October 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
About a month ago, I started to organize 35 years of correspondence, school papers and journals. Incredible things resurfaced: dozens of letters from a high-school English teacher; letters from my grandmothers and my great aunt about family history; a note from Don DeLillo replying to my letter that had asked him about “the role of the author in modern America”; a hilarious five-year-long summer camp correspondence relating news of bad meals, homesickness, ascents of mountains, rain, cuts and scrapes; postcards sent to my parents while away at school asking for them to send me Black Sabbath and Judas Priest tapes; friends’ postcards from Alaska, Korea, Paris, Prague, Washington, California.
My mother had saved all of this and had passed it on to me years ago. Every report card. Every note from a teacher. Every birthday card. This had all been boxed, uncategorized and unfiltered for decades. And whatever made me get to it I don’t know. I had the sounds of William Fowler Collins, Alan Lacroix and Richard Skelton keeping me company, loud. So much was filtering through the humid air.
Most remarkable and beautifully mysterious is the volume of correspondence between me and my wife. Beginning when we were 17, we wrote letters to each other when apart. This ended when we were married at 22, but in those five years some several hundred pages were written between us. We each separately saved these letters, and the majority of envelopes too.
Unfolding them and putting them in order. Seeing the changes in how we’d address each other — a map of private names and words. Letters in code, one that has stayed with us. We shared, I learned, a practice: to read the letter, refold it and place in back in the envelope. And after so many years a number of them resealed themselves. As time had passed, the letters had retreated into themselves, folded close and covered in exile. I didn’t hesitate or question what to do. I re-opened them with my letter opener. I unfolded each. I put them in order. They’re open again for us both. Our code unbroken.
October 22, 2011 § 1 Comment
I started listening to harp guitar music around 1984/5 and since then have wanted to see what could come from one. All of the explosive playing I’d heard on harp guitars from its modern adherents, such as Michael Hedges and Stephen Bennett, kept ringing through my head, along with an older tradition of playing from the early 20th century. It’s an old concept that has been explored by luthiers for centuries: adding sub-bass strings which are not fretted to a guitar, but played open to expand the depth and range of the instrument. All of the extended techniques developed over the years clang in my head: harmonics, hammer-ons, pull-offs, finger tapping, string slapping, over-the-neck chording. But when faced with the unreality of having my own, and I pick it up and tune it to ear, set fingers to it, the music that comes out of it is decidedly mine, not theirs, and this long tradition fades into the fact of my own present.
Having had to unlearn what I thought the guitar should do, here now is another instrument to unravel. It has its own wishes and desires, and I have my own inabilities. The first time I touched it, it did things that I wouldn’t necessarily have done if I’d set out a plan, but it somehow did them anyway. It stammered in the same way I stammer on any of the other guitars I own. Its stuttering a reflection of how I interact with any instrument, unable (it always seems) to keep up with its own ideas.
And so to unlearn what I’ve always expected from one of these instruments, and to let it be what it is for me. It seems I am a participant in all of this, and yet, somehow, not. Who can say what should come out of it?
October 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment