Sunday, February 02, 2014

“Guitar Holiday”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

While driving to meet my family for Christmas Day celebration, I reflected on having just received a festive card from my friend and brother-in-prose, Jay Wright. Years ago, he had authored a whimsical book called “G.A.S. – Living with Guitar Acquisition Syndrome.” Reading that volume had literally brought us together. I contacted him about his creation and a long-running association began.
Years later, we both retained the happy affliction.
My own holiday interlude consisted of home-cooked vittles, good cheer and vigorous conversation, with assorted neighbors and distant family members checking in by telephone. Not a single vibe seemed out of place.
But then, my older nephew asked if I wanted to see his latest discovery. Because he has interests of various and diverse kinds, I immediately accepted this challenge. He went to another room and returned with a long, black gig bag.
I took a deep breath. Inside was a gleaming pearl of an instrument. A Gibson electric guitar.
I recognized its twin-horned shape immediately.
“This is an SG?” I asked, taking it out of the protective bag.
“Yes,” my nephew replied.
I played a Blues progression. The neck was smooth and slender. Easy to navigate. It looked very modern and minimalistic.
“What model?” I inquired with puzzlement.
He pointed to the truss-rod cover. “They call it the J. Instead of Junior.”
I nodded.
“A low-gloss, nitrocellulose lacquer finish,” he continued. “Those are very popular now.”
I nodded again. “Nothing I own is so new, of course.”
“Mahogany body, maple neck,” my nephew explained. “With a ‘set neck’ and twin humbucker pickups.”
“It wouldn’t be a real Gibson with a ‘bolt-on’ neck,” I laughed. “That would just be blasphemy. Of course, some of the cheap, Norlin-era models did have those. I’m a Fender guy myself, but when I play a Gibson instrument, it must have that extra touch.”
He laughed to himself. “It was really affordable. I’ve always wanted one.”
“The pickups look different,” I pondered. “Minimal and modern, not what I would expect.”
“A 490R and 490T,” he said. “They mimic the ‘PAF’ (patent applied for) humbucker of legend. I think the appearance of black covers makes you look twice.”
I handed him the guitar.
“Most people go for the Angus Young style of SG,” I observed. “But I like the idea of being different. A snazzy guitar in white. Years ago, I saw a three-pickup SG Custom at Covert’s Pawn Shop in Painesville. It had gold hardware. Wish I’d bought it!”
This time, it was my nephew who nodded. He played the guitar without speaking.
“My erstwhile friend Paul Race had an SG from the late 60’s,” I remembered. “Very typical for the era. A muddy sound compared to his Telecaster. He rarely played it. But of course, his style was more in keeping with the single-coil bite of a vintage Fender. He used lots of rhythmic strumming like garage bands of yore.”
Eventually, our conversation turned to family news and more typical matters.
Later, that night, I huddled in the glow of festive lights at home.
With my own guitar, I began to fumble through tunes I had learned many years before. Then, inspiration appeared:

“Don’t let it be said
That this rock don’t roll
I’ve got a high-mileage frame
With an immortal soul
On the lonesome highway
You might see my tears
But I’m the stone survivor
Of a dozen dozen years
One prayer before I go
One prayer for Rock & Roll.”

Paul Race, the fellow I had mentioned to my nephew, was finally lost to the winds of time. This was the first Christmas since 1978 that I had not sent him a card. My offering from last year came back returned as undeliverable. No one seemed to know what had happened to him.
It was grim to ponder that he might no longer be alive.
I last saw Paul in 2006. He had been in the hospital that year with heart trouble. Always a poor correspondent, he did not have a computer or even a telephone. He rarely wrote letters.
Even getting him to answer his door presented a challenge. He was paranoid and secretive.
Yet this oddball brother-in-spirit had three college degrees, two of which were earned at Cornell University. His knowledge of postwar, pop culture was considerable.
And he could play guitar!
The holiday season has seemed unfinished without contacting him directly. Yet through my nephew and a bit of yuletide magic, I felt he was with me again.
As this day ended, I looked again at the Christmas card from Jay Wright.
“I think of you often. Wishing ya’ll the best holidays, ever!” it read.
The powerful vibe of G.A.S. helped make my holiday a time of celebration, in musical terms, but also with family and the sweet memory of friends.

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