January 18th 2011: Music conjures old memories

The Song
, by Chris Deal

The old man walked into the coffee shop like a marionette with his strings cut. He ordered a cup and sat at a table near the evening’s entertainment: a kid fresh out of high school, performing his songs like they were the most important thing in the world. The boy was good. He held the guitar with the care you’d give a newborn child, and sang with a copacetic voice. Most of the patrons went about their conversations without a thought to the music. The old man listened intently as he sipped his drink.

After a routine set of covers songs, the boy played an original, a piece conveying the depth of his soul. The final note rang out but no one noticed or responded, save the old man who clapped earnestly. The boy eased the guitar onto a stand and went outside for a smoke. The old man followed him and bummed a cigarette.

“You’re very good.”

“Thanks. No one else cares, but thank you.” The boy couldn’t place the face, but found the old man to be familiar.

“I mean it. You’ve got talent. Good looking guitar, too.”

“It was my grandfather’s. The only thing he had to leave when he died.”

“It’s a beauty. Mind if I give it a play?”

“Why not?” he said as he crushed the cigarette beneath his shoe.

Inside, the man picked up the guitar with a gentle touch, and positioned himself behind the microphone. With a voice like a bell the old man said, “This song was written by the morning star.”

Someone out in the crowd coughed. The boy thought the old man was praying for a moment, and then he strummed a chord that rang out through every corner and crevice of the room, catching the ears of all in its path. He hummed a melody that soon gave way to words, each syllable carefully selected and meaningful. The boy found the man’s identity hidden in his voice, and was carried back to a memory of his grandfather, who always played one song over and over whenever the boy came to visit, the same song and the same voice that came from the old man.

With an underpinning of chords, the old man sang one final line, “Whether you come from heaven or hell, what does it matter? O Beauty.”

The last note faded into a heavy applause that had eluded the boy. The old man handed the guitar back and asked for something to write with. The boy scrambled in his backpack for a notebook and pen, and the old man transcribed the music in full, chord progressions and lyrics.

“It’s yours now, the song. Take care of it,” the old man said before leaving.

The next week the boy returned to the small stage, and after another set was ignored and dismissed as mere background, he played the old man’s song again.

There were tears.


Chris Deal writes from Huntersville, North Carolina. He enjoys frying plantains: add a little touch of salt and some brown sugar and bam, delicious. Find him online at Chris-Deal.com.

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