fifteen with a group called the New Sound Trio (after the original name, Pat Metheny and Two Other Guys, was voted down 2-1 at a band meeting). Pat used this time to gain valuable experience, performing wherever and whenever the opportunity presented itself. From circus bands to TV jingles to theater pit orchestras, the adolescent future icon was all but ubiquitous on the Kansas City music scene. He was also very active on the KC barbecue scene, becoming an outspoken advocate for the signature taste of slow-cooked meat with tangy, spicy tomato-based sauce. Many believe he was also responsible for the drive to call short loin steaks 'Kansas City Strips' as opposed to the more accepted New York Strip, but many also believe in UFO's so there's no accounting for some people.

On a personal note, I should mention that as a fellow Son of the South, I also take barbecue very seriously. I do diverge from Metheny on the count of Kansas City-style versus North Carolina-style, preferring the primarily vinegar-and mustard-based sauce of the Eastern Carolina method.

Be that as it may.

Graduating from Kansas City High in 1972, the already-seasoned young guitarist faced a world of possibilities. I would say that the world was his oyster, but I've already used that gag in the Wynton Marsalis piece. I could say that the world was his barbecue, but then we'd have the inevitable disagreement over the type of sauce to use. At any rate, several scholarships awaited him and his future lay in front of him as limitless as the amount of Gigli jokes we're going to have to endure until the laws of random probability converge to make a more horrible film.

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