But For My Machine



It’s getting to be that hour when you start dragging out the heavy equipment: meaning; desire; love; hate; good; evil; life; death. Meaning’s a good one. File under The One That Got Away. You silently pine for it like a dead pet. It certainly can’t be found in or anywhere near your guitar playing tonight. Mostly it just feels good to sit and be with your machine; the foreclosed farmer sat alone in his shut harvester with no crop to thresh.

You were after a specific attack character achievable only with the use of a certain super-thin plectrum blasted against some .013 round wounds. You really needed that sound. You scoured the place up, down, and sideways, but still could not find a single pick in any of the usual crannies. It seems like just a week or so ago, you couldn’t get away from the dizzy things. They’d go flying from your pockets into the lawn as you pulled out your house keys, or you’d find them used as bookmarks, or in the clothes dryer, or the silverware drawer. You got annoyed seeing them everywhere, but now you wish you could locate even one. A collar stay could almost work; but no…maybe there’s one in the guitar case, but you look, and there isn’t.

You take your usual spot on the third step from the landing and play with your thumb instead. You strum, thump, pluck, mute, detune, re-tune, and then hobble through a few scales ’til your ass gets tired. There’s the usual pet shapes, maybe a part of something you loftily refer to as a composition that you’ve been working on for a lifetime now (taxonomy-depending, we could be talking several lifetimes). The notes produced are exactly opposite of what you were after — chubby and warm, yet devoid of soul coal. Indeed, at best, there’s a few scant cinders yielding barely enough heat to barre a chord. Even your muscle memories are growing spotty.

Not much doing tonight, is there kid? Not much doing on a lot of nights lately. Thousands, probably. It’s been a real bad spell.

When was the last time you replaced the strings? You sit there, actually trying to pinpoint the exact night you were in that awful music shop, knowing all the while that it’s that other stringed machine that’s fucking you up tonight. Lately, you are more physically aware of this other machine than you have ever before been. It’s been clocking some real hard mileage on some very bad fuel over the last year or so. Blaming your guitar strings for your playing would be like taking an open-wheel racer across the Baja peninsula and then blaming a bad shave for why everything came apart after mile one.

You hurt, and the hurt is so deep as to border on the unreal. It is actually bizarre to hurt so much. Lately, whenever you hear the word heartache in a song or read it someplace, it’s like you’re unfolding a series of hidden wrinkles within the word itself, its true dimensions fanning out like some phantasmagorical blueprint replete with detailed footnotes and exploded views.  All the references you’ve heard over the years become clear after finally sitting down and reading the codex. Don Covay; Roy Orbison; Barry Gibb; Doc Pomus; Charles Aznavour…all of them contributing architects.

If you make it through this, you know you’ll look back at the brink in awe of how close you were. Maybe some humid night several thousand nights from this one, you’ll be slouched in one of those injection-molded Adirondack chairs in some old buddy’s carport, listening to some Capcity sides and glugging some good suds as you compare scars from all your exit wounds. Someone’s flirty half-sister’ll light some fireworks at the end of the drive; cheap thrills will ensue. You’ll remain plopped there, delighting in your own dumbness, staring at the half-sister’s perfect little ass through the sulfur fog banks plaiting around the old street lamps. And it is in that instant, lungs full of mossy midnight air, that you will realize that you feel just about as close to fine as you’ll ever get. You contrive and fixate on various such banal scenes evermore frequently and in evermore detail, as though they might represent the zenith of the human experience. Could be they do.

You put the guitar up and go put the sprinkler out. With this machine, you have better luck.


Chico Hamilton Quintet — Blue Sands


More majesty from the youtubes…

Among other sensations, I’m simply humbled by such flights of beauty and imagination. I’ve long loved the recorded version of this composition on Pacific Jazz (w/ Jim Hall on guitar), but to discover this live performance with John Pisano in 1958 is really a thrill.

I love the audience shots, too; a real class bunch. Man, Americans really used to have it. 

Thank you Mr. Hamilton (and a happy early birthday).