Chasing the Dragon.
The brass catches were strong enough that I had to wrench them aside with a screwdriver. The fretboard was clean, save for the scratches worn in by repetitions of ‘House of the Rising Sun’.
In a cupboard for thirty years, it had avoided the worst of the excesses of smoking in bed, the stench of tobacco that lacquered everything.
Sons bring their fathers guitars into the workshop occasionally. The greatest sin, a young fool who’s drilled a hole in an old classic. I just wanted it to be restrung, cleaned and returned to service. Dad would have approved.
‘Don’t let monkey-boy guitarists play it’ cautioned Anthony, adding ‘Rosie’s alright tho’.
But Mr Wizard got to it first.
‘What’s that?” I asked as he finished a piece I thought I knew, but couldn’t quite put my finger on. Maybe some lost ballad from the 80’s, back when this guitar was six months old.
‘Dunno’ he said.
I got the phone out to record.
Mr Wizard wanted it to be a song for Dad, about Vietnam. “We’ll call it ‘chasing the dragon’” he said, which just made me think of the bio on Mark Hunter on my shelf.
I was a bit reluctant. I’d asked Dad about music and his ‘Nam experiences and his reply had surprised me. ‘Galveston’ he’d said.
‘Galveston? That old thing with the guy with the hair?’
‘I clean my gun and think of Galveston’ he replied and changed the subject.
So, many years later, I walked to the other room and found the track online and listened again.
Galveston, oh Galveston, I am so afraid of dying.
I understood this instantly because I was the one who knew the secrets. Phrases scattered across decades.
Learning that alcohol cannot supress the memory, but it can sever the bonds of history; How the fearlessness you earned, crouched with your back against a tree, the Sergeant screaming for you to go forward, came home with you and ate the rest of your world.
My world too.
Maybe we could make it about something else.
I spent weeks listening to the recording, the game I make of trying to turn Mr Wizard’s place-holder words into a sentence. It’s like a stream of consciousness thing for him and echolalia for me. Is that the way we hear truth, how we write it down?
‘Well I went to town, I need the sound, another day of low slinkin’ round. I left this town I left around hanging ‘round the kind of people I should not be, hanging ‘round’
The song followed us to Indiana.
‘Larry’s more of a rhythm player, he normally gets involved during the construction phase of the song’ AJ told us when we asked about guest musicians.
‘ok, we have two unfinished pieces with us, we’ll bring them in tomorrow’ I said with unconscious optimism.
By 11pm, homesickness had helped me out. I knew the chorus hook and took it into to Mr Wizard, in the room he was sharing with Rosie. ‘This is It’, I told him. I was crying, but I was crying a lot those days anyway.
‘You don’t know just what I’d give, to be with you tonight’
Sitting between Bill and Mac in the kitchen, I filled in the blanks as Mac talked of truck driving across the US, ‘living in full tilt boogie’ he explained. Mac was also telling Bill that Bill was a good man. ‘And you know this comes straight from the heart’ he said, and it did.
From an email Rick sent me whilst criss-crossing the ‘states delivering a UPS van, I took his destination. Rick was hoping to introduce us to his Fiancee when we played in Chicago. Finding someone who loved him for being him had changed the world. He was writing poetry again. He counted out the syllables on his fingers and nodded when I told him. ‘It works’ he said
‘Greetings from San Luis Obispo’
By 1am we were all seated around the Novak’s loungeroom, whilst our hosts slept on mattresses on the floor of their dining room. Susie went to sleep hearing us work on the song.
The following day I played ‘Every little kiss’ by Bruce Hornsby as we travelled to Indy in Clifford, our big red truck. We’d been trying to channel a Mid-Western vibe and there it was. The same theme of longing and being away from someone, travelling and yearning.
At the studio, Larry told us ‘I take my cues from the lyrics’ when we asked him how he worked. ‘Hold this bit here longer’ he said.
The desk mix of the song kept me going for the rest of the tour and brought me back full circle.
I am so afraid of dying; I know exactly what I’d give to be with you tonight.
Is this how we hear the truth? In pieces, from so many lips?
At the dark heart of the song from a guitar hidden in a cupboard, a story from a man who can no longer speak it for himself, a story told in the words of many voices, the same story.
And every good story deserves its own story.