Forty years of solitary strumming
I still have my first guitar, bought for $14 from a friend of my youngest aunt. I also have the Japanese red label Yamaha that same aunt gave me, and several others, acoustic and electric. Playing is rejuvenating for me. Good essay about yours.
I have three of them. A Guild D-25, a Takamine 12 string, and a craviola. The Guild I bought as a teen and has served me well. The Takamine was a Christmas gift from my grandmother and has traveled far.
The craviola I bought a few years ago in Switzerland and is a very interesting instrument. It's a 12 string and has a different sound from the Takamine, as well as an unusual shape. It's the one I have in California (the others being in NY).
Like you I only play in solitude. So the craviola gets carried out to remote areas along Rte 1 where I can look at the ocean while I make my rusty fingers try to remember what they used to do...
Nice article. I have many lacquered boxes. Sewing and writing boxes are a particular favorite. We will have to share some photos. Papier mache, mother of pearl and black lacquer, make for some beautiful boxes.
Have to say the buttons, are still the main obsession. Button collecting, a gentle madness it is referred to.
My guitars and mandolins, wall ornaments. When asked once how my mandolin tater bug playing was going, my response was: “ Trying to play that tater bug mando, makes it easier to try and play the guitar. “
LOVED reading this! I pictured scenes from Deutschland 83 with the part about your family’s trip to the USSR. What an experience! You got your first guitar while also learning that people on the other side “were people just like us.” We tell our kids that, but seeing it is always better.
Also, love your mom’s outlook: “hell yeah, sounds weird, let’s do it.”
And hell yeah to enjoying an instrument you’ll never be great at playing!
I understand it being like meditation for you. Growing up we had a cottage and in front of ours was the main fire pit. Our neighbours, the Williams family, had five children who all played the guitar and the oldest also played the banjo. That is one of my greatest memories from those days. Give me a fire and acoustic music and I am at complete peace.
Your parents sound brilliant. but - you only have 3 guitars??? quite clear you are a writer and not a musician :-)
This was a great read, and it's nice to know that there's someone else whose guitar career consists of a progression of playing—to nobody—a bunch of random, made up stuff and then making up some new random stuff and playing that over and over, for probably far too long...
Though I'm mostly an A-minor guy myself. I blame Neil Young.
Is it vanity or appropriation or something, I wonder, to suspect that synaesthesia goes together with writing, particularly fiction, perhaps better than with any other creative art? I dunno, because I don't practice any other art; but "synaesthesia is inherently metaphor is inherently fiction" feels like an equation I could defend.
Russia could have been Marquez' detached town of Macondo and you guys, the band of gypsies traveling through. Parallel worlds and objects of wonder and delight, and solitary tunes echoing through time. Love this story and your mix of photos and created images. ✨️
A cracking post M, thank you.
I have what you would call enthusiasm making up for talent when it comes to instruments, but I can sing pretty well. When I was in a band we played all original stuff and I was surrounded by consummate musicians, who had played in various guises for people like Genesis, The Adventures, Camel and The Sugarcubes! They would ask things about keys and timings. I would stare blankly and go back to belting out the words.
The one I adore is the cello. I tried to learn it at school and would spend many a happy hour just hearing and feeling the way the bass had that meditative 😱 sound.
I've read this several times over the past few days, because this is an awkward one for me. As I hit my teens I developed an insatiable desire to consume, experience & perform music. Joined my first band at 13, upped the stakes from cheap no-name instruments to a classic Rickenbacker by the time I was 17. Signed my first major record deal at 20 & worked with some names across the 80s, performing and producing. Was lucky enough to play on a number 1 hit 1981, though nothing of real note after that.
The trouble was, as time went on I got more disillusioned by the whole thing. The last time I actually made a full album was 2006, with some bits & pieces for a few years after that - but as I read your piece, the realisation comes to me that, although I have three guitars in the room with me right now, I haven't picked up any of them in probably a year. I'm still trying to decide quite how that makes me feel; determined to pick one up, or content to just ignore the issue until I forget about it again.
To not end this on a downer, I did once in 1982, driving as a tourist in the hills in Bulgaria, then still the 'wrong side' of the Iron Curtain, zip around a woodland corner to come face to face with a surprise military installation with attendant barrier, barbed wire, armed guards, tanks, trucks.... The world's fastest three-point turn was hastily executed & we beat a retreat. No-one followed or shot at us.
'Oh how we laughed', as they say… much later.