underhand.jpg

Where have I been? (“Got any what?”) Uh, where have you been? Or: Where haven’t I been, more likely. Actually, it’s a rather suspiciously odd coincidence that my involuntary blogging sabbatical just happened to coincide with my return to New York City and its gnatty clouds of debilitating psychic energy. (Even walking down the street is exponentially more difficult here than elsewhere, with the weight of so many people crammed so close together, emitting so much negative mental energy — it’s like being slapped around sometimes just to buy a quart of milk.)

Of course, if I tell people I’m getting the hell out of Dodge because of the bad vibes, they look at me with pity, like I’m crazy. But it’s true. And that’s not only the main reason, that’s the umbrella which covers virtually all the myriad other reasons. Human beings were not meant to live this way.

Allen St. John’s recent book, Clapton’s Guitar, tells the story of a backwoods Virginia musician called Wayne Henderson, one of the tiny and tight-knit community of master guitar builders in the world today. The best of Henderson’s painstakingly handcrafted instruments compare favorably to pre-war Martins, the most coveted guitars in the world, and the book explores the reasons why this might be so, talking a lot about the qualities of different types of wood and the techniques luthiers use to cut, whittle, sand, glue, brace, treat and finish that wood to bring a guitar into being.

It’s an interesting book if you have even the slightest bit of guitar geek in you, but it’s almost all smoke screen. The real truth of the matter doesn’t come out until near the very end of the book, in a scene that takes place over lunch in a shopping-center Italian restaurant in West Concord, MA. St. John is talking to a guy called T.J. Thompson, a gifted and reknowned guitar restoration expert. They are discussing the “Big Question”: “what is it that separates a magical guitar from a merely great one?” What are the reasons that one guitar can channel magic, while its erstwhile twin only sounds pale in comparison? There’s some hemming and hawing (“I could probably list 600 reasons…” says T.J., alluding to the aforementioned processes of cutting, whittling, bracing, etc.), before T.J. finally wears down and confesses the most important thing; really, the only important thing:

“The state of mind of the person building the guitar.”

More on all of this later, but for now here’s a question: If believing T.J.’s statement makes sense to you (as it surely does to me), why not extrapolate from this and work out all the logical implications? Clearly, if you conscientiously did that, your whole life would have to change. And I wonder why our culture can so easily accept isolated glimpses of this aspect of reality, but would seek to ridicule anyone who went ahead and drew the obvious conclusions.

This is the Girls playing “Millionaire,” recorded live at Dick Zigun’s Coney Island Sideshows By The Seashore. It’s like one of those psychological aptitude tests where they try to determine if you know the difference between right and wrong. Sometimes, for years at a time, you lose your perspective — it’s impossible to tell. But if you just took one step in any direction, suddenly it would seem so obvious.

Millionaire

There’s a millionaire underneath the table
I know it’s not right, you know it’s not right
But there’s a millionaire underneath the table

There’s a millionaire underneath the table
Do you think I don’t know it’s not right?
I don’t know anything at all