CROSSING BRIDGES—My Journey from Child Prodigy to Fiddler Who Dared the World
Published by MOC Press
Mark O’Connor has written an emotional detailed account of his experience as a child musician. He first started on guitar as a six year old and began learning fiddle at age eleven. He was a quick learner and at age twelve he won first place in the Junior Division at The National Old Time Fiddlers Contest in Weiser, Idaho. He met Benny Thomasson there and became a student and protégé of this master fiddler who had moved to an area in the northwest close to Mark’s home in the Seattle suburb of Mountlake Terrace. The book gives a detailed account of this relationship and describes the close loving friendship enjoyed by Mark and Benny. Mark’s mother was his guiding light throughout his development and drove him everywhere he needed to go to play his music for the first couple of years. For example the fiddle lessons with Benny were a 3 hour drive each way. And the drive to Weiser, Idaho was a seven to eight hour drive.
Mark delves into the many problems of growing up in a dysfunctional family. He had to deal with an abusive alcoholic father and bullies at his junior high school. Music and other activities, including skateboarding, were an escape from the tortures of growing up. While still in his teens Mark became an important part of support for the family with his prize money from the many contests he won. I found reading about his passions and overcoming such harsh conditions very inspirational. The story goes into great detail about the competitiveness and jealousies in the world of contest fiddling. Many of the older fiddlers resented a young phenom taking so many top prizes. At one contest they spiked Mark’s cokes with alcohol in an effort to gain an advantage.
The book describes the family trip to Nashville where he was invited to Roy Acuff’s dressing room and made an appearance on the Grand Ole Opry at age twelve. One year later he was invited to the Grand Masters Fiddle Championship Contest in Nashville and won first place. As a teenager he toured with Jim and Jesse and other notables. When he was in his late teens he moved to the Bay Area of California and joined the David Grisman Quintet replacing Tony Rice as guitarist. The highlight of this gig was a tour with Stephane Grappelli who became Mark’s mentor and teacher . Another aspect of the book that is very interesting is the snippets of history of the various artists that Mark met and played with and the many venues where he performed.
After a tragic skiing accident, where Mark pretty much destroyed his left arm, Grisman elected not to wait for his recovery and went on a European tour without Mark. This was a tour that Mark had looked forward to and he was very disappointed and quite upset by this decision. After a three month convalescence he was able to again play, but could still barely move his left arm. He overcame this disability and moved to Atlanta to play with an electric rock group, The Dregs.
Mark goes into good detail about this experience and the problems that occurred in the band dynamics are well documented.
Crossing Bridges is an enjoyable, readable, account of growing up as a child musician and it is both entertaining and inspirational. A very good read of an incredible childhood. A follow up book on his career as an adult would be most welcome. A companion book of pictures and a CD of Mark’s early music is also available.