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Archive for June, 2013

For most of my life, I’ve considered me a “living room guitarist.” In recent weeks I’ve concluded I had way too high an opinion of myself in that regard.

In 6th grade, my parents gave me for Christmas a $15 Kay guitar they had purchased at Sears. After learning how to tune it with help from a book from the library and the family’s Chickering upright piano, I lasted a year without learning how to play a chord on it. The hard-bound books were technical, for grown-ups. I was 10 years told. Even so, in spring of 1959, in a classroom at Black Hawk Elementary School, I “pantomimed” (they call it lip synch now) “Problems, Problems” sung by the Everly Brothers on a big hole 45 RPM record. The kids loved the “performance.”

In 8th grade at Benjamin Franklin Junior High, during a school sock hop, I had been chosen to be one of three disk jockeys who spun records from the gymnasium stage. In the middle of my allotted time, with help from my friend Tad Baumann, I disappeared from the stage and came back in a sport coat and guitar as Elvis Presley and pantomimed “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog,” to an astounded audience. For the rest of my time at my favorite school of all time, friends and strangers occasionally called me Elvis.

In 9th grade, in Mr. Nika’s choral music class, I played my own guitar and chords I had learned from a Mel Bay book for beginners. I sang three songs, but the one I remember is “Undecided,” a big step BACKWARD from Mr. Presley’s repertoire.

My family loved my music. They seemed to think I was some sort of a child prodigy — WAIT — Well… maybe THEY didn’t . . . but I sure did.

There are days I still do.

In high school and college, I was part of three folk groups; played at some interesting venues in the groups and as a solo singer-songwriter in Springfield, Jacksonville and Bloomington=Normal, Illinois.

Guitars have always been part of my life though I have gone months without practicing and playing. Though I’ve written songs inspired by religion, my love life (about as successful as my music career) and politics all my life, I never found a body of good people who listened to me regularly, apparently enjoying the music, until I joined the local Poets & Writers Literary Forum in the early 1990s. The connection has been relatively steady through the years, though I’ve “dropped out” occasionally.

As an adult, my connection with my instrument has become more tenuous than it was in my 30s. By the time I was that old, I had played many open mics in the area. The audiences were always kind. One fellow asked where I’d been playing in the area, flatteringly assuming I was more popular than I was. Glances from friends and strangers began to tell me I was IMPOSING myself on them. They were too nice to say “STOP! GO HOME!” and because I was a “performing artist” I continued playing despite growing disappointment with MYSELF (because I wasn’t practicing enough and my finesse with the finger picking was going to hell) and the audiences weren’t as communicative as they used to be.

Since spring 2013, friends whose attention and conversation I valued IMMENSELY have literally disappeared after I finished my set of three or four songs at open mics. At parties, twice, I’ve felt like a blind man with a tin cup, waiting to play a few songs. Someone tolerated. People looked through me as though I were a ghost.

Part of the circumstance is self-induced. I’m not as accepting of the incapacities of others. People resent me for that and the snowball to self-oblivion continues.

So a few days ago, I did not include my guitar on the guest list at a party a long-time friend, cherished friend, invited me to attend. I Invitations had been sent to a relative privileged few, and I was one of them. Since had departed two previous parties attended by many of the same people, two parties from which I departed unhappy with myself and a few almost-strangers, I left my guitars at home. It was my decision. No one asked me, directly or implicitly, not to bring my guitar. This was the best way I could avoid getting angry at good people who would likely exercise their God-sanctioned Constitutional right not to pay attention. I could not play badly if I didn’t play at all.

I left early and unhappy anyway. When the usual musicians began coming together to jam, I decided I would not be in the room where they would play. Better yet, I should leave anyway; avoid the inevitable discomfort of coming face to face with my own stupidity. I wasn’t rude to anyone. I departed via the back door so most of my friends would not see me leave.

When I arrived home, I was still terribly out of sorts. I decided I would not play my guitars for a year or forever, whichever comes first, on Facebook, and I did. Reaction to the post touched my heart. Many who haven’t even heard me play shared concern.

One friend LIKED the news I wasn’t playing guitar for a long time. Total bummer! I guess that was “payback” for an opinion I voiced several years ago. But we’ll never be even; never be square, and we’ll never be friends. And that will likely cost me more friends.

I commented on Fb that I would blog about it on Honey & Quinine. This is the post.

It’s the post of a kid who failed in his assumed career as a living room guitarist. At least I’ve gone on hiatus. I’m not going to play at home where only the mice are listening, I”m not going to practice. The guitar I kept at my aviation museum is in a corner of my bedroom at home now, along with the others.

I’m not anti-social over this. I will recite my poetry and Vachel Lindsay’s poems where I feel good doing it, and today I’m going to start smiling and attempting to engage friends who are still my friends in convivial conversation.

The music has died. Maybe it only fainted, but looks and feels demised. We’ll know . . . in a year or forever . . . whichever comes first.

Live long . . . . . . .and proper.

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I’ve been a fan of Springfield, Illinois-born poet Vachel (rhymes with HAYchel) Lindsay for more than 30 years. Vachel was a man. You’d be amazed how many people hearing the name pronounced correctly for the first time are surprised to learn that. He lived from 1879 to 1931. For years Vachel’s “place” was at the house on South Fifth Street and in the hearts of those who had read his poetry or heard him speak it to packed theaters and auditoriums all over the USA, Canada, England and even his own home town. I recite his poetry and talk about his fascinating life to anyone who will listen, and in the course of that reciting (not the same as reading it to pieces of paper while those gathered near listen and quietly plan their grocery shopping) I have witnessed countless Midwesterners come to appreciate the man and his gift to the ages: a legacy of beauty that touches our hearts today. Two of the newest “comers” to know Vachel are my friends Peter Pero from Halstead Street in Chicago and his friend Greg from near Galena. On Saturday, June 1, the three of us motored to Oak Ridge Cemetery where Vachel “rests” with his mom, dad, sister Olive and three sisters who died of illness early into their lives. Here we found Vachel, and we reflected on some of his poems.

VLgra-2

The best way to find Vachel is to visit Oak Ridge Cemetery’s administrative offices on Monument Avenue during weekday business hours. There you will be given a map of the grounds with the location of the Lindsay graves clearly marked.

Peter and Greg at Vachel's headstone

Peter and Greg at Vachel’s headstone

If the office is closed. drive to Lincoln Tomb which “towers” above the stones of lesser mortals and drive northwest on the well-maintained lanes. Look for the sign with the name and the arrow.

Job Conger poses beneath an important lane-side sign.

Job Conger poses beneath an important lane-side sign.

The gravesite is inspiring to this writer. To be close to the stones is to be touched by the spirit of the poet, PARTICULARLY if you have read or heard 10 of his poems — any 10 will do — or known of him longer than a week.

Almost two years ago Peter had arranged for me to recite and sing some of Vachel’s poems which I had set to music for guitar accompaniment at Chicago’s internationally known College of Complexes. On that occasion I also explained Vachel’s close ties to “The Windy City” of which there are many. One reason for his arranging for his friend Greg to come to Springfield was so I could acquaint a new friend with the poet and his works.

Peter Pero of Chicago

Peter Pero of Chicago

Earlier in the day I had recited Vachel’s “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight” in the Senate chambers during our visit to the Old State Capitol in lyrical downtown Springfield. At the end of our tour of the Dana-Thomas House, the most completely restored home designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright during his early years. I recited Vachel’s “On the Building of Springfield” for Greg, Peter and the others who had taken a wonderful guided tour. I will describe that tour soon here at Honey & Quinine. At Vachel’s place, I recited some more.

Job Conger reciting "The Mouse that Gnawed the Oak Tree Down" the first Vachel poem he ever recited in public.

Job Conger reciting “The Mouse that Gnawed the Oak Tree Down” the first Vachel poem he ever recited in public.

There was no hurry. There never is at a cemetery. There was time to consider the life of probably the most famous native son of our city and be glad that he has touched our lives with his example and his poetry.

Soon it was time to depart. Supper time was approaching and there was a Shop N’ Save Supermarket calling to our appetites. We obeyed. I was grateful for Greg’s and Peter’s interest in Vachel’s place. They may never return to Oak Ridge Cemetery, but I am confident they will return to his poetry.

left to right to Job's right, the headstones of Vachel Thomas Lindsay, M.D., Katharine Frazee Lindsay, and Nicholas Vachel  Lindsay.

left to r8ight to Job’s rigtht, the headstones of Vachel Thomas Lindsay, M.D., Katharine Frazee Lindsay, and Nicholas Vachel Lindsay.

I know I will too!

Live long . . . . . . and proper.

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Test post. My friends I drove to Oak Ridge Cemetery where we visited the Lindsay family gravesites. I recited “The Mouse that Gnawed the Oak Tree Down and we went to Shop N’ Save to buy food for dinner.
END OF TEST POST

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