When I was fifteen years old, I only loved musicians.
Famous musicians, friend musicians, girl musicians and boy musicians, musicians whose faces I’d never even seen. At coffee shop and high-school organized concerts (God, these were always in the cafeteria, how awful) I sat cross-legged over beat-up Candies in the front row, large glossy hearts like heliumized Lisa Frank creations bubbling out of my throat and floating up to the ceiling. I watched their fingers press into each fret and I memorized their facial expressions, and after rushing home I’d write terrible poetry comparing them to delicious cookies.
For better or worse, I didn’t remain long on future-groupie track. No, instead, I clearly remember the chilly November evening in the car when the unplugged version of “Come As You Are” came on the radio. I was leaning my head on a windowpane in the back seat, feeling teenage as usual. The season’s last crumpled leaves swirled and jumped in the pavement, fluttering against the glass and seeming very significant. “No I doooon’t have a gun,” Kurt moaned, reverberating in the depths of the universe and my veins or whatever.
Wait a minute! I thought to myself, what if I did that?
For my 16th birthday, my dad took me to a store, and I picked out — not a gun, but my guitar.
Old Friend, a Little Dusty. (Full album)
Did I ever get lessons? The weird thing is, I don’t actually remember. I always meant to get lessons: it was going to be my potential birthday present from my mom. But I’m pretty sure this never happened. (Not to say anything against her, or maybe it is. Probably it’s something I let slide. Who knows? Forgetting is forgiving is forgetting.)
I think of a small white room and a man — likely my instructor — who was roughly half its size, bulging out of old polo shirts with arms like hairy meatloaves. There is a music stand in front of us, a small piano to the side. The fluorescent lights are very bright. Is that a guitar resting on my leg? No.
I’m holding something in both hands, there is a taste of old bamboo in my mouth. I think it’s that godforsaken clarinet.
Also, he might have been very, very thin.
An email I sent to friends in the Boston area, age 25, July 24 2008:
Because all I ever do any more is try to abandon my possessions on your doorsteps:
1 lovely steel-strung acoustic guitar.
I debated trying to sell it, but a.) everyone and their mom is selling an acoustic guitar on craigslist, and no one is updating their listing with “sold”, and b.) it just seems so SOULLESS AND SAD.
I wrote really awful songs about love (and vegetables!) on this guitar! I sang out of my range! I even performed once at a “chickfest” sponsored by my friends in high school and it was the most embarrassing thing I’ve done in my life, ever — with this very guitar! You’ll probably have better luck with it, though. It really is nice. You know when someone gives you real honey, like the kind with a hand-printed label and a little piece of twine around the lid which their own father harvested from his bin of bees in their richly forested Maine backyard? Yeah. This guitar is LIKE THAT. In color.
Also comes with: hard case, tuner, stapled-together print-outs of the Nirvana Unplugged album chords. Oh yes.
If you or anyone you know would benefit from shiny albeit un-new guitar, and perhaps even love it a little, let me know.
Here’s the thing about the clarinet: I started playing it in fifth grade, the first out of three instruments I would ever attempt to play (piano made a stunningly brief cameo for a summer of junior high). At that time, I was deeply conflicted over my first crush ever. Not deeply conflicted in any unique sense — I just found romantic inclinations in general to be perplexing. (I still cringe when I think of the day I walked by Curtis playing basketball in the park near our house . . . and I was walking a stroller full of dolls. I looked at him, and then I looked down at the stroller. Transitional moment!)
Curtis later became our band’s star clarinet player with occasional solos. Our paths separated in junior high when, despite reasonably diligent practicing and even individual lessons, I became the girl sectioned off in the back, playing the same quarter note, over and over and over. In my memory the clarinet is all Cs.
I’m trying to think of anything else that I’ve owned and taken with me for nine years. Nothing comes to mind. I make a concerted effort to get rid of anything I suspect I’m keeping purely for the sake of keeping it.
I hadn’t played the guitar in seven years. For some reason, all that time, I thought I was keeping it because there was still a chance I’d play it. Or not just play it: that I would pick it up one day, and suddenly, effortlessly, the talent would spring forth like rose petals falling out of my mouth. I would stand in front of a microphone in a coffee shop and close my eyes, the sound of me and my guitar causing any serious listener to make the inevitable comparisons to delicious cookies.
C, c, c. Fermatas were always my favorite because you had to take a large, discreet breath first.
My sophomore year of high school, my best friend Melissa and I created a band. She played bass, both of us on vocals. We called ourselves “Smacking Fran” and wrote a total of two songs which we combined with one cover (“Gigantic”, it was deemed that I needed an electric guitar and stronger fingers to bar chords) that was never quite solid enough to perform in public.
The songs we wrote, though? Oh yeah. We sang those in front of people. To this day I live in fear of some video surfacing on the internet.
You and I / sitting on the porch / such a cold winter night yet we’re afraid of getting scorched / a FLAMING SEA / DEVOURS ME / YOUR RAW GLACIAL INTENSITY.
And who could forget the chives song classic? I sure can’t!
Lingering / green scent of chives / I scrub and scrub and scrub /deprive, deprive deprive — / then stop, inhaling deeeeeply. / You’re still there. / You’re still there.
I like to think I was a pretty good writer — for a fifteen-year-old — but I’ll be honest, sometimes I have my doubts.
I don’t own this guitar any more. A former coworker’s boyfriend happily took it. She’s a ballet dancer and recently moved to Boston so they could live together, and he’s a musician with some assortment of instruments collected in what they’ve called “the music room.” He’s always wanted an acoustic guitar.
I felt like I was screening for adoptive parents. Music-loving? Check. Know how to care for an instrument? Check. (I do not know how to care for instruments.) May potentially use this thing? Check.
“Sure!” I replied. “You can pick it up this weekend.”
My camera had just broken, so I biked to Harvard Square and got the new model, spent a day thumbing through the manual, and then took these pictures.