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August 31, 2004

Playing for Cassiopeia

My calluses are gone. The strings gouge deep into my fingers. Has it been that long? I bought new strings when Becky last strung her fiddle, and that couldn't have been longer ago than... my god. That was in February. It's been more than half a year since I touched my guitar.

That's not the longest I've gone without playing. There was a four or five year period in my twenties. I got tired of listening to my then-girlfriend make fun of my playing, not that she was completely unjustified in doing so. I wasn't bad, but I was very earnest. Oh well. I started again within a month of the breakup.

Five years it may not have been, but seven months is long enough. Boy, does this hurt. I get the capo, anxious to cheat a little against the strings. It helps, a little.

What's gotten into me? How can I have more important things to do than this? I have a back porch in California with a screen door that slams, and every twenty-four hours or so another cool night comes, and I use one in 200 to play guitar? The nineteen-year-old me would be disgusted. He played every night outside in the Buffalo winter, uphill both ways. A regular untalented male version of Ani DiFranco, he was.

Cassiopeia peeks out from behind a cloud.

My voice wavers in the upper registers. My neighbors are asleep. I'm trying to be quiet. If I could sing a bit louder, I could nail that pesky E two octaves above middle C. But I can't, and this limits my playlist. The Ballad of Pancho and Lefty is about right, and I get most of the way through before I must drum my lacerated fingers on the concrete to numb them. They only let me play so long out of kindness, I suppose.

I have an audience. Thistle's on the other side of the screen door. Is he listening, or does he just want out so he can play with the raccoons? The moon blazes through the live oak canopy, and I play Across the Great Divide. My voice has warmed up a bit; if I point my face at Cassiopeia I can hit the higher notes just fine. Telluride comes unbidden to the strings, and I play along. Likewise with Rock Salt and Nails. Angel From Montgomery. Just like old times.

Becky murmurs something nice through the screen door. Only a few minutes of playing, and my fingers start to remember what they're supposed to do, hitting the runs of grace notes from G to C to F, A minor and Bb.

I need to get my priorities straight. I've spent a quarter century, more or less, pulling music from this thing: it's an investment I need to manage. I realize that for the last few minutes I've been trying to fingerpick Hard Times Come Again No More, a new song for me. I guess my hands have the right idea. Work on enough new material to keep things interesting.

I launch an encore of Telluride at Cepheus' wife, then go inside to mine. The guitar goes back into the closet. See you tomorrow night, old friend.

Posted by Chris Clarke at August 31, 2004 11:42 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:
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Comments

this is wonderful to imagine. my own guitar has stood in a corner for nearly TWENTY years! a victim to my stagefright. and that after 8 years of classical guitar lessons! i'm ashamed :) - if that were what i heard from my neighbors, it would make the city a far more bearable place for me. thank you for sharing such a kind and pleasant image of words.

Posted by: Anne at September 1, 2004 09:10 AM
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When I was in high school, I had a beautiful '68 Les Paul that was truly a wonderful guitar. It was technically "loaned" to me, but for all intents and purposes it was mine. It had belonged to my father's best friend's deceased brother (I just had a Spaceballs flashback!), and he was just thrilled that someone was getting some regular use out of it. The instrument was a tad on the heavy side, but it had a gorgeous tone and was very responsive.

Long story short, it was stolen out of the practice room I had set up in the garage at my mom's house the week I started college (probably by my mother's sleazy boyfriend du jour, who fortunately wasn't in the picture for too much longer after that). I was so depressed that I haven't played since... I switched to bass (which I was already playing in a number of really shitty garage bands), and ended up majoring in voice and conducting when I transferred to a music school.

That being said, I still miss it, and reading this post really made me want to pick it up again.

Posted by: the_bone at September 1, 2004 10:56 AM
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Me too. I got my guitar (a cedar-topped steel-strung Seagull) for my graduation present. It was either that or a bicycle. :)

Does anyone know any tricks for toughening up one's fingers? My calluses are long, long gone.

Beautiful post, Chris.

Posted by: Rana at September 1, 2004 01:55 PM
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Does anyone know any tricks for toughening up one's fingers? My calluses are long, long gone.

I think playing guitar is the most efficient method.

Anne, I think I'd be a better person if I developed a little stagefright. Back when I was performing, I could walk on to a stage in front of hundreds of people - did it a few times - and show off shamelessly.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at September 1, 2004 07:12 PM
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What I like best is that you were playing for Cassiopeia.

Posted by: beth at September 2, 2004 01:57 PM
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Why were you playing for that chick from Battlestar Galactica?

Posted by: the_bone at September 2, 2004 08:42 PM
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Because she got me tickets for "Showtime at Apollo's."

Posted by: Chris Clarke at September 2, 2004 09:27 PM
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And some coffee at Starbuck's, no doubt.

Posted by: the_bone at September 3, 2004 06:18 AM
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Well I've been racking my brain in between working at my environmentalist job all day, and I can't think of even one more Battlestar Galactica pun. I am one forlorn Green.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at September 3, 2004 07:37 PM
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I can't think of even one more Battlestar Galactica pun

That was the "crushing rejoinder" you were talking about in my comments?

Posted by: the_bone at September 8, 2004 03:37 PM
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I get it now... durrrrrr.

*smacks head slowly and repeatedly against keyboard*

Posted by: the_bone at September 9, 2004 05:32 AM
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