Words and music and words about music

I restrung the 12-string guitar on Sunday. First I took the nine old strings off and wiped the dust from my old friend, who had been hanging on the wall for a long time.

Something had made me wait. I looked up at her more than once in all this time, and I would take her six-stringed companion down for a few minutes now and then, but the 12-string Ensenada hung up there, the new pack of strings tucked behind the old, waiting.

I was astonished when I figured out exactly how long she had waited.

It was a bright sunny 1975 summer day in Waupaca, Wisconsin, I remember, when I walked into the music store on Main Street thinking about buying a guitar with steel strings to accompany my nylon-stringed old pal Herbie (who was fated to be stolen from a hotel parking lot in Michigan City, Indiana, two or three years later, but that’s another tale, which also has a happy ending, thank you, Ed). This was to be the first major purchase of my official adulthood; I had graduated from college a few weeks earlier and had now earned enough to buy a new guitar.

I saw 12 strings and opened my mind a bit. Hmm, double the strings, double the sound, perhaps. I am an extremely bashful performer, and my main form of musical expression has been via overdubbed recordings, so I was thinking with a 12-string, I could get a bigger sound on tape with fewer overdubs. I don’t recall the exact price, but the figure $79 hovers in my mind, and she came home with me, and 12 strings has been part of “my” sound ever since.

One of the first songs I learned was “Sister Golden Hair,” the No. 1 hit at the time, and “Lonely People,” another tune by the band called America, and they did indeed sound fuller than they did when played with just six strings — sorry, Herbie. Think of the 12-string guitar solo on “I Know I’ll Never Find Another You” or the lush strumming on “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” and you can imagine the difference that 12 strings make.

In recent years I had slowly migrated away from music, and from working with sound in general. I had produced 20 homemade albums of my songs from 1973 to 2010, and close to 250 podcast episodes from 2006 to 2016, but the microphones have been stashed away and the guitars have waited for me on the wall for — how long has it been?

I remembered that I’d ordered the new strings on Amazon, so I knew it’d be easy to find out when I bought them. Come here, lil’ iPad, let’s see how long the 12-string has been waiting for her 12 new strings.

Oh. my. gaw.

“Ordered on March 23, 2014.”

So: Sunday I played the 12-string guitar for the first time in six and a half years.

Oh. my. gaw.

I am pleased with myself that the first thing I wrote in my journal after making that discovery was, “It felt good. I need to rebuild the callouses (on my fingertips), but it will come. I need to relearn the songs, but they will come. I want to learn new songs, too, and make new songs. March 23, 2014. Really?”

… pleased with myself because I could have sunk into a tar pit of wondering where my music went for six and a half years, and mourned for what went missing, but instead I focused on what comes next.

Somewhere along the way I decided I’m not a great singer-songwriter and my compositions and recordings are a hobby, not a vocation, but the songs are still a part of me, markers along the way from here to there, and I’m sorry to have neglected them.

But, one of the last songs I wrote and recorded back in 2010 had the refrain, “Stop looking back; this is today.”

And today, the guitar on the wall has 12 new strings, and the entry in my journal rhymes.

Published by WarrenBluhm

Wordsmith and podcaster, Warren is a reporter, editor and storyteller who lives near the shores of Green Bay with his wife, two golden retrievers, and an insistent cat. Author of How to Play a Blue Guitar, A Bridge at Crossroads, Refuse to be Afraid, and A Scream of Consciousness.

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