I’m Just Glad I’ve Got My Damn Guitars

Eight months/a decade into COVID-19, are we self-aware enough for our own good?

Has it really been eight months since I wrote “A Toast to Celine & a Middle Finger to COVID-19”? It feels like yesterday … and also a decade ago. Compared to last March, when I wrote that sappy piece of garbage, things feel a lot more normal now despite not nearly being out of the woods. Except for head-up-the-arse deniers, the world knows a lot more about the virus and seems to be taking more responsible measures to mitigate it. We’ve mostly accepted that masks and social distancing are the two most effective means of minimizing the spread and because of that, wisely or not, much of the U.S. has reopened shops, schools, and workplaces—although we’ve also largely left it to individuals to decide whether to abide by medical experts’ guidelines. All of which makes it easier to fall into the trap of thinking things are now kind of A-OK.

But even if, medically speaking, the situation were now better, we still wouldn’t be A-OK. Let’s face it: We’re basically all either suffering from (or on the verge of suffering from) something akin to PTSD. Whether we realize it or not, this year’s bizarre turn of events has put us in a collective mental/emotional state that’s both unprecedented and untenable. Life was already enough of a pain in the ass before people started dying or having lifelong COVID-caused health problems … before the pandemic put the economy in the crapper … before millions lost jobs and couldn’t afford rent, insurance, etc. … before all of the above domino’d into relationship stressors. It’s A-OK to admit we’re not A-OK, though. In fact, if we can’t admit it—if we’re in denial of how much 2020 has piled on to mortality’s everyday rigors—we’re bound to make a lot of very dumb, possibly dangerous decisions while under the delusion we’re of perfectly sound mind.

It’s A-OK to admit we’re not A-OK.

Even though I’m super fortunate—I’m great with my wife and kids … we’re all healthy … I’ve still got my job and my house—I can’t deny that the pileup of this year’s shit on top of last year’s shit continues to be a slog. All things considered, I’m one of the lucky ones, so I’d hate to see how I’d handle what some of you are going through. The thing is, even more than in “regular life,” we have no clue whether worse pandemic mayhem is just around the corner, societally or individually. Which is why—even when things feel relatively stable—it’s hard to not kinda freak a bit, isn’t it?

I’m just glad I’ve got my damn guitars. In a world that feels robbed of a lot of its former wonder, they are untouchable magic. In a world with no cure, they are miraculous salve. In an existence where it seems there’s no escaping much further than the bounds of our neighborhood, they are still a means of spirit-renewing adventure. I say all this like a sappy wannabe beatnik, but that doesn’t make it less true. More than I like to admit, there are times when I feel inexplicable ennui, defeat, pessimism, sadness. Who knew what a toll not hanging out with friends, not going out to eat, and not going on vacation could take? First-world problems are a bitch!

Like I said, relative to what many are suffering, I’m extremely lucky. Even so, sometimes the only thing that drags me out of the doldrums is an hour or two of thrashing my Tele or bashing one of my baritones. At unnecessarily loud volumes through my favorite pedals and amps, is best, but I’ll take whisper quiet through a Vibro Champ in the middle of the night now and then, too.

To outsiders, the remedy’s simplicity must seem ridiculous. But I can’t help feeling sorry for anyone without something equally transcendent to turn to, even if it is just fleeting respite before heading back into the unknown.

A compact pedal format preamp designed to offer classic, natural bass tone with increased tonal control and extended headroom.

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In their corner, from left to right: Wilco’s Pat Sansone (guitars, keys, and more), drummer Glenn Kotche, Jeff Tweedy, bassist John Stirratt, guitarist Nels Cline, and keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen.

Photo by Annabel Merhen

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Every artist who’s enjoyed some level of fame has had to deal with the parasocial effect—where audiences feel an overly intimate connection to an artist just from listening to their music. It can lead some listeners to believe they even have a personal relationship with the artist. I asked Jeff Tweedy what it feels like to be on the receiving end of that.

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Luthier Maegen Wells recalls the moment she fell in love with the archtop and how it changed her world.

The archtop guitar is one of the greatest loves of my life, and over time it’s become clear that our tale is perhaps an unlikely one. I showed up late to the archtop party, and it took a while to realize our pairing was atypical. I had no idea that I had fallen head-over-heels in love with everything about what’s commonly perceived as a “jazz guitar.” No clue whatsoever. And, to be honest, I kind of miss those days. But one can only hear the question, “Why do you want to build jazz guitars if you don’t play jazz?” so many times before starting to wonder what the hell everyone’s talking about.

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