My son's guitar is better than mine. This is a point of satisfaction. I am excited at his recent motivation to learn to play. He received the guitar for Christmas. Looking at his guitar, thoughts and memories run through my mind. I wish he were here with me, that he was waiting to pick it up to practice chords, or idle after he'd already made his music.
Right now, I wish I had someone for whom to play, a love, a small crowd, anyone who could catch at least the joy in the ring of steel strings. Why do I want this?
A few years ago, I found myself at a bar. There was an open stage, a warm, live microphone and maybe a few warm, live bodies. My friend Julia asked if I might want to sing. I said, “No guitar.”
She turned to me and said, “Jim has a guitar in the car.”
I looked at her askance and muttered, “I don't think it's such a good idea.” The connection between Jim and me was as convoluted and uneasy as the twice-removed lingerings of a past relationship he had with Julia—and the treacheries around how much of his old space I now sat in. Julia must have had a lapse in awareness—not remembering why guys learn to play guitar; not remembering why Jim's guitar existed and for whom he carried it.
There are a few reasons why guys learn to play guitar. For the most part, the reasons fall into two categories: One is about the love of making music easily— our favorite music. The other is about impressing women.
I was never one of the guys who thought I would gain favor with a woman by playing a guitar. I was sufficiently thrilled to belt out the opening chords to “Lola,” as a handful of dorm mates learned to do that freshman year in college or, soon after, strum all the Neil Young songs that buffeted my lonely-boy angst.
But Jim was clearly one of those who picks up his guitar to impress the girls. Julia knew this.
She could have seen that it would be with epic reluctance that Jim would go out to his car to fetch his guitar so that I could play it. Maybe she had one or two too many scotch and sodas. Maybe she forgot that she was a woman for whom he played guitar in order to gain favor.
I sat next to her, with my hand tentatively on her arm, slightly transgressing without song. I politely and diplomatically declined her suggestion. The mic remained silent.
Right now, my son's guitar is silent, waiting for a moment of earnest thrill and determination: waiting for my son to engage in his newest inspiration. He is 11. He has no girlfriends. Today, his playing is totally innocent. No treacheries.