Our Musings columnist Ron Marr relates an amusing music-related experience when he went out on a limb and crafted a one-of-a-kind saxophone. The result was an unexpected and gloriously weird windfall from a woodwind.

Illustration by: Merit Myers

By Ron Marr

An old friend claims that I hold the title of the most dangerous words ever uttered. They appeared by magic when we were attending a boring party thrown by a crew of ’80s-era Yuppies. I don’t know how many of you recall the predominant character traits of ’80s-era Yuppies, but “insufferable narcissists” would not have been an inaccurate description.

Yuppies were basically like any character from the 1987 movie Wall Street, but with far less money, looks, and charm. The phoniness quotient of your garden-variety Yup was astronomical; standard fare at a Yup gathering was an all-you-can-stomach buffet of braggadocio and one-upmanship. I find such things graceless, and when that particular shindig’s pretentious dissembling reached critical mass, I looked over at my friend and said: “I can see that if I want to be amused, I’m going to have to do it myself.” In that second, I knew I had found my life’s guiding mantra.

In the decades that followed, I’ve done a decent job of amusing myself via a wide variety of questionable plans and harebrained schemes. Some of these efforts paid off handsomely, and some left me flat broke. Most gave me a storehouse of laughs and tales, and a few were disasters of epic and ruinous proportions. I’ve rarely been bored, however, and I’m not certain a body can ask for much more than that.

As I neared (and passed) sixty years of age, I began to think that my days of questionable plans and harebrained schemes were behind me. Age leads one to become cautious and spooky, and a truly grand, harebrained scheme requires a focus and energy commonly regarded as being in the purview of youth. I honestly didn’t have any intention of once again setting up shop at the intersection of Absurd Lane and Preposterous Boulevard.

Fate had other plans.

One fine day, while in the shop making a flute from a tree limb, I had an idea. What would happen, I wondered if I attached a plumbing fixture and sax mouthpiece. The result was something I never expected and sounded more like a sax than a sax. I was amused beyond belief, named my creation the Backpacker Saxophone, and made a thirty-second video for friends.

And then things got gloriously weird.

Last September, a very large catalog company, Uncommon Goods, discovered the Backpacker Sax. They asked if they could sell them nationwide. I said yes, and thought it would be phenomenal if they moved twenty or thirty.

Between September and Christmas 2021, they sold hundreds of the silly things. I spent my entire fall in the shop and spent endless hours scouring the country for parts. I built so many Backpacker Saxes that I developed tendonitis in both arms and had to take a couple of weeks off so my hands would unclench.

The Backpacker Sax was a major, utterly unintentional hit. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve been downright giddy to have once again been blessed with accidental wackiness.

The moral of this story might be that you should never assume you’re too old for surprises. It might be that time is but a benchmark and that it’s often your own fault if you succumb to the stereotypes of age. It might be that Kwan Loong oil works better for tendonitis than Ben Gay.

It might be … but it’s not. A harebrained scheme doesn’t need a moral.

It just needs to keep you amused.

This column first appeared in March/April 2022 Missouri Life magazine.

To write to Ron:
[email protected]

To order the Backpacker Sax from Uncommon Goods, click here.

To order a customized Backpacker Sax for personalization, display stand, or questions, reach out to Ron at the email above or here.