Academic journal article Hecate

The Last Guitar

Academic journal article Hecate

The Last Guitar

Article excerpt

A guitar traditionally has three strings made out of gut and three of silk. Silk can be flimsy and elusive so those strings are tempered by a covering of fine silver wire which gives them longevity. Before the guitar came the lute, a full-bodied, half pear-shaped instrument that was used to accompany the troubadours' verses of love and chivalry hundreds of years ago. And in ancient Greece the lyre (ancestor of the lute) was the instrument of the gods, of reciters and singers. Small, portable and comfortable, it could be casually tucked under one arm, giving the carrier a certain attractive nonchalance. Over the centuries the guitar accompanied folk music and became an instrument of the people. And some time during the middle of the twentieth century, as electricity brought popular culture to people's homes, the guitar also became an electrical appliance. Then the his master's voice dog on the gramophone was replaced by the teenage boy-next-door's howling, accompanied by at least three chords on his gee-tar.

Though boys don't have the guitar monopoly, adolescence heralds a mostly boyish fascination with the guitar, especially the electric guitar. This fascination is recognised by makers of guitars. They know that holding such a curvaceous instrument will cause the mind to wander. That hormones feast on imagination. That touch contains the power of suggestion. 'Dum Dum Diddle to be your fiddle I think then maybe you'd see me baby' sang ABBA, troubadours of the seventies who recognised that the music of love is played on a stringed instrument and that such strings are for pulling.

Makers of guitars are not naive. They know that the guitar is a symbol and make guitar straps that adjust so that the guitar can be worn as an amulet that rests lightly over the wearer's groin; it hints at iceberg depths unseen, at movement below, and wards off the twin evils of impotence and effeminacy.

Fingers that run lightly over guitar strings, spider-fine and quick, are fingers that know the subtleties of stringplay, that can alternate between a sadistic pizzicato, a gentle plucking and a steady strumming. Beware those fingers. They work at tugging heartstrings into foreplay and sing you a melody that's chilly with unrequited love. And then he's no longer under someone's window now sentimental-serenading; he's in your bed with all his guitarist's tricks.

He's in your bed because you invited him in. He had the unnatural advantage of a stage and though his face was pale and shadowy he wore red; he wore a valentine's day heart-red waistcoat, dressed otherwise in black, and he didn't talk much.

He was a crooner. Borrowed from Elvis. And sang:

'Love me tender, with catspaw footsteps, let me walk all over you.

Love me let me, don't reject me, I will move the earth for you.

Love me tender, true forever and then I will walk out on you.'

And being a crooner his heart was hard, all his sentiment spent on stage in public song.

How many ways music leads in temptation. You dance to a funk band. A wayward bass line drives hard-headed lyrics and cheerful horns play like pied pipers. And everyone is ready to follow their call. From dance floor to bar, to toilet, where other people's text adorns walls, doors and ceilings. Dance too far to the tune and you'll end up in twenty five words or less on the back of a toilet door. This time it's not crooning, but shake rattle and roll. There's a discernible rattle in your shake. Movement around the dance floor or that skeleton in the closet?

In the UK, legislation outlaws the playing of music with more than a certain number of rhythms per minute. The powers that be congratulate themselves that social order has been redeemed, snatched from the threat of groups of young people dancing together in public places.

At the pub, the music speaks in rhythmic tongues that hold a lingering fascination. Dance it out lest it lead you in temptation. …

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