Friends and neighbors, I've got to tell you: I was pretty much prepared for the tornados, the cicadas, the NFL lockout, the shot-to-hell economy and the heinous lies that fall from politicians' mouths. But I was not prepared to see a squad of jackbooted feds raiding the Gibson guitar plant and digging through piles of not-quite-finished fretboards.
Now, this being Nashville, most of y'all know what a fretboard is, and what it's good for. But just in case those jackbooted feds hired a crop duster and sprayed the whole town senseless with the ever popular '60s knockout staple Romilar, let me explain. Fretboards are completely harmless pieces of wood, each a little wider and thicker than a yardstick. Jasper County's Deputy Butterbean himself could not — and surely would not — hurt a newborn baby with a fretboard. Fretboards are sweet, delicate things. They go on violins, cellos and bass fiddles. A fretboard never hurt anybody. Heck, the fretboards in the violin family don't even have frets. They just have boards.
Even so, I found myself watching the feds on Nashville TV, right about dinnertime. I witnessed the whole ordeal from my large leather sofa. Just then, I called out to wife Brenda and daughter Jess, who were in the kitchen. "Y'all come in here and look at this. The feds are raiding Henry J's guitar plant, and they're grabbing up all his fretboards. They're hassling his hippie luthiers. It looks like some kind of crazy-ass Sadie Hawkins Day aimed at banjo pickers, and they're hauling all the good stuff out into the woods."
"Why are they taking Mr. Juszkiewicz's stuff?" daughter Jess asked.
"Clearly, those men hauling off guitar parts are Philistines," I said. "Those weasels don't care if anybody ever plays another note of music. They'll just use the fretboards to whack little kids on the knuckles."
And that's when I got my epiphany: Music isn't really about music these days. The artful makers of pretty sounds are down to stems and seeds. Never mind the Fed-confiscated wood. Heck, George Harrison, the quiet Beatle, got hauled into court for performing his hit song, "My Sweet Lord," without getting his copyright work done. But truth be told, he might've just helped himself to the tune of the Chiffons' "He's so Fine," bless his soul.
It wasn't so long ago (1990) that MC Hammer just reached out, grabbed his harem pants and started up the well-known notes of Rick James' "Super Freak." When it comes to composing and playing music in the 21st century, all you need is one finger to push a button on any of several machines that will suck in a "sample," which is a nice way of saying, "a little piece of stolen (or maybe convivially shared) music." In 2011, Stephen Hawking should be able to conduct an orchestra using only his eyes.
A while back, one of my musician buddies got tired of other musicians sampling his sax licks, so he started stealing CDs, thumb drives and random data-holding devices. He just stuck other folks' samples into his pockets. Now, by golly, he can make his own samples.
In the words of Robert Plant, "Ooh, it makes me wonder." Musicians are stealing notes, licks and electronic artifacts from each other faster than they can play scales. Federal agents are confiscating parts of musical instruments that they've already taken from Gibson once, twice, maybe three times. And those are the very parts that make an instrument sound good.
Maybe it's just me, but I'm pretty sure that there's a serious conflict in the ether when the fingerboard cops run into your shop and grab up your good wood — wood that would be best suited to piano keys, ebony oboes and spruce-topped guitars.
Speaking of guitar tops: We are now in the era of composite acoustic guitars. They're made out of composite fiber — the stuff we use to make composite softball bats and stealth fighters. Best I know, these guitars can be left in a waterfall overnight and come out unharmed. Carbon-fiber guitars might sound just fine, but they won't have a Willie Nelson Hole. And it'll take years — maybe decades — to get them "reliced." (Attention literate people: "Relic" is now a verb, meaning to spend a lot of effort making something shiny and new look old and timeworn.)
Me, I just want the guitars to sound like guitars. And I want those sumbitches who keep stealing Henry's fretboards to get out of town.
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