I gave away my electric guitar this week.
The second guitar I’ve owned, it had seen four homes. It sat for years in the corner, followed by several more years in a case in the closet. Most recently it languished, forlornly, in the garage in back of the house.
I’d always intended to master it, but I'd been given this guitar when I was almost 28. By then I had graduated from business school and was working my second job in publishing. I guess I knew by then that it would be at best a rewarding hobby.
My first guitar, a gift from my mother in the summer of '69, was not nearly as nice. It didn't have to be. Just holding it connected me to the music that was shaping a generation.
Maybe all near-adolescents think that the music of their times speaks volumes. Certainly the music on the radio that year seemed inextricably linked to the world around us.
Songs like “Bad Moon Rising” and “Gimme Shelter” played alongside “I Can’t Get Next to You” and “It’s Your Thing”. The intensity of the Vietnam War was peaking at a time when songs like “Fortunate Son” and “Come Together” made the political in music seem like an every-day occurance.
Our parents had divorced two years earlier, with my father gaining custody of the four kids. My mother had moved from Massachusetts to Las Vegas and then Dayton, and we saw her mostly for extended times during the summer.
Most of the kids had winter birthdays, and we wound up celebrating them jointly during the summer trips. In giving me a guitar, my mother probably figured she could channel my energy into something useful.
I never took lessons. Forty years ago, there was less of a sense that you sent your kids off to learn instruments, and I was never very good at taking direction. As well, we didn’t have the kind of money that would be spent on such things.
On hot days in August I’d walk with my guitar to Kathy Craven’s house. Her family owned a “Learn how to play guitar” book, probably bought at the local Purity Sav-Mor. It seemed more than adequate to us.
We’d sit in her garage, which at least offered shade, taking turns trying to figure out how to make joyful sounds from the guitar. When that didn’t work out, we half-heartedly tried to fix the choke on the Craven’s lawnmower, almost certainly making matters worse with every turn of the set screw.
"That summer seemed to last forever", and our routine took us to into September, when school started again. Kathy Craven and I never really fixed the lawnmower, and I never really learned how to play that guitar. Two summers later I started high school in a different town. Soon, I was running three seasons a year and doing all of the things that high-schoolers do to keep from falling asleep.
Along the way, I lost sight of that first guitar, which went AWOL somewhere between Flynn Road and an apartment in downtown Peabody. By then, we weren’t doing summer trips with my mother any more. That may be just as well: the soundtrack in the mid 1970s was not quite the same.
By comparison, I held on to the new guitar for a long time, from a living room in Singapore, trying to match the chords at the end of “Racing in the Street”, to a basement in New Jersey, amplifier at 11, just making noise. Over time I learned that I’m better at listening.
Instruments, though, deserve to be played.
Earlier this summer, my nephew Duncan, only a bit older than I was in the summer of 1969, toured me around his bedroom and emerging music studio. I asked if he might have any use for a lightly used electric guitar. He certainly did.
The folks at Rocket Ship and Print know me well, and they promised to take good care in packing everything up. They even looked the other way while I patted the case one more time. And then off it went, a guitar in search of someone else who can help it make a joyful noise.