The gorgeous, new guitar that had left the store was neither, when I saw it again a few weeks later. My perfunctory look at the soft case gave the “Cliff’s Notes” version of the full narrative that would be told when the torn, useless zipper was pulled apart. The black cloth was pock-marked with holes that had white tracks leading to and from them, indicating that moving rocks had played a part in the plot of this story. As the case was opened, a glance at the owner’s forlorn visage steeled me for the horror to come. The fragments tumbled out en masse, leaving only the battered remains of the neck and top in the case. I have to admit, I had expected a damaged instrument, but I was not prepared for the shattered, splintered mound of debris that gave scant evidence of the once beautiful instrument which had left my shop only weeks before.
Almost tearfully, the story unfolded. Ready to load the guitar in the car, but finding the trunk locked, the owner leaned the instrument carefully against the back bumper, moving to the front of the car to hit the trunk release. An unexpected interruption came and the errand to pop the trunk was forgotten. Scant minutes later, backing out and hearing a strange sound for several feet brought the horrified recollection of thought, but too late! A careless moment and a phone call at the wrong time…these had contributed to the early demise of a guitar that normally would have an expected useful life of 20 or more years. It was gone in the blink of an eye. And, as sad as the experience is, I guarantee you, this guitar owner will one day find a way to laugh about the disaster. Will they ever quit regretting it? Probably not, but they’ll get over it. It was a sad moment, but the guitar could be replaced and music would flow again, as well as some jokes and good-natured kidding to go along with it.
That is probably not so, for the owner of another guitar I was handed a number of years ago. The man had decided to sell the instrument and was seeking a fair offer. I looked at the beautiful, antique Gibson electric guitar and thought, “What a beauty!” In top condition, it was worth about $3000 in today’s dollars. I was excited that I would have a chance to purchase it and make a profit upon resale. But, as I turned the guitar over to examine the reverse side, my heart sank. The back of the guitar told a completely different story than did the front. It was mutilated, with a large, square hole cut, not broken, in the center of the wood surface. What (or who) could have done such a horrible thing to this superb work of art?
It’s not my vice, so I have no personal experience, but apparently, too much liquor makes you do stupid things. The sad story was recounted to me by the now, very sober man. He had been the guitarist for a local band which played every weekend in one of the nightclubs. As happened frequently in those days, there was very little actual pay for musicians, so the bar owner compensated the band with free beers while they played. Of course, as a result, the quality of the music suffered progressively through the evening, but the bar patrons didn’t take any notice, since most of them had also deteriorated in like manner. On the night of the incident, the guitarist noticed an intermittent problem with the signal from the guitar to the amp and eventually it failed completely. Access to the pickups was difficult without the right tools, and not having much time to effect repairs, he did the only thing his inebriated brain could conceive. He reached into his pocket, took out the greatest tool ever invented and…opened his jackknife and cut a small hole through the wood back. It wasn’t enough room for his hand, so he cut it bigger. Still not enough…well, you get the picture. As the story unfolded, I stood with my mouth agape, listening in disbelief that, even in that mental state, anyone could be so witless.
I purchased the guitar, but for a price that was a fraction of what it should have brought. I’m also sorry to say, that, like the appraisers on the Antiques Roadshow, I made a point of telling him what it would have brought prior to his senseless mutilation of a fine, vintage instrument. My guess is there will never be a day when this gentleman laughs about his loss. For some reason, stupidity doesn’t seem to become funny over time, it just seems more stupid.
We all get absent-minded once in awhile, sometimes with disastrous results. That’s not the same thing as stupidity. In the words of one wag, “Ignorance is curable, but stupidity is terminal.”
I’m still hoping for a cure for whichever one it is that I’ve got. While there’s life, there’s hope…
“Life is tough. It’s tougher when you’re stupid.”
“Stupid is as stupid does.”