I was in jail for a year and the
old black man had a Kona. I know it sounds hokey,
like something sappy and trite from a studio movie, but his music made me
happy. I’d sit in the tiny rec. yard with the old people and watch him
play for hours at a time with a look on my face just like you’d imagine.
old black man did a never-ending blues improv and given enough time would lull
me into Cool Hand Luke or the
unapologetic poetry of a song like “Curtis Lowe” or I’d watch
his leathery hands move over the strings like I was watching a fire burn. He
played on the black Kona with the white trim that had
an imprint of a fist knocked right in the middle of the body and a long black
splinter popping out of the left side of the neck. Its strings weren’t cut
to fit and splayed wildly from the tuning keys. They sometimes got caught in
the guitar’s sun-baked fret board and rang out with a rusty dissonance you’d
think would ruin everything but it didn’t. It only happened when the old
man pursed his lips and strummed passionately; waving his head all around in
ecstasy, and then it wasn’t about the sound of the music anymore, but
about its soul.
I know that sounds sappy too, but
they make these movies for a reason. Then there was the soul of the music, the
sun washing over the razor wire fence and bathing my back, and my sanctuary
from the young and restless hoard inviting me to trouble. Here was my excuse to
love and not to fight.
of this is to insinuate that I enjoyed jail. I hated ninety nine percent of it.
It’s often the case though, at least for a person like me, that you can
hate something like work, or jail, or a drug habit, but still
class=GramE>savor the brackets of context it puts around your life. When
I left jail I fell back into meaning nothing. I didn’t go back where I
was but I didn’t do anything to improve my situation either. I wandered
around. For days I wandered around, through café’s, through artsy
parties, through parks, and here was another sort of movie montage- ephemeral
neon signs popping up along side my wandering close-up framing a portrait of
my- just utter nothingness.
in there I picked up a guitar.
can feel drunk and stoned without putting a thing into your body. You can even
go on a bender without substance. I was drinking and smoking, of course I was,
but not enough to constitute the sort of fog that cropped up. I thought about
Johnny Depp and Hunter S. Thomson and then I reminded
myself I only had to watch Johnny Depp trip in
montage for 120 minutes. What I remember is the guitar was a Fender, and it lay
on a dingy brown carpet festooned with pot stems and pipes of glass and foil. The
Fender was electric with a deep cherry red finish, white knobs and a rounded
body. It had a handmade strap of hemp and beads with hemp stitched leather
ends. I imagined the whole thing was beautiful once. I played G, B, E, B, G, B,
E, B… and so on. The E string was gone.
There was a tiny rusted piece of
the clay slicing string still tangled up in the tuning peg. Where it used to
run the fret board was covered in spilt soda, carpet fibers, and bong resin. I
played a three string song I wrote for a brunette vegetarian girl named Jill.
The shrill staccato notes were perfect for me then.
I didn’t remember the old
black man’s name and so I lost his context. What I generated on my own,
strung out in the apartment in the sea of fog was nothing close. I stood in
front of a liquor store for a while and thought of robbing it. There was a
steel pipe with a sharpened end and I could stab the owner in the shoulder and
run out. He’d have a story to tell and I’d get picked up off the
street and given context again. I decided that the liquor store owner might
have a gun.
month later I found myself sleeping in my car. I didn’t dare open the
trunk because I’d have to see it. Tucked warmly in a leather-clad,
red-velvet lined case was my Gibson cutaway classical guitar, freshly polished,
freshly oiled, and freshly strung with mother of pearl inlays in the fret board
and around the sound hole and pin striped black and white trim. I thought about
the old black man’s rusty blues and about the Pink Floyd songs the red
Fender must’ve played, and on the wings of this imagined music I soared
over the pristine silver and stretched nylon strings feeling my fingers slide
effortlessly up and down the mahogany board, closing my eyes and leaning into
my instrument so each rich vibration resonated deep within my chest. The
thought of my cheek resting against the Gibson’s curved body lulled me to
sleep. It sat in my trunk with a bag of picks and a chromatic tuner. Not one of
those picks had a scratch on it.