My Grandfather's Music Room
The only room in my grandfather's house that mattered was the music room. Before then I should briefly recall the refrain my father repeated about so many children in one house with one bathroom. It is true that my grandfather's house had one bathroom. I recall from using it that it only had one sink.
How so many children — merely five to be exact — survived in the middle of the Brady Bunch area apparently was beyond my father. I, of course visiting with very few occupants, never had trouble using the bathroom. Yet, having grown up with sisters who could consume twice the number of sinks with hair product alone, I do have some sympathy.
The bathroom was down the hall that branched off to the left from the greeting room. The bathroom itself was also on the left. For a combined recollection, the kitchen was across the hallway from the greeting room. The living room was accessible with a slight step down and to the right from the front entrance of the house.
Heading down the hallway were three rooms. On the left was the bathroom. On the right were two bedrooms that will shortly be mentioned. At the end of the hallway was a room that I recollect spending a few nights in during visits to San Antonio. I remember blue. And blue ruffles. Almost certainly the decorative styling of my grandfather's second wife who for the greater portion of her life feigned grandmother-ness.
The room was cozy enough but provided no concrete memories. Neither did the room across the hall. That — to the best of my memory — was the location of my “grandmother's bedroom.” I recall seeing many collectable dolls around the room. Perhaps on a time or two my sisters were permitted to play in the room. I hesitate to say this was also my grandfather’s room since I recall a bed in the most important room of the house.
The most important room in my grandfather's house was the room on the right in the hallway. There was music in that room. The most important music of my life. I recall music being important before memories of my grandfather. And I recall visiting my grandfather before I learned what I know of music. Perhaps I should devolve there briefly.
I attended community college in California. "Foothill Community College" I believe it was called – after sober recollection, yes. There I learned music. Music at the hands of an old hippie. A hippie with an increased fascination with non-melodic scales and music writing. I also learned the value of the Beatles in their historical context. The minor third of their music was beyond anything I can have imagined as a guitar player of musically retarded Christian praise tunes.
This music theory served me well as I had already learned to play guitar and practice writing music. That will wait for later memories. More pertinently, these lessons served me well in playing guitar with my grandfather. Better, it served me well learning guitar from my grandfather. For in his room unlike the other rooms, I would discover what I knew of guitar was worlds apart from what he knew. We would sit studying the G-chords the other had learned to play. His was the traditional bar chord G of country music. Mine was the simpleton version found among folk artists. His C was traditional, but played with different fingers to permit the walking of the bass and tapping of the G note familiar with a basic country tune. Once again, my C chord was a bastardized method that kept the majority of the bottom strings from transitioning to anything worthwhile. Both of us stumbled attempting to play the others chords. Ultimately, his were better and I would find myself less enamored to simplicity at the cost of authenticity.
He was familiar most with the key of C – walks among the diminished chords common to country music that I never quit captured. There was one particular song that he was infatuated with – something by the title of “Old Friends.” I was more familiar with the suspended Ds and Gs of modern praise music. Each of us found ourselves in a new world of music.
He was not yet experiencing the height of his Alzheimer's. I was not in the prime of anything. Our musical relationship began in that room with old instruments and old songs. Songs I wish I retained to this day. But the jam sessions did exist. I wish they had been recorded.
On the subject of recording, I must briefly comment on my grandfather's habit of holding onto tape recordings. He would arrive by them from recording the radio or even some from recording his television. The recordings over time would stretch on their tape. The audio would change. His ability to play alongside them would diminish. My generation would never learn this problem.
Yet it would stick with me. We would play to a track slightly stretched. Then we would attempt to duplicate it with our own hands. He would be reproved to use a capo on his guitar. I was dependent upon one like someone with a crutch. Yet, we would both play.
These moments would never be matched accept for the time when he would live in Austin under my father's roof. He slept downstairs and drank decaf coffee every day. I slept upstairs and did not yet drink coffee. By that time, my guitar skills were much improved. My interest and love for classic country greatly improved. But neither on the level of his disease. His hands would shake and the songs he could play from memory were reduced – the oldest were the clearest in his mind. Something one of us was playing struck a chord in both of us though and we stumbled by accident upon our equal affinity for “Long Black Veil” (originally written in 1959).
We were both familiar with different renditions of the song and messed it up each time we played it. It was a little different each time. The timing of the chorus always slightly different. The verses not always sung in the correct order. These are perhaps the most important memories I have of my grandfather – singing this one song repeatedly. For though he was completely unaware, we indeed did play it over and over again.