Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Guitar Grievance

 At the age of three, my son had his very first 'away' playdate.  When I came to collect him, his friend's mother told me on arrival he'd gone from room to room opening closets, peeking under beds.  It was relentless.  She overheard her little boy ask him what he was doing and he replied 'I'm looking for your Mom's guitars.'  Apparently he assumed part of motherhood meant being a musician.  

During this pandemic I've watched more television than usual.  The quarantine has forced even our basic newscasters to provide a glimpse into their domestic environments.  Some are obviously fortunate, with rich decor and furnishings-- grand rooms behind them.  Others are more discreet, and appear in a limited space behind a desk, casually dressed, in front of a lamp-- family photographs in frames, and always the bookshelves.  Journalists have historic books-- world affairs, biographies; the entertainers and emcees have variety-- novels, popular trade books, art monographs, atlases.  Some are arranged so that they look 'provided'.  Others, like Judy Woodruff's, seem authentic and comfortably spine-worn.  

A large number of home 'sets' include a guitar.  Being the musician, I've often strained and squinted to decipher the brand or model.  Usually the instruments are background... but for some, like on Conan's show, they are prominently displayed and there are more than one.  I've actually met Conan at gigs, maybe 25 years ago... he'd always been attracted to music, played a little guitar.  We need to know this.  Apparently the presence of a guitar, like household pets, has a message-- conveys artistic bent, sensitivity? A 'player' (lol)? Coolness?  Who knows?  Like my young son, it may be just an assumption-- a household necessity-- like a blender or an iron-- something your Mom and her friends passed around at night... or the thing she took into the closet at 3 AM so she wouldn't wake the kids.  Most of the headstocks were labelled with the same initial as your name, so they felt familial-- branded.  They belonged.

Unlike many musicians, all of my guitars (and pets) have in a way 'found' me.  They are like stray dogs that somehow crossed my path, and came home to live with me.  I have fallen in love with each one-- their quirks and flaws, their unique beauty and voice.  My very first 'real' bass was initially a listing in Buylines-- the free newspaper we all used to seek out instruments in pre-internet days.  This was our Craigslist, the local 'hub' for trading equipment.  I took two trains and a bus out to some address in Jamaica where an old Fender Precision in a broken-handled case waited for me.  Its owner had long disheveled hair, arthritis... maybe a career once in local bands-- I didn't ask. The place smelled musty-- it was dark.  I'll take it, I said, without playing it, without holding it... the price was exactly what I had in my pocket-- $300.  When I got home, my rocker roommate was in a state of shock that I'd hit some pre-CBS jackpot.  That guitar served me for years; it mostly resides in a case these days; it seems pretentious to carry around a bass with its monetary value... I miss playing it.  I look at old photos and remember the way I felt.  

When my 'solo' guitar self-destructed two weeks ago, I panicked.  Here was another ill-fitting anomaly-- not 'me' at all, but somehow with its defects and flaws, I'd made it work.  It was my companion.  Yes, my 12-string weird tuning put unnecessary stress on the bridge but it had never seemed to complain.  Until it did.  Even its maker shook their head at the photos and told me to bury it.  Sell the parts.  

In a pandemic, random fated meetings are near-impossible.  I spent nights combing the internet for affordable options. Of course I have access to the wonderful collections of my friends, but I need to have my own funky instrument.  I need to be able to bond unequivocally and not worry about accidents or mishaps.  So with my tail between my legs I walked down to Guitar Center which was quieter than in former days... and lined with hundreds of the guitars we see and don't see hanging from TV walls-- primped and leaning in stands.  The first night I played a range of 12-strings-- from $4,000 down to $200... walked home and vowed I'd find a repair person brave enough to fix my old wreck.  

Five days passed-- I borrowed a guitar just to keep my fingers alive, and I got the courage to return to the store.  This time, one (a cheap one) seemed to remember me-- it had retained the tuning I tried out-- it had a small crack in the neck-finish which merited a price reduction.  It was the only one available.  I also had a gift card from judging a King of the Blues contest.  I so rarely buy things, the card was unused.  Again I went home, thought about the cracked guitar, considered the cons, the responsibility of actually buying a new instrument.  Nothing new about me these days.  Another two days passed, and I looked at internet photos. tried to crush on the guitar a little... gave myself lectures on moving on in life-- of leaving things behind, peeling away old layers.  A TCM movie synchronicitously had the guitar brandname in its title-- that perked my soul a little... I began to speculate that if someone bought that guitar I'd feel hurt.  So I went down a third time--- there it was.. it seemed to greet me... still in my tuning.  I bought it, carried it home with that feeling I had as a child when I'd take a few months' worth of allowance to the toy store on my bicycle and picked something. 

It's not 'everything' but it's something.  It's a lesson-- an adjustment.  The two of us are an odd couple.  It's loud, it's bright... it's black and so new.  It's a blank canvas, for sure... but I'm trying to make it welcome.  I'm going to sell the parts of my old one-- I won't insult it by trying to plastic-surgery it into some guitar hell, but maybe the parts will live on in some songwriter's hand.  It served me well and reminds me about life-- even inanimate things have a kind of death and we can't bury ourselves with our own past.  We have to keep going.  I feel certain one day my new guitar will gently weep for me, but hopefully I'll have done it a bit of justice by then.  

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1 Comments:

Blogger Unknown said...

Plenty of guitars and a cat named Black Sabbath in this apartment!

October 1, 2020 at 7:57 AM  

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