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In Minor

A few months back, I’d opened up a window on Sunday morning to keep the smell of bacon from wafting. I’d just bought my first hollow body guitar that week. My days sleeping on couches and hauling sound gear in my beat up, ’88 Ford Econoline van had long passed, and I wanted something to scratch out riffs on while I reminisced the good ol’ days of playing lead in a rock band that barely ever made it out of the garage.

It’s a beautiful instrument, with two P-90 humbuckers and one of those Bigsby knock-off tremeloes—an Epiphone effigy of that same Gibson guitar that Chris Cornell used to play. On stage. With Soundgarden. There’s a dream I once had; music used to be my life. But that was almost twenty years ago. And now, Chris Cornell’s gone, and I was sour that morning because I never got to see Soundgarden live.

Before we ever booked any decent gigs, the internet came: with its free downloads, and MTV went from Unplugged and Nine Inch Nails videos, to Brittany Spears and what would later become reality TV. And the guys I played with were as broke as I was, in the middle-of-nowhere, West Virginia. And we fought all the time, and that was that.

Casualties of the digital revolution, or poor Appalachia. Or just…life.

I sat there with the window open, picking away minor scales with hints of dissonance. That’s how I like my music—melancholy, with broken, out-of-key overtones. I never could stand any of that upbeat, happy shit. People always used to cock their heads sideways, like dogs do when they’re trying to learn a new sound, whenever I’d play. I imagine they still would, if anyone ever heard me these days.

A handful of people really got into my style, even if they couldn’t figure out what I was trying to do. Maybe I play this way because it’s just…me. Maybe it still is I thought, as I sat there, strumming out my emptiness, and wondering where my life had gone. In part, I figured it was good that I live here, alone. When I play, part of me is glad that I ran all the women off, and another part of me probably plays what I do out of loneliness.

I’m playing right along, and then:

Werp-werp-werp-werp! Bweeeeow! Bweeeow!

Somebody’s car alarm must be going off, I thought. Maybe they’re an idiot who pressed the wrong button on their keyless entry. Maybe crime’s going up in the neighborhood, but that’s the kind of neighborhood this is, sometimes, and some part of me picked this place for that reason.

I stopped playing my usual, improv riffs, and started in on some of the old band stuff, and then, again:

Werp-werp-werp-werp. Bweeeeow! Bweeeow!

Only, this time, it sounded…closer? I stopped playing, and stood next to the window. And I heard it again a couple of times, with two-minute intervals in between. And it was…moving? Did some fucking moron steal a car? Or, maybe they’re like me: their car is fucked up, but they just drive it that way. Good God.

But when I heard it again, I realized: it’s a fucking bird! A bird’s doing that! Some dejected mockingbird picked up the only tune it knew how to carry—one learned from living on the outskirts of human progress.

That’s amazing! I thought. I just pictured this little guy, stuck up in the rafters of Home Depot, freaking the hell out of newlyweds and contractors. Busting out windows. Flipping the bird, with his little bird talon, at anybody who gave him any shit.

Hell, this guy’s species probably invented punk rock.

And here I was, feeling down on myself. Meanwhile, he’s out there just absolutely transforming garbage into art. He’s defying the odds, making a hell of a go at it. And it’s goddamn glorious. Carpe Diem, motherfucker! Give ’em hell!

Eat the fucking elephant!

So I smiled, sat back down, and started playing Fell on Black Days.

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8 thoughts on “In Minor”

  1. You have a really strong voice when you write. I admire that. I will say that I wasn’t familiar with the song title at the end, but when I looked it up and read the lyrics I thought your ending was quite clever. Good job!

    1. Thank you! I didn’t learn this until a couple weeks ago, but the song is kind of about the self-fulfilling prophecies of a depressed person. I think it fits.

  2. MM Schreier says:

    Man, I wish this had an audio file with this. I’d have loved to hear that cheeky, punk rock mockingbird!

    If I had to make a tiny nitpick, I was a little confused about the opening line. I think the image of opening the window and the verb “keep” felt a little contradictory, so I had to read it more than once to understand what you meant.

    I really like the strong, unapologetic narrative of this piece. It makes me feel like we’re having a *real* conversation. Great work!

    1. Thank you for the feedback!

  3. d3athlily says:

    I loved Chris Cornell. I played Soundgarden and Audioslave on loop for a full week after he passed, unable to reconcile with the notion that he would provide the world with no new music. Your voice in this piece stands out. I’m not a guitar person, so a lot of the information at the beginning was lost on me, but after that I really connected with the unapologetic story you told. I like how you also framed the piece, talking about Chris at the start and finishing with one of his best songs.

    1. Thank you! I’m at least glad that Soundgarden came out with one last record. “Rowing” is now one of my favorites of theirs.

  4. I loved your reminiscences in this and your voice. Your appreciation for the new instrument came through clearly and I loved your rye tone as you speculated about the bird. Well done.
    One picky thing – at the beginning I reread the line about opening the window three times. I think of opening a window leading to wafting, so I wanted a different word choice there.

    1. Thank you for the feedback! It was a poor word choice. I needed to walk readers through what breakfast smells like when it’s been left to linger in my apartment all day. Lol.

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