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Notes from the Field

An Interactive Story

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I am going to tell you a story, the last lines of which you will please supply in the comments below. It’s a fictional story. Any resemblance between anyone in the story and any flesh and blood person is the result of a heck of a lot of work. Something like this has happened, and other things have happened too. The discrete experiences we collect throughout our lives are like individual notes. With enough of them you can write just about any tune.

A cold snowy day, a warm inviting coffeehouse. A contented crowd applauds.

The concert at the coffeehouse came to an end. I put my mandolin in its case, hung around an appropriate time to meet with the audience, graciously accept all the adulation, sell a few CDs, hand out a few schedules of my future gigs, and even engage earnestly with a few folks who were really moved by the performance.

It’s the music itself that keeps me going. Certainly not the hourly wage, which after expenses isn’t enough to crawl under a duck. A gig that goes well is its own payment, and that I have earned enough for a glass of beer or a bourbon at the bar across the street, and gas money home, is a welcome bonus.

The music I play is mostly older than me. It is hardly performance music. It is dance music of a kind, a kind played a hundred years ago throughout the mountainous world. Folk music? Sure why not, I’ll call it that, except there are very few songs, and the music pre-dates John Gorka and Dar Williams. Roots music? OK. But it is not my roots, my grandfather came through Ellis Island like so many at the turn of the last century. But if you allow me to graft my heritage to the American tree then yea, its roots music. Americana? Of a sort. The sort that originates in Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia, France, …. Well you get the idea. Bluegrass? Well, not according to the bluegrassers. And my banjo player could not make it this time.

It is mostly “I hate my job” music, played throughout the centuries at home after dinner by hard working folks as a balm for the soul draining indignities endured for pay. Music played on fiddles, banjos, guitars, accordions, mandolins, concertinas. Music played to nobody in particular, more like the sled dogs in a Robert W. Service poem, who “howled out their woes to the homeless snows”.

There is a feeling of connectedness playing such music. Not a connection to the audience, mind you. Its more being part of something bigger than the experience itself, older than anyone listening. The eternal relevance of a wordless melody that softens the blows of life. I try really hard to impart some of that transcendence to my audience, a little touch of eternity, a quick glimpse of the rock. And for the most part I fail. But occasionally there are one or two in the audience that “get it”, and I take that as a success.

So I pack up my mandolin and head out into the cold and to the bar next door. I take the mandolin with me because I don’t want it to sit in the cold car.

A cold snowy evening, a crowded bar, later that Saturday night.

The culture shock is gigantic. Though the crowd’s average age is only slightly younger than I am, I feel very old in not being able to switch paradigms quickly enough. It is loud, but more, its noisy, as the cacophony of the crowd argues with the cacophony of the jukebox. (I take heart in knowing that there is nothing new here either, folks have been easing their pain in places like this for centuries.) I politely push through the crowd to the bar, get the barely legal aged bar tender’s attention and order a bourbon and soda. We don’t have Old Grand Dad, will Jim Beam do? No, actually, do you have any Maker’s Mark?

The crowd seems to discharge three girls into my space, grazing my territorial imperative. The average age of the three makes me feel even older, so I take refuge in being younger than the sum of their ages. No doubt they are attractive. No doubt they know this well, and have always known it. I immediately feel the need to talk, that anything said, appropriate or not, is better than silence. The problem is that the protocols are all wrong. The reason I am here is significantly different from the reason it would appear that I am here, or so I kind of think. I manage a kind of half nod as I catch their eyes.

“What’s in the case?” the presumptive leader of the three girls asks. Her over bored bemused half ridiculing expression is the kind of look that would derail me in high school, though as little as ten years ago it would spurn me on to glib cleverness and some kind of at least amusing if not entertaining conversation.

But I am tired, and part of my soul is still back in the coffeehouse across the street, channeling J.P. Fraley. It occurs to me that perhaps she is just making conversation, seeing as being pushed into this close a proximity makes silence so inappropriate.

So I answer forthrightly, because it is easier than contemplating whether she really wants to know, easier than figuring out whether there is a bigger game here, and what are the protocols of that game. The truth shall set you free, I think as I answer.

“A mandolin.”

“A mandolin!? Ohhhh. And what kind of music do you play, on your … mandolin?”

So this is the point, dear reader, where you take over. What did our protagonist do or say next? Please provide a couple of lines in the comment section below.

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Updated Dec-05-2016 at 4:09pm by JeffD



  1. JH Murray's Avatar
    I play old songs that talk about having hope.They are like old friends who get you through the rough times.
  2. Randolph's Avatar
    Depending on the affective tone of the question, which might range from snooty-snide to genuine wonder, the reply might range from "mandolin music" to "love songs." The reply, of course, harmonizing with the tone of the question.
  3. Mark Gunter's Avatar
    The music of life.
  4. JeffD's Avatar
    I play music that strikes fire and tears from our hearts.