Friday, January 10, 2014

went to thursday night jam hole in the auto body shop out behind the goedeke library, and i go there to haul out and play fiddle as hard as i can generally, but there's this old time fiddler, has a real nice voice, had a stroke or something recently, but when he returns to this place everyone loves him a lot, and has him play the lead. in fact the guy at one point told me to quit playing when somebody was singing, because the fiddle if you play too loud, can get right there in the way of the human voice. i'm well aware of that of course, but i tend to haul out anyway, since i play so rarely, and i want to get things right. i'm aware that i sound quite rude now, and i'm sure i cross over that line occasionally, but folks there have been pretty nice to me, though this guy told me, on this particular night, that playing over a singer is like farting in public.

now i knew that this guy has roots in western swing bands and old high plains country music, his dad was a musician too, so when it was my turn to call a song i called his song, and it was a good song. he got me to play a lead in it and i did my best, then apologized to him for massacring it as i never play quite up to my own standard. he was quite nice about it though and said he thought i did pretty well. in fact i tried my best all night but felt like i was playing a bit below my normal level. i also felt totally in the role of apprentice, and just concentrated on listening to his every note, when he played the fiddle. he was one guy, by the way, who was able to combine singing and fiddling though as far as i could tell, he rarely did both at the same time. and like i said, incapacitated by a recent stroke, in general he was playing less than normal.

but he was becoming nice to me, and even apologized for setting me straight earlier. i said no problem, and it really was no problem, if someone sets me straight, i can handle it, and another fiddler is far more aware of my shortcomings, i'm sure, than even i am, since i'm so busy listening to the notes. i'm going by the motto, never miss an opportunity to remain silent, but i'm also noticing, that playing the low-note harmony at least keeps you in the game, and keeps the music flowing, and you can adjust your volume.

so when the night is almost over he shows me his fiddle, and offers to let me play it. it's bob wills' fiddle he says. a relative of his was bob wills' guitar player, so when bob was ready to pass it along, it came down his way, through his father.

it was a fine fiddle, full and resonant, deep, in tune, best fiddle i ever played in my life. he said, once he fell on it, and it didn't break, he got injured, but the fiddle remained intact, it was one solid fiddle. we had just played i fall to pieces, so next someone called crazy and i gave it my best shot, using his fiddle.

fortunately i knew the song, and its chords, but i couldn't play it exactly. what came out was some harmony, some melody, all in this deep resonant fiddle sound. i was in heaven. i couldn't believe it.

it was like, sometimes you touch fame, like when i shook john glenn's hand, or saw bill clinton speak. sometimes in the course of life you come up against people who are big or important or whatever. but last night i came up against great. bob wills was one of the finest fiddlers ever. and he had an ear for what was just right, of course, it being like 1940 or whatever.

it's awakened in me a desire to revive all that old western swing music. of course i also have the desire to be the guy who revives scottish songs, especially the ones in gaelic that i don't know, and of course i also wouldn't mind being a straight-up red-dirt country fiddler. but you can't have everything, can you? or should i say, having come so close to greatness - i've lived now, and i can back off, stay out of their hair, and go do something normal, like write my novel?

speaking of which, about an hour a day i'm doing, if i'm lucky, lots of distractions around here, but it's slowly slowly taking shape. i've got a plot. i've got things happening. i'm working on visuals and making the times match up, it's like 2005 in and around saint louis, where it's set. one question is, did they have the mark mcgwire highway then? does anyone care? baseball fans will care a lot, i'm sure, and there's plenty of sports in this novel. but, does a person have to have his facts right?

you can see, by reading this post, that i live on the edge of what's generally considered acceptable behavior. my beard still grows out until it's too long, and folks aren't used to beards around here, and they know i'm a yankee the minute i open my mouth, and i feel like i'm stepping on their china dolls every time i move, sometimes. but they're very polite, and my plan is, i'll never let them down. if they don't like people playing over the singer, i won't, or at least i'll play so low, so softly, so harmonic, that they couldn't possibly object. when i get my run i'll do it, then i'll back off, so quickly, so easily, so gently, they won't even know i was there. i said i was a fiddler, and they forked over bob wills' fiddle. i'd say, that's hospitality, and i don't forget hospitality. lots of folks have been hospitable to me over the years, and i'd like to mention relatives & family, iowans, southern illinois, quakers, combinations of these, and don't forget mexico and texas, just to name a few, and i'd like to say, i develop my skills, my writing and fiddling, and hope i can repay someday.

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