Enduring Lessons on Life and Citizenship: “Know Your Footing”

Enduring Lesson
Enduring Lessons on Life and Citizenship: “Know Your Footing”
Enduring Lesson

An article from May 2017—but one you see more frequently than you think—says “Man presumed dead after falling off cliff while taking a selfie.” It’s really quite shocking how many people die trying to position themselves in front of great, but dangerous, scenery.

An article from May 2017—but one you see more frequently than you think—says “Man presumed dead after falling off cliff while taking a selfie.” It’s really quite shocking how many people die trying to position themselves in front of great, but dangerous, scenery. 

My story isn’t quite as grim, but makes the point ever bit as well. In life, it is essential that when you undertake something you know your footing. One of the most oft-repeated lessons in all of sports coaching is trying to position players’ feet so they can either throw a ball, catch a ball, or tackle someone with a ball. If your footwork is bad, your chance of success is slim.

I saw this first hand while playing in my band, “Rampage,” circa 1975. We were booked into a club in Flagstaff, Arizona. That particular gig ran through Halloween night—I recall everyone coming in costume that night before something happened that makes you go, “Huh?”

Our lead singer, Doug, had jumped off the stage and was crooning (well, as best he could with his gravelly voice) to girls on the dance floor. “Oooohhh, baby baby,” he sang to one girl, who obviously liked it. Suddenly, her boyfriend stepped forward and slugged Doug.

Big mistake. Doug was about 6'2", wiry strong, and mean. Moreover, everyone in my band—save me—was over six feet tall and over 250 pounds! The two guitarists whipped off their guitars like massive battle-axes. Aundra, our keyboardist, didn’t need a weapon. He was six foot tall and big. I looked around for anything, and grabbed . . . my padded gong mallet! Suddenly the slugger didn’t feel so brave. This is 100% true.

The slugger, seeing he was about to be beaten to a pulp grabbed his own girlfriend as a human shield. “What are you DOING?” she screamed. But he knew that we, being men of chivalry, would never hit a girl. He successfully backed out of the club. But that’s not the story I want to tell.

As we continued our gig, it’s important to understand the set up of the stage: it was about four feet high, and on each side had a vacant area where we could throw our amplifier cases, drum boxes, and lots of blankets we used to pack our instruments. It was, in a word, a soft landing. Concealing all this were our giant six-foot-high, three-foot-wide speakers called the “Voice of God.” 

Our guitarist, Chuck, had a habit of launching into “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Jimi Hendrix when the mood suited him. After one song, he started into the national anthem. Everyone else left the stage, but yours truly—trapped behind a giant drum set—was stuck, so I just kind of “rat-a-tatted” in the background while Chuck coaxed the most outlandish and horrific sounds out of his Telecaster. At one point he took the guitar and, simulating sex rubbed the guitar hard against his amps. Several of his frets had enough, and they plinked off, all over the stage. His guitar was suddenly useless.

He looked at me in horror. “What do I do” he said as the guitar continued to scream and moan. “Break something,” I yelled. “They like it when you break stuff.” The crowd was already in a frenzy. So Chuck held his (now fretless) guitar up over his head as it screeched. He slammed it to the stage, as it let out feedback that roughly sounded like a humpback whale being hit with a harpoon. As it lay there, spewing out grotesque sounds, Chuck looked at me again. “What now?” I said, “Break something else.”

He picked up the guitar and launched it offstage, knowing the blankets would keep it from real harm (which the audience did not know). Again, a sick screaming sound from the guitar like you would hear in one of the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” movies. This time, Chuck just looked at me quizzically. I rolled my hand in the “keep going” sign. 

Here is where we get to the moral of the story. Chuck—did I say he was a big guy?—picked up one of the four Marshall amplifier boxes. Each was about three feet by three feet and quite heavy. But Chuck hoisted it up like it was a feather. Holding it over his head like a sort of Neanderthal trophy he had just killed, and with crowd now bellowing in a frenzy, Chuck shot-putted the box off to the side of the stage. He forgot one thing.

The amplifier cord was wrapped around his leg.

Ever see the “Road Runner” cartoons, where the Road Runner’s body disappears but his head is still looking at you—he’s that fast? Chuck’s body shot off stage, but I swear for a split second his face was looking at me in horror. Then he was gone.

The lesson from this is “know your footing.” Before you start showing off, you better be sure you’re not standing on quicksand. Before shooting a selfie, you better make sure your feet aren’t on slippery mud. Jesus said, “Build your building on a foundation of rock.” As a young carryout boy at a grocery store (back when we had paper bags) one of the first things I learned was to build a solid foundation in the bag. Know your footing. No matter how cool the guitar sounds, you’re gonna look like an idiot climbing back on stage if you have the cord wrapped around your leg.

Check out Professor Larry's video on this lesson: https://go.wildworldofhistory.com/know-your-footing-video


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