Each of Us A Tiny Nation


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.


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

7 Replies to “Each of Us A Tiny Nation”

  1. Wow.


    Move to Bay Ridge. It’s still the city, but it’s got trees, puppies, Italians, and space to maneuver on the sidewalk.

  2. It’s interesting that I often see New York City touted as one of the “greenest” cities in the U.S., because of the efficiency of keeping a large population in a relatively small amount of acreage, lots of mass transit, socially and politically active populace, etc. But you’re definitely picking up another frequency there, one that’s hard to tune out.

    Also: Puppies are nice!

  3. but don’t you feel this all the time
    that we have to see each other

    at some point you figure out that your state of mind and your materials are inseperable, yet it’s hardly ever taught, it usually comes as an after thought. uh, by the way, you have to be sincere about where you are without being crippled by self consciousness. and then you only figure it out by not being there.

  4. Wherever you go, there you are

    While I support this thesis, and have made it a cornerstone of my daily practice, I also acknowledge that we influence our environment and our environment influences us.

    My mood lightens and my shoulders relax when I am in a (pleasant) natural setting, and I get excited when I walk into Mercury Lounge, and I droop a little when I sit in my work cubicle.

    These are responses that have a lot to do with habit and thought and memory, definitely, but those things exist so you don’t have to constantly reinvent and rediscover your world every minute of the day.

    But anyway, if NYC is draggin’ your bag, try an all-day meditation retreat!

  5. Hi, Philip, I hope this message finds you well. I saw you and the All-Girl Band in the 1990’s and I enjoyed the show very much.
    I wanted to clear up a recollection about Junglefish. Was it you who wrote the song “Drowning” which was sung by Eleanor? That’s what I recollect. I just wanted to confirm it with you. Great song, by the way.
    Best regards,
    Ben Tamlyn

  6. Hey, Ben! What have you been up to? Very nice to hear from you. Still in touch with Patty?

    To answer your question, yes, I did write “Drowning” more or less. The bass line and the title definitely, but Jamie and Eleanor probably filled in the lyrics and melody. I dunno. My recollection of them days is fuzzy at best.

  7. February 2, 2008
    Hi, Philip, great site! Thank you for replying to my question.
    After living in DC for a few years in the mid-80’s I returned to NYC to attend Hunter College, worked for a while, then went to Queens College in pursuit of a master’s in library science, with the intention of becoming an archivist. I’ve finished all my course work except for my thesis (long story). I’ve had a couple of archive internships, but for the last few years I have been taking care of my parents.
    I haven’t seen Patty since the All-Girl Band show at the Coney Island Sideshow place (early ’90’s?), but I have seen Gil Shuster a couple of times. At Gil’s Brooklyn Woodstock event the summer before last I ran into Dave Cook (Patty & Eleanor’s friend “Spike”).
    I just got the Bootfoot album from David Terhune, who not only included a note with the CD, but threw in a Kustard Kings album to boot! I am looking forward to listening to them.

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