“Expression was the need of their souls.” —E.B. White, Introduction, Onward and Upward in the Garden
No sooner had we arrived at the cottage secluded by the lake; no sooner had we unpacked the van, trucking in the duffle and the newly purchased provisions; no sooner had I slid open the screen door to step out onto the deck to peer down at the lake through the towering pines, than the musicians cracked open the latches on the cases of their guitars, tuned their instruments and began to play.
For an hour or more they strummed and sang. We put the kabobs and corn on the grill, and still they played. When the food was ready, we ate; and afterwards they picked up their instruments and played some more.
They played into the early evening and then into the twilight. A brother-in-law appeared, bearing a cache of blues harps and a drum and cymbals with sticks and brushes.
They began to jam, playing off one another’s riffs, improvising a tune, until some song burst into being. Three guitars, one bass, harp and drums: a litany of songs sung through the evening hours late into the night, notes strung together without pause, one rendition rolling into the next, and the next, and the next. Sonora’s Death Row, Sound as a Pound, Heart of Gold, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.
Like the band that played on while Casey waltzed with the strawberry blonde, they moved from one number to the next, without pause, without missing a beat.
Sometime after midnight the brother-in-law left, leaving the drum and cymbals behind. We bedded down beside a warm fire in the woodstove, drifting off into our own individual nocturnal reveries.
Hours later I awoke, threw back the blanket and made coffee. The musicians sat up, rubbed their eyes, retuned their instruments and jammed for another hour before breakfast. That’s how musicians talk, making morning conversation over coffee and finger-plucked guitar chords.
Base clefts in the rock, R & B, fish scales and folk, cowboy country ballads and bar songs, a few noteworthy bars; Joycean tunes, I say again, rejoice; play it again, Sam; you must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss, remember who wrote this? Improvise, resize, economize; Tommie and the Who, doo-whap, doo, jug band blues; crazy momma, crazy MoMA, art beat, the beat; beat-beat-beat-beat, brush and beat; freight train, freight train, going so fast, I don’t care what train I’m on, just as long as I’m moving, moving along.