Hard to believe it, but my Dad is 100 years young, and in terrific health! I would have to attribute his longevity to not only genetics, but to an amazing zest for, and acceptance of life and all it can bring. Having to flee from eastern Europe in 1915, and then to flee to America in 1922, he and his 4 other siblings all came here for a better life, and were able to do just that. But all this also accounted for creating his unreal sense of humor, as he went on to become a very famous and respected cartoonist and artist of the highest order, Al Ross. (A pen name, since all four Roth brothers all became cartoonists, and couldn’t have the same last name, professionally!)
Though none of my relatives ever really pursued music as a career, or even had an ear at all, he would always listen to Flamenco music and tons of Flamenco and Classical guitar on the stereo. This music permeated the household at all times, and even though I was fast becoming proficient at the violin, he noticed that I was picking things up on a two-stringed guitar we had lying around the house. I can still hear his words as he said “Arlen, you play the guitar, I can just picture it for you! Forget the violin…” This is really a true story, and it was as if he could see into the future and predict that the guitar was destined to be in my hands forever. Our apartment was always filled with art, the creation of art and always the sound of guitar music too, so it wasn’t long before I joined all of that with my own sounds. He was always taking me downtown, and during the beginning of the vintage guitar craze, around ’66-67, he would take me to Dan Armstrong’s shop on 48th Street, and we’d fall in love with all those incredible Les Pauls he had all over the place! My Dad right away aesthetically appreciated all these guitars as the works of art they are too, and he was always encouraging me to try to buy the best, even though we had so little money! Somewhere in the Bronx, there’s a music store I used to visit every day on the way home from High School, where I must have a $10 deposit on at least 20 guitars we could never pay for!
But that day in 1967 did come, when he and I discovered my 1952 Goldtop Les Paul at a store called Eddie Bell’s, on 49th street in Manhattan. I still remember the excitement I felt when I finally held that beauty in my hands, and how approving and proud he was of me and that guitar being put together!
This love of music and art and therefore life that he instilled in me is certainly no small thing. And when it’s given with the kind of love he can give, it’s something that I only can hope all of you can one-day share with your parent, or with your children as a parent!