An earlier version of this post appeared at Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) on March 24, 2018. It has been updated slightly, but is still prepared to string you along.
Two of the guitars, the electric ones, stand virtually forgotten in a corner of my office at home. The older of the two–a red one I bought shortly after my fortieth birthday, more than twenty-one years ago–is in its hard case, missing a string, maybe two. It’s been missing strings before. A long time back, my then very young daughter Meghan had her Mom, my lovely wife Brenda, bring her to the music store, my red guitar in hand, to have its strings replaced as a gift for Dad. I was touched beyond description. I used to play it. Not very often, never well, nor even adequately. I had no talent, no technique, no musical acumen whatsoever. Still, I plugged in. I knew some chords, mangled as they were in my clumsy hands. I’d forgotten the notes I used to know, but I could still manage an inept G, an approximate C, the odd D, E, A, and D7, and I do mean odd. I turned up, and slammed. The result never quite sounded like “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” or “Mr. Tambourine Man” or Lennon and McCartney’s “I’ll Be On My Way.” It was noise. But it was my noise.
And then I’d usually pop another string. So much for channeling Johnny Ramone.
The black guitar arrived in the mail in December of 2007, I think. It wasn’t a Christmas gift, just something I acquired via incentive points I needed to spend in a hurry. The memory is bittersweet. The day the guitar was delivered, I unpacked it and went upstairs to the office, where Meghan was at the computer with her cousin Stephanie, who was visiting Syracuse for the holidays. It was not the last time we would see Stephanie. She returned for a visit the following summer, when we took her to see The Flashcubes and to the New York State Fair. She was taken from us in October of 2008, the cruelest blow of our lives so far. Thinking of that black guitar makes me think of Stephanie, a pleasant memory that makes me cry, without fail.
The two acoustic guitars are in the garage, accumulating dust, both missing strings, neither played in years. All four guitars are out of tune. I can’t tune them properly, not even the black one with all six strings intact. I can’t play. I can’t make the music I wish I could make.
When I did try to play my guitars, there was a simple chord sequence I used to use, a G-A-D-G-A-D-G-E-A-G-C-A-D-G-A if I recall correctly. It was the presumed melody for a song in my head. The only lyrics it ever had have been with me for decades:
Sometimes in my dreams we still talk to each other
Although in real life I know we’re done with one another
I don’t know if I’d want you to return
I’d just feel better if I could learn
What became of you
Because I remember you
In my head, it was about the people who’d once been integral parts of my life before they slipped away. The high school confidante who killed himself. The teen co-conspirator who later severed her ties with me. The soulmate who was never really my girlfriend, though both of us wondered if we’d be married someday. The enigma who wanted to be my girlfriend, but I wasn’t ready for her. The college bud I discarded in anger. Pals and passersby. Lovers and friends I still can recall; some are dead, and some are living. Family. Regrets? I’ve had a few. I can’t say if they’re too few to mention.
Yet I know I’ve been blessed as well. Brenda and I are still together. Meghan, no longer the little girl who dragged her Dad’s red guitar to the store for mending, graduated with highest honors from Ithaca College in 2017, and snagged a part-time job–in her field!–at Syracuse University Press. I acknowledge the bad. I embrace the good. And I try to keep on playing, in my own fashion.
My daily blog Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) debuted on January 18th, 2016, originally with the less-distinctive title CC Says. It took just under a year to accumulate 50,000 views, and just over another fourteen months to quadruple that figure. It’s over a half a million strong now–just like Woodstock! It’s a modest number still, but one I embrace as good. The road to relevance winds on. You’re welcome to travel along with me.
I can’t play. I can write. I’ll be here every day for as long as I can. Maybe I’ll pick up the black guitar for a bit, just to remember. And just to play, even though I can’t. But the noise I make remains my own.
(Oh, and for the full story of my life-long failed attempts to make music, I refer you to “I’ve Got The Music In Me [And That’s Where It’s Gonna Stay].” Many guitar strings were harmed in the making of this picture.)