Hebrew School


A guitar.

I have an old nylon string guitar that I recently got fixed. It needed a lot of work done to it– neck was splitting, tune peg missing, warping of all sorts– but it was well worth it: The guitar was a gift for my bar mitzvah when I was thirteen. It has sentimental value.

Of course, when I was thirteen, the first thing I did was to pick it up, take a heavy Fender pick to it and ride it full throttle, putting my theretofore unchanneled energy into the stultification of any perceived injustice or indignity to my thirteen-year-old psyche– as any mama-loving Jewish boy would. So, some wear and tear was experienced from the beginning. Though somehow, it continued to sing sweetly.

I also began to write songs on it pretty much immediately. At one point in my teens, I believe I had catalogued 100 or so. I studied jazz theory at around that time and learned all the jazz chord fingerings. I had a friend who lived down the street with whom I would collaborate. He liked playing this guitar, too.

It made the trip to college with me, where I continued more or less along the same path (though I was studying the trumpet in school). The guitar even stowed away with me to India, where I studied abroad for a year, dependably holding court among the Israeli, German and Japanese hostel-dwelling set.

Graduating, I moved to the West coast with only a frame pack and my sarangi, having correctly surmised that the town I was moving to would have no dearth of mellow and generous axe-wielders. At any rate, my guitar by then was at my mom’s house and already in a state of disrepair. Fortunately, my younger brother fixed it up when I moved out and learned to play it himself.

Since then, it’s stayed with me wherever I’ve gone, and even when I’m not in a song-writing mood I will, as any guitarist does, pick it up just for the satisfaction of strumming into existence the majesty of sound I get from it. And of course it’s great for the random sing-along or that type of thing. Moreover, I love that it’s stayed with me through my current work with Hebrew School, where it seems to be just as vital as ever.

Frank O’Hara, “A Mexican Guitar,” from A City Winter (1952)

Actors with their variety of voices
and nuns, those arch campaign-managers,
were pacing the campo in contrasting colors
as Jane and I muttered a red fandango.

A cloud flung Jane’s skirt in my face
and the neighborhood boys saw such sights
as mortal eyes are usually denied. Arabian day!
she clicked her rhinestone heels! vistas of lace!

Our shouting knocked over a couple of palm trees
and the gaping sky seemed to reel at our mistakes,
such flashing purple insteps and careers
which bit with lavish envy the northern soldiers.

Then loud startling deliberation! Violet peered,
hung with silver trinkets, from an adobe slit,
escorted by a famished movie star, beau idéal!
crooning that dejected ballad, “Anne the Strip.”

“Give me back my mink!” our Violet cried
“and cut out the heroics! I’m from Boston, remember.”
Jane and I plotz! what a mysteriosabelle!
the fandango died on our lips, a wintry fan

And all that evening eating peanut paste and onions
we chattered, sad, of films and the film industry
and how ballet is dying. And our feet ached. Violet
burst into tears first, she is always in the nick of time.

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1 Comment so far
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Beautiful.

“A guitar leans against the couch / sometimes I pick it up and play / loosen and stretch / its ancient strings / until it sounds the way I feel”

— Mark Kozelek

Comment by Steve Silberman




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