Fender bender

August 14, 2008

In the two-step doorway of a brownstone on George Street: an old woman, tall, thin, stooped; hair and glasses of Mrs American Gothic but ginger and gold instead of grey and steel; arms pale and spotted, a long sleeveless orange-khaki dress; and she’s standing there fingering a shiny black Fender 62 Jaguar, a small speaker at her feet by the open instrument case, a handful of coins scattered on the faded velvet. The noise she was making was quasi-structured feedback, no tune, just a continuous waaaaah with extreme-minimum range of movement and tone (though not none, not absolutely none). Hendrix in the retirement home after the L-dopa’s worn off (An alternative history of musicians: 1). She had her eyes closed, no expression on her face, head tilted down slightly – no demonstrable ecstasy or epiphany or straightforward joy in the sound or the making of the sound. I walked past again a quarter hour later and nothing had changed. She may have been catatonic and everybody just walking past, dropping the occasional coin to reward her original display of vintage Woodstockian narcolepsy.

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