The Shame of It All
So this is where the years wind up? This is where it ends?
The man crouched on the stool atop the stage touches the strings with delicate if resilient fingers, but the tattered Marshall on which his boot rests beside him doesn't care. The Marshall likes it loud, just as the Gibson connected to the amp does, and just as the old rocker who cradles the classic guitar to his breast does. And just like the other two, the aged amp still works fine, which it proves by ejecting the single chord through the “business end” of it’s speaker like a well-tuned cannon’s blast. The lonely chord reverberates through the practically empty room, an amplified clarion call of Axeman, Gibson and Marshall, but the few paired-up people in the bar are inattentive, all but one. In the harsh glow of the footlights his fingerprints and sweat streaks besmudge the guitar’s fire-burst design, soiling it, the same as the man’s blue jeans are soiled, and the boots beneath them. His hair is long and unwashed, and his beard, and his shirt tails hang too long as well, (the tails left untucked so as to hide the unwelcomed paunch above his biker belt). The man appears very comfortable in his place upon the stage, comfortable being spotlighted in the skuzziness surrounding him, glowing in the raunchy smells and dim lights made dimmer still through his dark glasses, and through his hazy, three-quarters of the way there drunk.
He steals a moment to read the room. He could take that single chord he’d opened with in a myriad of directions. His catalog is extensive, overflowing with both self-written and cover songs, but he waits before continuing, counting heads. He’d drawn seven people. Seven. Not so long ago he’d drawn 17 thousand. Or maybe it was “so long ago,” considering how the world had changed in that seemingly short amount of time? In any event, this must be where it all really ends, he thinks, all of the rehearsing, and travelling, and playing. He is down to an audience of seven.
Hidden behind the glasses his eyes pick out the only one in the tiny audience who is paying attention. He begins to play nothing in particular to that one, just old finger exercises he’d invented long ago when learning to play, tricks designed to impress, but “nothings” which also allowed him the freedom to take flight in a million different directions, just as the single chord had. It is an old game to him, showing out, a game he plays very well.
She is young, the one paying attention; dark eyed and olive skinned. Big, frizzy hair and sandaled feet stick out either end of a long, shapeless, hippy-looking dress. He can imagine her with actual flowers in her hair, can remember other girls just like her, in other times. She is the sort he used to easily have. He wonders if he still can. Looking at her, he decides on an old song, but a goodie; a song that the girl might even have heard before, written by his favorite songster, way back when. Even if the songs are dated, you can never go wrong playing Kris. Once the song is decided the man in the spotlights begins searching for a jumping off spot from his riffs and rips. Finding one, his transition is seamless into a finger-picked intro in the key of E.
He has chosen the song for her because she has reminded him of it, she has the “look” of it, so he is disappointed when she throws back her drink and stands, but she doesn’t leave, as he half expects her to. On the contrary, she makes her way over to the one step stage, climbs aboard, and without asking for permission pulls the microphone from it’s chrome stand. Intrigued and up for anything, the man slides into the opening chord, nodding her along with him into the song.
She must be Capricorn, he thinks. Her voice is deep, sultry, much smoother than Janice’s, reminding him for some reason of silent snowflakes touching down in a wooded, gray, and wintry world. She keeps it simple, which he appreciates, singing the song as it is meant to be sung, though her lyrics are not quite right;
Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin’ for the trains
I’s feeling nearly faded as my jeans
Bobby thumbed a diesel down, just before it rains
It rode us all the way to New Orleans
She is good, so he tones and tunes down, allowing her room to work.
Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
And nothin’, don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain‘t free
He joins in where she needs a push, his harmony mixing nicely and naturally with her melody, even though his voice is unamplified. His fingers fill in the breaks, running free at the song’s high point while she lays low, a soft and mournful hum in contrast to the bedlam which Janice’s crescendoes had made famous at this point in the song;
La la la, la da la da, la dee la dee la dee la…
His smile remains inside. An experienced poker player, he knows when to bluff. Hers is on the outside, where he can see it, glowing brightly as the song nears it’s end. They have found something, this old man and this girl; a connection that only music or lovemaking can allow two strangers to share. He wonders if one might lead to the other?
When the final notes tinkle from the amp, in that briefest of moments before the spatter of unexpected applause, while respectful silence still reigns supreme, the two of them share a look, both seeing something fascinating in the other, and wondering “what could have been?” The startled few at their seats, they who have only now realized that they had just unwittingly witnessed one of those special, unforgettable moments in life that are oh-so difficultly found, rise and begin to clap. As she hands him back his microphone he notices her wetted cheek, and longs to swipe it away with a hopeful thumb.
“Thank you, Dad. I‘ve always wanted to sing that with you.”
With that she walks away, leaving him suddenly older, sober, and even more alone.
Can this be where the year's wind up? Is this where it all ends?
Not on your fuckin’ life, it’s not. The guitar man lovingly lays his smudged instrument down atop the well-travelled amp and leaps a little too exuberantly from the one step stage, so that he is forced to limp hastily through the maze of tables in his pursuit...
(For my friends, TheEnigmas... "words, words, words of shame.")