Think Slow

Our 15-year-old nephew—a budding musician—was in town this past weekend, so I took him to the House of Musical Traditions in Takoma Park. There he could see every type of musical instrument known to humankind (plus some) and, frankly, it gave me an excuse to play a few good guitars.  Not that I don’t have good guitars at home.  Later in the day my nephew had a chance to see and play my two prized Running Dog guitars made by luthier Rick Davis.

Playing my Running Dog

Playing one of my Running Dog guitars (photo by Claire Brown)

Davis was profiled in Tim Brookes’ 2005 book Guitar:  An American Life, where the author seeks to replace a badly damaged first guitar with a hand-crafted one “for the second half of my life.”  He writes that as he nears 50 years of age, he finds an itch that can only be scratched with a new guitar.  And as Brookes notes, “Guitar makers even have a word for these baby-boomers-who-always-wanted-to-be-great-guitarists-and-now-have-the-money-to-indulge-those-dreams:  dentists.”

“Much later, after the guitar is finished, Rick will refer to ‘the eternal and infinite capacity of the consumer to confuse making a purchase with falling in love.’ I should have known better, I suppose—but then again maybe not. First guitars tend to be like first loves:  ill-chosen, unsuitable, short-lived, and unforgettable. I’m not sure I ever want to get to the point of making a rational decision about a guitar.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about decision making at key junctions of life.  Like Tim Brookes, there are some things—guitars among them—where I don’t want a rationale decision model to get in the way of my emotion. But we face many decisions that require serious thought and calculation. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel prize winning author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, would suggest that we let our emotions make all types of decisions where a slower, rational model should come into play.  There is a recurring theme in Kahneman’s book that “many people are overconfident, prone to place too much faith in their intuitions. They apparently find cognitive effort at least mildly unpleasant and avoid it as much as possible.”

We put too much stock in the fact that we’re confident we’re making the right choice.  We put too much stock in our emotions.

“Subjective confidence in a judgement is not a reasoned evaluation of the probability that this judgement is correct.  Confidence is a feeling, which reflects the coherence of the information and the cognitive ease of processing it.  It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously, but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you than an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.”

When important decisions have to be made, I’m trying to take the time to step back, work through the crux of the matter, set aside emotions, and push back against a quick confidence that I’ve reached the right answer.  Thinking and decision-making—deep thinking around critical moments in your work, career, or life—requires time.

Think slow when you should, and have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Practicing

Practicing by Glenn Kurtz

“Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music” by Glenn Kurtz

Over the holidays I returned to a book I first read some ten years ago.  Glenn Kurtz’s Practicing:  A Musician’s Return to Music is, in its simplest form, a memoir of a young child prodigy on the classical guitar who attends the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music and then quits playing in his early 20s when he realizes he won’t be the next Segovia.  Fifteen years and a career change later, Kurtz returns to the guitar and finds, in the process, a richer love for music.

But like all good memoirs, Practicing is so much more than a simple life’s story.

Kurtz has been practicing since he was eight years old, but it isn’t until he returns after his hiatus that he begins to understand all the richness of the various aspects of preparing for performance, or life.

“Practicing is training; practicing is meditation and therapy. But before any of these, practicing is a story you tell yourself, a bildungsroman, a tale of education and self-realization. For the fingers as for the mind, practicing is an imaginative, imaginary arc, a journey, a voyage. You must feel you are moving forward. But it is the story that leads you on….From the outside, practicing may not seem like much of a story… Yet practicing is the fundamental story. Whether as a musician, as an athlete, at your job, or in love, practice gives direction to your longing, gives substance to your labor.”

When we hear of practice, we tend to think of artists, but Kurtz makes the point that practice is universal.  “Each day … practicing is the same task, this essential human gesture — reaching out for an ideal, for the grandeur of what you desire, and feeling it slip through your fingers.”  Because we will never reach our mind’s ideal, we take a risk when we stretch.

“Practicing is striving; practicing is a romance. But practicing is also a risk, a test of character, a threat of deeply personal failure… Every day I collide with my limits, the constraints of my hands, my instrument, and my imagination. Each morning when I sit down, I’m bewildered by a cacophony of voices, encouraging and dismissive, joyous and harsh, each one a little tyrant, each one insisting on its own direction. And I struggle to harmonize them, to find my way between them, uncertain whether this work is worth it or a waste of my time.”

“Every day you go to the gym or sit down at your desk. The work is not always interesting, not always fun. Sometimes it is tedious. Sometimes it is infuriating. Why do you continue? Why did you start in the first place? You must have an answer that helps you persevere… Without telling yourself some story of practicing, without imagining a path to your goal, the aggravation and effort seem pointless. And without faith in the story you create, the hours of doubt and struggle and the endless repetition feel like torture.”

However, Kurtz continues.

“When you truly believe your story of practicing, it has the power to turn routine into a route, to resolve your discordant voices, and to transform the harshest, most intense disappointment into the very reason you continue….Limitation is the condition of our lives. What matters — what allows us to reach beyond ourselves, as we are, and push at the boundaries of our ability — is that we continue. But then everything depends on how we practice, what we practice.”

Running Dog Guitar Ought-3

My Running Dog Guitar Ought-3…the guitar where I don’t spend enough time practicing (photo credit: Running Dog Guitars)

In his return to music, Kurtz found his limitations but then began again to push.  To continue.  We all have routines that make up our work, but if we approach them with the story of who we are and what we wish to be, they can be turned into a route for our lives.

Here’s to focusing beyond the inevitable disappointments and looking to the route that gives meaning to our work and our lives.  Here’s to practicing.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Observations from the Road: (The Family, Friends, Community Edition)

Brown Children - Advent 2015

DJB (at left) with his brothers and sisters: Debbie, Steve, Carol, and Joe

This is a tale of family gathering to grieve in the best way possible – by telling stories.  It is a tale of being part of a community. It includes guitars.  (Always guitars.) And it includes a haircut in a mini-United Nations.

Hang with me.  I’ll try to be brief.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I received a call early in the morning from my sister Debbie.  She called to tell me that our brother-in-law Raouf – husband of my younger sister Carol – had passed away suddenly as a result of a heart attack.  Their two boys had come home from college the day before and the family had shared a meal together on Tuesday night.   By mid-day Wednesday, their lives had changed forever.

My older brother Steve and I spoke.  We were not able to get to the funeral, but quickly agreed to find a mutual time to travel to Tennessee to see Carol and the rest of the family. Our father – he of the recent 90th birthday – had just moved into an independent living facility.  We wanted to see him as well.

Which led to this weekend.  I flew into Nashville on Friday, and then – after some work on Music Row – I picked up Steve at the airport.  (The Music Row visit included the first guitar connection…but I’ll get to that later.)

I had written my father to tell him we were coming, and I said, “Let’s bust you out of that place and go to City Cafe” – the local meat and three place on East Main Street where they know “Mr. Tom.”  While the food at his new home is very good, he misses the freedom to go to his local haunts whenever he wishes.

Daddy, Carol, and DJB

My father and sister Carol, in my Dad’s new apartment

This is where the first community part kicks in.  All of my brothers and sisters (except for Debbie, who was practicing Christmas choral music) converged on City Cafe with my dad in tow. The staff was happy to see us.  (Our waitress went and got a Christmas card for him.) We saw the pianist from Daddy’s church and her husband.  Others stopped by to say hello. We scarfed down our friend catfish (I know, I was only there for one set of meals!) and began to tell family stories.

After stopping by Dad’s house and then dropping him off at his new digs, we headed home – for a nap! But all my brothers and sisters and the spouses in town came over to Debbie’s house for a family meeting (blessedly short) and a meal (a much longer and enjoyable experience).

Joe's Taylor T5

Joe with his new Taylor T5

Joe had brought along his new Taylor T5 electric-acoustic guitar for the evening…my second chance over the weekend to play a bit.  While I used the old flatpick on Joe’s guitar, on Friday afternoon I had the chance to fingerpick on a beautiful 1920s Martin O-style.  It is a great day when you can play While Roving On a Winter’s Night in a room in the Studio A building that has housed Nashville’s music royalty.  I have a wonderful job!

But I digress. Saturday night was all about sharing stories, laughing, and filling in gaps in our memories.  We had an extended riff on Cedar Lake Camp – where Steve, Joe, and I spent portions of our summers.  All three of us were members of the “Polar Bear Club” (where you went for a dip in the mountain lake at 6 a.m.). My other memory of camp?  Well, you had to know the books of the Bible to get into the mess hall.  As I told the family, you certainly didn’t want to get stuck in line around the minor prophets!  (Does Zechariah come before or after Zephaniah?)  I always tried to get there early for the Pentateuch, as I could always remember Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy!  We laughed…and agreed to keep some tales to ourselves.  And then we captured it all in the photo at the top of the post.

Family and community are so important, and I was reminded of that again today.  After flying home, I walked up to Raphael’s for a haircut.  I’ve been going to this neighborhood barber shop for years.  But this time, the owner – Tamara Kalandadze – wanted to know if I had “seen the news?”  Huh?  Then she handed me a John Kelly’s Washington column from Thanksgiving Day’s Washington Post.  With Tamara’s picture staring out at me.

Tamara at Raphaels photo credit John Kelly of Washington Post

Tamara at Raphael’s Barber Shop in Silver Spring (photo credit:  John Kelly of the Washington Post)

I love it!  Now the entire city knows what a great place this is.  I’ve often said this is a mini-United Nations, and John Kelly used the exact same phrase.

The shop is in the Metropolitan Building in downtown Silver Spring. The building turned 50 this year. So did Raphael’s. It’s an original tenant.

Raphael’s has weathered the neighborhood’s ups and downs. It’s booming now. A sign in the window announces that Raphael’s is hiring. Tamara needs two more barbers to fill all seven chairs.

The staff is a mini-United Nations.

“There are five languages spoken here,” Tamara says before reeling them off: Farsi, Arabic, Georgian, Russian, Vietnamese.

Oh, and English, of course. That’s what the barbers — Ebrahim and Sonny (Iran), Jalal (Iraq), Anna (Vietnam), Tamara (Georgia) — speak to one another.

The TV is tuned to a news channel. A voice rises above the snip of scissors and the blare of hair dryers: An announcer is saying, “You can see him dragging bodies behind a truck in Syria . . .”

I ask Tamara if the staff gets along. Even the guys from Iran and Iraq?

“People get along,” Tamara says. “It’s politicians who don’t get along.”

That’s a classic Tamara line.  And it is so true.

Instead of blocking immigration, let’s put together more neighborhood barber shops with wonderful people from all parts of the world. Let’s worry less about where those minor prophets fall in line.  And let’s get together and tell more stories. That’s how community works.

More to come…

DJB

Observations From the Road (The “Thankfulness” Edition)

California or BustTuesday, August 19th (and day #19) – is the last one of the cross-country Not All Who Wander Are Lost tour. Later this morning I’ll be flying home.  I can’t wait to see Candice and Andrew (who leaves for his senior year in college on Friday morning).  But I also want to put a wrap on the wonderful two-and-a-half weeks Claire and I had on our exploration of this amazing country we live in. It has been an experience I’ll never forget.

I’ve had several parts of this series where I’ve thrown together random thoughts that I’ve entitled Observations from the Road.  For those who want to see them in order, you can find them here as:

So this grouping of random thoughts wraps up the Observations From the Road posts as well as the series on our cross-country tour.  I’ve entitled it The Thankfulness Edition, for we could not have driven 4,590 miles and passed through 13 states without the help of many friends, family members, work colleagues, college acquaintances of Claire’s, and strangers.  I’ll miss some who should be thanked, but I hope to capture the vast majority. And I have book-ended this post with the first (above) and final picture taken on our trip.

The first person who made this all possible was Candice – When I mentioned several years ago I wanted to drive cross-country, Candice never made anything but supportive comments along the way. When I asked if she wanted to join us, she said, “I’ve driven cross-country before, and once was enough.” However, she could see the excitement building in Claire and me as we began to plan out our route and get closer to departure, and then she became our #1 cheerleader along the way.  Since I’ve left Facebook, Candice regularly allows me to posts items I put on More to Come…. With this trip, she took on the responsibility of seeing that the posts were up as soon as possible after I wrote them, and she talked up our trip with friends at church, family members, and others she saw over the past couple of weeks.

The other thing that made this trip possible is that our family financial planner (again, that would be Candice) never once questioned the cost of the trip…even as the Visa bills kept coming in and a certain rental car company (Enterprise) didn’t honor their quoted rate for a one-way rental and drove us to another company that treated us fairly…but at a cost than was higher than my initial estimate. Early on she said, “This is a trip of a lifetime for you and Claire, and I don’t want you to worry about money.” This means a great deal to me, as I count on Candice to keep our family budget in line. She simply said, “We can do it” and that was the end of the conversation.

Thanks to those who made suggestions – Sometime about 2-3 months ago, I sent around a sketchy itinerary to some family, friends, and colleagues and asked them for thoughts on things we should see.  And did they ever respond! So many of the great places we visited came about as a result of suggestions.  Then, once we got into the trip, others emailed additional suggestions, and we took them up on a few of those as well.  So – at the very real chance of leaving someone out – I want to thank these terrific itinerary planners:  Kathleen and Herb Crowther (for the Cleveland area); Susan Morse (for her Chicago recommendations); Genell Scheurell, Janet Hustrand, and Oakley Pearson (for several thoughts in the Midwest and Great Plans – with Oakley getting special points for the “Ball of Twine” recommendation); Liz Welsh McGonagle (for the Minneapolis thoughts and for making the Twins game happen); Barb Pahl (for numerous route suggestions and individual place recommendations in the Great Plains and Mountain regions – with special points for pushing us to go way north and visit Glacier); Jeff Grip (who made our magical day at Taliesin possible); Mark Huppert, Kevin Daniels, and Anthony Veerkamp (for a host of suggestions in Seattle, San Francisco, and all along the west coast); Constance Beaumont (for the Portland tour and especially for the Astoria suggestion); Sheri Freemuth (for Idaho and eastern Washington thoughts); Jenny Buddenborg (who suggested – among other things – the fantastic University of Mary in Bismarck and then helped make arrangements for a tour); and Jackie Tran (who passed along suggestions in San Francisco).  If I have forgotten others, please forgive me. Kyra Stone made great food suggestions in Madison (which led to an immediate weight gain of five pounds on my part). And – as I’ve mentioned numerous times – a big thank you to those who comment on Yelp!  We couldn’t have eaten so well without you!

With Kathleen Crowther in Shaker Heights

Claire with Aunt Susan and Zoe

Bruce and Shari Shull with Claire and DJB

Thanks to our Hosts – Just when we thought we couldn’t take another hotel room, one of our friends or family members offered up a place to stay. We got three of them in photos – Kathleen Crowther (husband Herb was taking the photo) in Cleveland; Claire’s Aunt Susan and Cousin Zoe in Chicago; Bruce and Shari Shull in Gig Harbor, Washington; and Constance Beaumont in Portland, Oregon.  Somehow, we were having so much fun with Constance that we forgot to get a picture!  Nonetheless, thanks to all of these wonderful people. Claire and I loved seeing you and getting to know you better.  It was a true highlight of our trip.

Thanks to the Readers of More to Come… – Every day I would hear through comments on the blog, emails I received, or from comments Candice and Claire were receiving on Facebook and Instagram, about how many people were reading – and apparently enjoying – these updates on our progress. Your kindness spurred me to try to capture the true wonder and fun of our adventure.  A special thanks to Janet Hulstrand – who is a wonderful writer. Janet would send along comments and suggestions for places to visit, she encouraged her twitter followers to read the series, and she would simply “like” virtually every post that came up during the trip. Janet’s praise is high praise in my book.  In addition to Janet (who has followed the blog for years), I had some 5 or more new bloggers begin following More to Come… after reading a post or two in this series. Finally, it was great today to have virtually everyone who came up to give Claire a hug on campus say something along the lines of “I’ve been following your road trip and it sounds amazing!” The fact that a couple of Claire’s friends even characterized the old man as “awesome” was just icing on the cake!

I’m thankful for this amazing country – I’ve written about the plains, mountains, valleys, coast lines, Great Lakes…you name it…so I won’t go into any of that again.  But to look at our landscape day after day, as it changes going east to west and then north to south, is an incredible experience.  I saw so many places and things I had never seen before.  Every mountain range we crossed was unique and breathtaking. Our rivers, lakes, and oceans are incredible. And – unfortunately – we have destroyed much of what is wonderful about our landscapes through horrible development decisions, greed, commercialized farming (have you ever seen a commercial livestock feed lot – you’ll never eat McDonalds again), extraction of oil and gas, and the list goes on and on. I’m thankful I had a chance to see it in this condition, and I’m thankful that the mellennials of Claire and Andrew’s generation appear to be bent on trying to undo our destruction. Let’s hope they have enough time and political will to succeed.

I’m thankful for how taking things off a bucket list leads to new thoughts on adventures – Claire and I talked about bucket lists on several occasions.  Claire decided that the 47 Things to Do While You are At Pomona would be a good start to a bucket list, and I agreed. Then, we started talking about all the states we had visited: 13 on this trip (11 of which were new to Claire).  That got us to thinking about how many states in general we had visited, and the number was 48 for me and 34 for Claire.  So guess what’s now on our respective bucket lists?  And we decided while unpacking today that our next road trip would begin in Alaska – which is one of the two states I’m missing.  (Nevada is the other.)  I love a sense of exploration so early in life.

Claire at the Fort George Brewery

Finally, I am eternally grateful to Claire – I would be hard-pressed to come up with a better traveling companion.  If you have to spend 18 days in a car with someone, it had better be someone who is intelligent, quick-witted, funny, thoughtful, inquisitive, curious, flexible, and loving…and I could throw in a dozen or more descriptors except that her face will already be turning red.  It also helps that she’s a good driver and likes to try any local IPA that the bartender suggests! (Those two things do not happen at the same time.) We had some serious talks along the way, as Claire was dealing with a couple of issues that she’ll be facing her senior year in college.  Not once did she speak ill of anyone or try to blame others for her situation. Instead, she always looks for the good, and then builds off that perspective. This doesn’t mean she is naive – far from it. But she has an inherently positive and expectant outlook on life. I wish I could capture a small piece of that perspective to use in my dealings with others, as I would be a far better person.

Claire is not one to judge. I know she wants to help me with my (over) eating and exercise, but her way of talking about it is only supportive and loving. When I think of how she made the decision in high school to only eat healthy food and to become physically fit, I marvel at her discipline. But she doesn’t push her way of living or point of view on her father, her family, or her friends.

Claire is open to what she can learn from others. We shared “playlist” time from our various iPhones during the majority of the trip, and not once – even after 10 bluegrass songs in a row – did she reach for her ear-buds.  Imagine that – a 21-year old going 18 days in a car with her father without once tuning him out with the old ear-buds trick. It is my experience that this is almost earth-shattering in its precedence!

So I’ll end by quoting myself – in the Central Time edition of Observations from the Road: 

Claire is a wonderful, sensitive, and thoughtful individual – which, of course, I knew in the Eastern time zone before I left on this trip.  But I just wanted to say it again today.  She is one in a million.

I know that every father thinks that about his daughter.  I’m just glad that I had the past two-and-a-half weeks to confirm it – once again – about my daughter.  I’ve loved every second with Claire and I’ll never forget these memories.

Lunch in Claremont with Claire

More to come…

DJB

Guitar: An American Life

Running Dog Guitar Ought 3 Top Detail“You start off playing guitar to get chicks and end up talking with middle-aged men about your fingernails.”

This is just one of the dozens of truisms, cogent observations, and laugh-out-loud lines found in Tim Brookes’ 2005 Guitar: An American Life. Candice gave me the book for Christmas, and though I finished it shortly after New Year’s Day, I’ve only now found the time to say how much I enjoyed this “part history, part love song” to the guitar.

I learned of the book last summer when I met Rick Davis, the builder of my two Running Dog guitars. Rick – along with a new guitar he built for author Tim Brookes – are featured in Guitar. After baggage handlers broke his Fylde guitar, Brookes turned to Davis to build him a new one.  In alternating chapters Brookes chronicles the building process while taking the reader through an idiosyncratic yet compelling history of the guitar.

Since the book has been around for a few years, it is easy to find good book reviews online. I’ll content myself with simply repeating some of the great lines from this delightful read. Let’s begin with that fingerboard.

“I’ll often feel intimidated just by looking at the fingerboard.  A fingerboard is a curiously disturbing thing, and not especially inviting, a combination of inscrutable rectangular geometry, strings one way, frets perpendicular. What about those inlays on the third, fifth, seventh, ninth, twelfth, fifteenth, and eighteenth frets, refusing to conform to any regular sequence, more perplexing than a Fibonacci series? ‘This is perfectly easy,’ the fingerboard says, ‘but you will never understand it.'”

Brookes, on a day when he has to have his snow tires taken off and his summer tires put on (he lives in Vermont), takes his guitar to the shop’s reception area and plays Django Reinhardt and Scott Joplin for the receptionist.

“When the tires are done and I stop playing, the two women break into smiles. ‘Very relaxing’ is the verdict. I’m tempted to hear that as ‘very boring,’ but I think, no, live instrumental guitar music probably is relaxing in the context of work, artificial light, the smell of artificial carpet and Naugahyde, oil and gasoline drifting in faintly from the shop. They agree that it beats canned music.

‘I’ve never had someone come in and play music in all the years I’ve worked here,’ says the receptionist, and I think, ‘What good is a guitar if you leave it at home?'”

And a final excerpt, this time around the question, “How do those guys play those chords?”

“Playing guitar is as much about the hand as it is about the guitar, perhaps more. Which is one reason why it’s a conservative art: the hand wants to conform to the shapes it knows. Advanced classical and jazz guitar ask the hand to make shapes it only ever makes during electrocution or in the last contortions of strychnine poisoning, which is why those guys develop spidery fingers – long, thin, oddly spread apart. The rest of us stick with the shapes we know, shapes that feel right.”

The guitar is an amazing instrument – simple, complex, versatile, fascinating – and I’m fortunate to have three wonderful guitars made by two luthiers of the highest order. If you have a life-long love affair with this instrument, or are just getting to know it, you’ll enjoy Guitar: An American Life.

More to come…

DJB

Live at BWI

Every now and then there are advantages to getting on a plane once a week.  Tonight I experienced one of them.

I am a fan of guitarist Muriel Anderson.  You’ve got to love a classical guitarist whose first influence was Doc Watson!  She can play anything…from classical to jazz to bluegrass.

So I was pleased and surprised when I saw on her Facebook page earlier this week that she would be playing something called BWI Live. At BWI Airport.   In Baltimore.  Among the baggage carousels and Hudson Books.  On April 7th.  The night I was returning from a day trip to Cleveland.  Through BWI!

So in the midst of a very busy day, week, month, season – you name it – I had a sublime evening sitting in the aforementioned baggage claim area listening to beautiful music with ten or fifteen other guitar aficionados.  Muriel Anderson shut out the noise of passing travelers, the cleaning staff, and God knows what else to showcase music from her most recent CD New World Flamenco and other examples of her recorded work.  She played a beautiful Vincent (from her collection of Harp Guitar duets with John Doan), charmed us all with a love song entitled Arioso, whipped through a fingerstyle version of Angeline the Baker (which I’ve never heard played with so many chords) coupled with Foggy Mountain Breakdown, and even indulged my request with the spirited Day Tripper (watch the wonderful video here.)  God, I love the bass figures she plays in that tune!

So I’ve gone to the YouTube archive and came up with Anderson playing a duet with Tommy Emmanuel on the Don McLean tune Vincent. As a duet, on harp guitar, or solo on the six string – as she played it tonight – this is a lovely, lovely tune by a world-class musician.  And I got to see her live at BWI!

Sublime indeed.  Enjoy.

More to come…

DJB

Finding My New Running Dog Guitar

I’ve been thinking about a smaller guitar for some time, to take my music in different directions and to help move beyond what has been a rather long plateau of musical mediocrity when it comes to playing.  But the time was never right, the funds were always tight, and I had other priorities.

A couple of months ago I broke through a personal logjam, and in the process started focusing more on enjoying my music.  (I am good enough to know that I’m not that good, but I decided not to worry about it anymore.)  Candice and I talked, and I told her my dream of getting a new guitar.  She said, “Let’s go for it.”

Of course I had a plan and even discussed it with some friends.  I had a builder in mind and even sought out some of their guitars to test drive.

But then I stumbled across a beautiful Running Dog guitar and decided to seize the day.

Two weeks ago we were in New England with our twins for college visits.  With a couple of hours before the tour, we saw a nice little sidewalk cafe where we headed for lunch.  I noticed a sign for The Fretted Instrument Workshop and mentioned to Candice that I might go up and play a few guitars after eating.

I climbed the stairs to the second floor shop and instantly saw three small O and OO-size Martin guitars with slotted headstocks and 12-fret necks.  Just what I was looking for!  I played through all three Martins, and while I liked them the necks weren’t feeling exactly right.  The shop’s owners were watching carefully, and one headed to another room and came back with this beautiful guitar.  He said, “Try this and see if the neck feels better for you.”

Thirty seconds later, I knew I had found my guitar.  As I played, it just felt right in my hands.  The curly koa back produced a warm sound.  It was beautifully balanced.  I loved the look of the Parlor guitar, based on an 1896 size O Martin.  And as I played I thought about a friend who passed away tragically and suddenly just a few days before, still relatively young and in the prime of enjoying an active retirement.  As a friend likes to say, this isn’t a dress rehearsal.  It was time to act.

Candice finally came up to find me.  She walked in and I could tell by the look on her face that she knew what I was thinking.  With a great amount of love and understanding she said, “Let’s do it.”

But before I pulled the trigger, I had a college tour to take.  I told Tony and Mario that I’d be back in 90 minutes.  And then I quickly emailed a couple of colleagues, including one who is a collector.  I said, “I’ve never heard of Running Dog guitars.  Can you do some quick research while I walk around learning about student/teacher ratios and the renovation of the historic dormitory?”  In less than a minute Carl replied with, “I’m on it!”  Within 15 minutes he was emailing me all about the beautiful bracing and craftsmanship of Rick Davis’ work and ended with, “Buy that sucka!”

And here, dear readers, is my new 2001 Running Dog Parlor guitar (pictures courtesy of Claire).  The first photo is of the full front, where you can see the beautiful, traditional shape of the size O guitar.

Next is the headstock.  We’ve now decided that the running dog going across the headstock is Lilly (yet another reason to buy the guitar!)

The curly koa back, with the matching sides.

Here’s a fun and quirky feature.  The original owner of the guitar was a Civil War reenactor.  You can see his allegiance by the custom design on the back of the headstock.  The owners of the shop heard my Southern accent and asked if I would have a problem with the “Union Forever” sentiment.  I laughed and said that 1) I was in historic preservation so I loved the additional connection to history and 2) I was smart enough to know that the right side won the war.

Back at home, this has become a familiar spot for me.  I have two sessions scheduled tomorrow to play this guitar with friends.  I can’t wait.

More to come…

DJB