Vintage: My friend, Tom

Tom 1990

To put you at ease I will give you the answer to the question that everyone is wondering but no one is asking. 

The answer is yes, I did win the POY (Photographer of the Year) award at Capital High in 1991. I did it with this image. 

My longtime friend, Tom Jensen and I drove the big yellow van downtown and he played while I took photographs. He plays the upright bass as you can see but there is a weird story behind his choice of instruments. 

Tom’s entire family posess the distinction of being “musical”. His older brother, Nathan, played the upright bass through his high school years and his younger sister, Lisa, played the piano. He has two other sisters and as far as my memory can go I remember them playing the harp at various wedding receptions around town.  

It was a totally different experience going to Tom’s childhood-teenage home. It was a popular place to be because his Mother (named Marvel, of all things) welcomed us with a smile, a handshake, a hug and usually treats. Their home resembled a bohemian/intellectual/music studio. The front room was a cavernous space. It accommodated tens of teenagers. In that large front room they had a grand piano and a full-sized harp. His father outfitted an entire wall of the house with bookshelves that were fully stocked. I remember tracing the long bookshelves with my finger and seeing where the cathedral ceilings tapered the bookshelf to allow books only 3 inches tall. It was amazing!  He had a lot of short books, and a lot of large books. 

My most distinct memory of His father was one night I watched him test programming on his new computer while listening to a violent classical music song on a set of 80’s headphones all the while a luxurious volume of Egyptian hieroglyphics sat on his lap. He was wearing leather slippers and a heavy, dark plaid robe. Another memory was one night he was giving me a ride home in their Volkswagen van. As we passed the high school he jerked the van off to the side of the road and opened the back. I didn’t understanding what was happening but I saw him bounding off with a long-handled net. Tom explained that he probably saw a big moth and was off to catch it. I looked where he was going and sure enough, there was a huge moth poised just beneath a light on the wall of our high school. 

I thought to myself “That is nothing at all like my Dad” 

Tom’s older Brother, Nathan, played the upright bass for the prestigious music group the Capital Singers. The Capital Singers were an audition-based competitive jazz choir. It was the varsity choir. The big leagues. 

Tom played the guitar. He was a fantastic guitar player. He had this gorgeous acoustic guitar that his Dad got in Brazil. I loved hearing him play it. He’s a slender fellow and his long, white fingers danced all over that fret board. I can still hear the classical song he always played to impress girls that went to his house. 

In our senior year Tom started a band and they needed a bass player. It’s easy to find a drummer and a guitar but in high school bass players are in short supply. I told him that I’d do it. I had a job at the time so I cashed a check and got a glossy, black, stinky bass guitar at a pawn shop for $125. I’d never played anything so I had a lot to learn. They picked easy songs so I could keep along. I got in a fight at band practice with our singer, Jeff, one time because I had my amplifier turned up so loud. He said he could only hear my bass. I liked it loud. If it wasn’t loud then I had no idea what I was playing. 

Anyways, Tom was a shoe in to replace John Simpson on the guitar in the Capital Singers band. Tom excelled at the guitar and everyone knew he’d be the new John Simpson. No one in the entire school played the bass so with my two months experience I was going to be the one who took over Nathan’s place at the bass. It seemed entirely plausible to me at the time. 

The day of the tryouts I was to play with the existing band to see how I sounded. I had no idea what to play. I felt like Nacho Libre at the party scene. Nathan was there and he asked “do you have any idea what you are doing?” I said “not at all.” 

Mrs. Schmidt was in charge of the choir. She panicked. The next day Tom told me what had happened. Two guys had tried out on the guitar. Mrs. Schmidt had given the guitar spot to the other guy, not Tom. And in an infamous back room deal she had convinced Tom that his true calling in life was to play the Bass.


  1. oh the many nights I slept on the Jensen’s couch in their front room! and Marvel did always have baked goods to share. She’s still a good friend of mine, as is Tom. Great photo bro! (How come I didn’t know you won POY in 1991?)

  2. yes that’s true…passing information along was quite a bit different….so easy to forget how convenient all of that is now!

  3. Hi Jon, if I actually said what is in the second to the last paragraph, I am sorry! I honestly don’t remember saying that, but if I did (or even implied something of the sort), I don’t know what I was thinking!! Next time I’m back in Les Bois, I can certainly fill you in on all the details of things that were shaking down in ’89–that might explain whatever was happening. What a year.

  4. Great story. I’m trying to remember who played guitar that year. I should know….I guess I’ll go look in the ‘ol yearbook.

  5. @Barb Jeff Puterbaugh was the guitarist that year. He also played a year with me in a group in college. He literally walked all the way back from Portland to Boise after that year. I’ve lost touch with him since then.

    @jonballphoto I love the interchange between you and Nate, I remember that vividly as a piece of music was placed in front of you, a look of terror flashed across your face and someone started counting off the tune. Sheer mayhem ensued. It was great!

    The thing that I remember too about those tryouts was the glam rock guy who looked like he was from Ratt or Poison. When Mrs. Schmidt asked him if he wanted to play anything for them he went into this soul melting, screaming guitar solo that used everything from the wammy bar to finger tapping a la Eddie Van Halen. It was impressive but unfortunately the wrong venue and wrong style.

    Thanks for the great memories, may we have many more years of such times as this!

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