short story by:
One man, alone in the quieted room, turning from table to table, extinguishing each candle and upending chairs onto their respective tables. He retreats to the darkness at the back of the room but returns again with an upright vacuum and proceeds to move between the tables guiding the vacuum with flare, throwing the cord past obstacles with a practiced flourish. You can watch this little charade and guess that you’re watching a man anxious to finish a long night’s work and get home to bed. You’d be wrong.
The man is not a draggin’ in the pants man, he’s not even a sad man. He considers himself a “resigned” man. Raised on the moderation of the Midwest, where “safe” trumps “possibility”. Good, honest mediocrity is the most one should expect. The mundane?--inescapable. This Joe is a middle-age 40-something and yes, that’s his name--Joe, and “Joe” is even his middle name. He was named by parents who showed an uncharacteristic creativity when they named him. At the first opportunity for independent expression, he decided that his middle name Joe, while certainly lacking flair, at least freed him of the embarrassment of…well, let’s not go there. So considering himself a “resigned” man means that Joe considered his quiet life normal. Still, some inner part of Joe has always considered himself a type A personality with type B skills.
After Joe puts the vacuum away, an unexpected scene develops. Rather than the expected donning of coat and hat--the clicking off of the lights--the turn of the key in the lock, Joe pulls a black guitar case from behind the bar and, as he has done those 52 Fridays and 52 Saturdays a year, snaps open the latches and pulls out an old sun-burst Gibson guitar. With obvious affection he holds the guitar at neck and bout and carries it up to the bar’s small stage. With house PA still active, and by the few lights on the stage, Joe proceeds to give a concert to a crowd that has left hours ago.
Joe loves this time of day and he sings with heart and he plays with soul. On a small stool beside him he keeps picks, capo, tuner, slide, all the things he uses to coax his music from his beloved guitar. He has no expectation that his audience will ever applaud—hell, he has no expectation that his audience will ever BE.
But Joe is unaware of the changes that Love is conspiring to bring his way……okay now...
X9(10)9(10)X, X7989X, X6757X, X4645X, X3424X, X1212X, 1XX220, X2X220, 024100…There! That’s it. You know how sometimes you’re playing along and out of nowhere—or a misfingering—you find a new progression that, though you’ve never heard it before, you know exactly what the next chord is suppose to sound like?
So anyway, as is often the case, the reality that there is, after all, no real audience punctuating the evening’s playing with hearty applause, the concert fades rather than coming to an abrupt end. And the fade is usually the same....always a riff, a progression that, for all Joe’s prodding and prompting and noodling and…and…and…it just NEVER becomes a SONG.
“There IS a lyric shaped vacuum in the soul of every riff!” Joe says this aloud, to himself, and with a short laugh of frustration. Then just under his breath he says “hey, I kinda like that…” as he pulls a small notepad from his breast pocket. “…lyric shaped vacuum…” he mumbles as he writes. Joe has been trying some new strategies to capture ideas…to try a more systematic and reasoned approach to his inability to write. The notepad is part of that strategy. From now on, if an idea comes to him he will write it down. He figures he’ll work out some sort of filing system later.
Joe has the soul of a poet but he’s spent all his good lines on the prose of living.
A short sip of coffee from the mug on the stool beside him, and he returns to the same chords, first humming potential melody lines over it, then mumbling syllables, then trying words over the chords. And still….nothing.
“Damn Art!”….“Damn music!”…..”God if you can’t give me the skills then please take away the desire...
This last said as he holds the guitar just a little closer, as he looks down at that same fretboard that he’s learned to navigate over the last 30 years, as he launches into the fingerstyle arrangement he’s been working on, “Hard Times”. Always someone else’s music..but making it his if only for the comfort of that moment.
“…many days you have lingered around our cabin door…”
Suddenly, from the darkness beyond the stage lights, Joe hears the crashing sound of glass hitting tile floor and…
John Bauman is a very talented Potter from Warsaw, Indiana. He sells his pottery at some of the best known art shows around the country. But his creative talent runs deep and John also writes songs and stories such as this one to channel his creative energy.
John was a frequent and well loved contributor to Acoustic Guitar Magazine's now defunct "Guitar Talk" Forum, and this story was created and posted by John piecemeal over a period of months on that forum. It has been reproduced here in its entirety for all to enjoy.
Hopefully, he will be so inclined to share other stories with us in the future.