|Sign up for our FREE weekly newsletter|
Buy an Ad
By Barton Bund
My character is Valentine Xavier, the guy in the snakeskin jacket. I play a guitar that Tennessee Williams dreamed up, an instrument that has seen many miles, and is signed by legendary musicians I encounter on my travels.
The prop guitar we use was my first guitar; it's the one I learned on when I was a kid. My friends who had been playing longer always dogged me for it. It was old, cracked, warped. The action was too high. But the sound was warm, and I played the hell out of it.
So when I found it in a closet a few weeks ago, I was concerned it would be beyond repair and wouldn't have what we were looking for. Just on a lark, I picked it up and played it. I struck an E, and somehow, the thing was still in tune. It had the same strings on it for almost 20 years. I took this as a sign and brought it to rehearsal.
My newer guitar broke the first night of rehearsal. It's the one I got when I turned 30, the one I wrote The Glob and Patty Hearst on. It fell over and the neck came separated from the body. So I took it to the shop, and stuck with my old clunker. I feel like a guy who got remarried late in life. His hot new wife had to leave, so he calls up his old girlfriend from high school.
The best thing about the old guitar is its ability to stay in tune. I play it throughout the show, I get chased, I fight with Emily over it, and it has every opportunity to get bent out of shape. It's got new pegs and strings. It sounds good. Everything was going fine, but then last night something awful happened.
I was in my seduction scene with Courtney, and right when she crept up on me and pressed against me and suggested that we go to the Idlewild cabins off the Dixie Highway, the bridge popped off. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. We joked, "Maybe some other time, honey." I had to retire the guitar from the scene and continue.
I pulled out the new strings I had put on, and epoxied the bridge back on before I left the theater last night. I imagine that throughout my character's travels, the guitar has taken some beatings. The guitar is my life's companion, and I have to take care of it. Friends do that for friends. That instrument is tied to Valentine Xavier and is as much a part of me as anything. It's my soul. Every dent it takes is a dent I didn't take. Every crack in the solid wood top is a crack I escaped somehow. That guitar has protected me through my rough wild days, and now it needs a little tender loving care.
The guitar was my uncle's. Bart's uncle. Then my folks got it in the 60s, bought it off him for $40 when my mom was getting heavy into folk music. I took a few lessons when I was starting out, and played Wild Thing a million times, and all I really ever wanted was to play around a campfire. I learned Cat Stevens and Grateful Dead tunes. I have played Sweet Home Alabama for the former Governor of Alabama. When I sang "In Birmingham they love the Governor," the crowd went wild and sang "Boom, boom, boom!"
I wanted to seduce a woman with that guitar. That part never really went as planned.
Now, at the end of the play, when Lady threatens to smash the guitar unless I stay with her, I realize something. I realize in that scene how hard it is to have to choose between your art and the people you love. Sometimes you have to choose. You don't want to. But as Val, I've been doing it for years.
Love is greater than art, there is no doubt in my mind about that. That's probably why there is so much art created about love. Art gets jealous. Art is always running behind, trying to catch up with love. Love is the train rolling down a track, and art is oftentimes the fool who missed it, running after it and shouting "Stop!"
Click here to comment on this story
Barton Bund is the founder and artistic director of the Blackbird Theatre in Ann Arbor. He is the director of How the Other Half Loves, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and the composer/librettist of The Glob and Patty Hearst. He recently appeared naked in Performance Network Theatre's production of The Little Dog Laughed. His commentaries appear regularly on EncoreMichigan.com. For information about the Blackbird Theatre, log on to www.blackbirdtheatre.org.
Copyright 2009 Barton Bund