REALITY CHECK: It’s hard to know how to feel about guitar player resurrections

Reality Check | Mike Taylor

Tom Webber is alive. I’m not sure how to feel about that. He was dead for nearly 30 years; now he’s not.

I suppose I should be glad. After all, back in the’80s, Tom was one of my best friends. A tall, skinny kid (weren’t we all back then?) with a cool, vaguely Mediterranean look, Tom was one of the best guitar players I’d ever worked with.

Plus, he was a genuinely nice guy.

I no longer remember the name of the band; just another four-piece combo cranking out “hair band” covers at west side dives. It was a decent group, though, thanks mostly to Tom’s impressive playing.

We were good friends, but I done him wrong. We were young, we were musicians, so of course it was over a woman.

She was beautiful, a willowy horse trainer named Denny. Denny showed up one Saturday night at the club. Flowing, honey-blonde hair, intelligent blue eyes, a smile that could break hearts at 200 yards; Denny was pretty much the whole package. She even drove a cool car; a Camaro, if memory serves.

It took about 10 minutes for Tom to fall hopelessly in love. Being somewhat more mature and just a little cooler than Tom, it took me 11.

For the next couple weeks, we both vied for Denny’s attention. Tom hovered over her like a lion over a freshly-killed gazelle; he bought her roses, cocktails and even performed this little trick he had, the one where he drank some sort of flaming shot without setting his considerable mustache ablaze. Even I had to admit it was impressive.

I, meanwhile, mostly admired Denny from afar. Yet in the end, she chose me, a decision she later came to regret.

Tom’s heart was broken, but he took it like a man. We kept working together, despite the fact it must have bothered him greatly to see Denny and I off in a dark corner during band breaks, making googley-eyes at each other.

A few months later, I broke Denny’s heart when I threw her over for a girl named Laurie, a decision I’VE regretted ever since. But we were young, stupid, selfish and completely full of ourselves. Which, I suppose, is the definition of young. (If you’re reading this, Denny, I hope you find some solace in the fact that, four years later, Laurie threw ME over for some zit-faced guy who serviced electronic dart machines. Karma’s a drag.)

At any rate, Tom carried a torch for Denny for a long time. The band eventually broke up, as bands do; Tom and I went our separate ways.

Three years later I learned Tom had died. He’d moved back to his hometown of Chicago and contracted some sort of exotic illness for which there was no known cure.

I don’t remember who told me this, but whoever it was, I believed him.

I felt terrible. I was going through girls back then like Rosie O’Donnell goes through a box of doughnuts. Tom, unlike me, was a sensitive kinda guy who really, REALLY, liked Denny. I’m sure he would have treated her far better than I did, and they could have had at least a few happy years together before Tom succumbed to his exotic disease.

If fact, had I not stolen Denny from him (which is how I was now thinking of it) Tom might never have contracted the disease to begin with and might still be alive and living happily ever after with the woman of his dreams.

I had killed Tom.

That was nearly 30 years ago and I’ve felt deeply guilty about it every day since.

Then last night I was talking to a drummer at the club where my current band is playing. We were discussing great guitar players we have known over the years. Tom’s name naturally came up.

“I really miss him,” I said. “He was a good guy.”

“You should call him,” said the drummer. “I think he’s back in town.”

“Tom’s dead,” I said.

“What? No, he’s been touring with Eddie VanHalen,” said the drummer. “He’s been VanHalen’s guitar tech for years.”

I know better than to trust a drummer, so I checked it out online this morning. Tom, it turns out, is very much alive and living a fabulous life I can barely imagine. Rock stars, gorgeous groupies, room service at four-star hotels, jamming with Eddie VanHalen … Tom’s living the rock ’n’ roll dream.

So. Thirty years of guilt. For nothing.

I may have gotten Denny, but in the end and without even knowing it, Tom got his revenge.

Have I mentioned how I feel about Karma?

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