Confessions – Whilst my guitar gently weeps

| February 16, 2021

When I was a child, and dreamt as a child, the world was suffused with auras.

A cavern beneath the house my father built, its half-light of dust, cobwebs, secrets. A verdant street where with Wendy I walk, ever in the glow of the garden of bliss.

But when I was a youth, cutting adrift from gloom, my grandfather sent me a guitar. And a record he sent, Lonely Harpsichord, haunting music, rain and thunder.

Alex Krogdahl was a strange, strong, soft, silent man.

He is near blind, a squared Danish forehead, frame softened by receding wavy hair, dulled dark eyes behind thick rims, an eternal smoke screen around a squalid bed. A drab room is strewn with newspapers. My doleful mother gathers them. He reads.

Three daughters were stripped from him in the early 40s, his wife an itinerant alcoholic, he a single, classified blind man earning a lowly wage. It broke his heart. When Phyllis was 17, hospitalized with TB, she wrote him. He did not come.

I sat a while on my grandfather’s bed, something strung across the aether.
It was not much of a guitar, classical by definition, almost a box with strings. But I picked it up, and began teaching myself to play. I still am. Therefore, I still am.

Phyllis St. Clair provided a piano, when I was 13. Paul adapted to a life removed, made new friends, progressed well with the pedanticly uninspiring Mrs. Austin. Despite that tempestuous bond sustained with dad, Maxwell Josef Nykiel, (Anglicized Nicol by his bitch-mother post marriage), I adapted not at all.

I am lonely, muted by the pall in our walls, spoiled by over-provision, pining for the dreamy company of former friends not the rude lot of this Housing Trust ghetto. Having piano lessons with the plump, congenial Mrs. Austin, this is as much going for a weekly dose of anaesthetic.

Then out of nowhere came the guitar, and that portal of silence beckoning.

It is the the deep quiet hour. My Wendy, plugs in ears, sleeps as a child, wings flitting. And so some music, panning from a room afar, comes as but a tinkling bell.

It is this frightful landscape, an ecstasy primordial, brutal, hallucinogenic, flawed. It is fading fingers and an unrelenting tempest struggling, soaring –

See!

An eagle wings on high, circling over jade … a smokey forest … a war cry.

Run!

A jaguar-shaman, some soothsayer stalks our steps, our crashing zombied procession.

For now we see darkly, trailing a wake of gloom.

The box with strings, and a common penchant for truancy brought fleeting droll company. Each day for two years in that depressing kitchen we smoked, played guitar, listened to Led Zeppelin. We wiled away our days. We each had a reason, if dim. But I had already set sail, a listless vessel drifting on that current bound for the end of a flat, defined world.

It was the first abandonment, the negation of what is, the big breath in.
Bedraggled and self-assured, Reece could play. Affable Kerry? He had no pretensions, technique, musicality, always played full volume. Roberto, our smooth Italiano? Just occasional comic vocals to Black Dog. But I had ambitions, and need.

At 19 he determined to record me, reel to reel. Such was the usual course of events, perfectionism killed all. Manic Max, brilliant technician, igniter of great adventures, explosive temper. One thing wrong, a blot on the page, a blight on what must be. Not that I am poured from that same obsessive, volcanic mould.

So ultimately no-one listens. The music plays, fates sing, but no-one listens. For years I sat in that horrid bedroom playing, playing. No-one listened. Dad said I was venting, sadness. Paul played piano. No-one listened, or said as so. 50 years on I play those same pieces, adapted for guitar – to sift time, an aura.

By accident I became a father, at 24. Chaeà is effervescence, bottled. At 2 her mirthful invention would send ripples, flickering across a room. Now? I do not know. The princess never felt it, yet knew. The king cindered everyone but her. Sometimes, abandonment is just what must be.

In an eternal desert the king laments. But we write what must be, even the relentless gruel, the grasping and the groaning.

Dad brought us to nature, away from man. Away from man is the vista of pristine wonder, a kookaburra’s laugh at dawn, azure crowning ochre, a parched creek bed.

My father? So much are his sinews mine I cannot look that mirror straight. We fished, we hunted, father and two sons, within his mad hilarity and his fitful rage. We framed dirty ditties, ate fresh bread, jam and farm cream. And then – an eruption! Always the same. I thought it was forever. But all that was abandoned, half a century past.

Cursed, and blessed, is he who stands so still.

A worldly young woman, half attractive half witch, still-frames me across a crowded room. Below her long dark hair and above ample bosoms she brazenly eyes me, a contralto scorn breaking into Fool on a Hill.

Yes one is still frozen, at 21, doing that first Music degree. No more looking over the edge of Dad’s boat, dreaming amongst the fish. No more camping, hunting in the Flinders, submersed in stilled reverie. No. No-one listens to the kangaroos, the galahs, the stones in the creek beds. No-one listens but the silent one, the fool.

The guitar plays, plays … and is suddenly played out.

So it was not that box with strings, which commanded. It was yet something tensile, connective, something to be plucked, some apparition of beauty to hold dear. And thus I abandoned the guitar, to go wandering, searching.

At 23 I had no command of composition, not at the level I needed. A kindly tutor told me I had talent. I said to myself, in truth – no technique, nothing to say. Need will find technique. And life finds something to say. Now I can write music. Not then.

So it began, in my fourth university course, at 25. I’d started with a BA, never giving more than lip service. Attended two weeks of my Matriculation year, scraped a pass, not enough to get into Music. Practising guitar at 19, six to ten hours a day – no time, desire to even find English tutorials. ‘Perspectives in Biology’, the lecturer said, “This isn’t High School. You’ll either work, or leave.” I left.

Life as a council worker, at nights – guitar, guitar, guitar. My poor brother, cotton wool in his ears. Off to the doctor, he’s going deaf. Doctor pulls out embedded cotton wool, Bach, and blasphemous midnight cursing. My poor beloved brother.

Accepted for Performance, not the Con but Flinders Street, my only good tertiary education experience. Listening to Mahler, Beethoven string quartets. One had aimed to be the best, but the guitar was no longer enough. As composer? I was not enough.

Then heaven falls from the sky, there is that second, vile Music degree at the Con, and then – just enough grit to summons the inevitable outpouring.

It was that dumb Diploma of Education course, which I would never finish whilst working to support my angel. It was those first raging, fundamentalist arguments with the Ed. Psych. lecturer, dismayed at the procession of mutes lined up to be educators. He was just a tad sad when the raging against ‘pseudo-science’ stopped, when I announced my departure.

But there is only so much bullshit that an honest soul can spit, turn into grit.
Thus came the great interim, the abandonment of art, the bondage to dull philosophy. Thirty years of reading, writing, aiming to deconstruct the sordid citadel, its avaricious devastation, aiming to conceive the vista of the avatar.
It was the second abandonment, the exclamation of what if, the big breath out.

But ultimately, all labours rent, what will be will be. The sordid citadel grows, and grows, its giant tentacles suckering to the very core of this once beautiful blue orb. And who am I, but a vain fool, to conceive against this mute procession of fate.

I have retaken to the box with strings. In the dark hours, whilst my guitar gently weeps, before the procession of beetles takes the road below, this last breath plucks.

In an antechamber – there, is an instrument. Some hand holds the bodice. Some hand, yearning, sends reverberations along the strings, along the strings …

Alex Krogdahl is long dead – his years of lone, quiet reading. Phyllis St. Clair, manicly depressed, strains to read, her letters unanswered. Maxwell Josef, 96, dwells in the filth of the selfish house he built.

This citadel we have built.

Beyond the antechamber is a garden. There I hear the ripples of eternal reckless mirth.

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