I recently watched a YouTube video about Willie Nelson’s guitar, the one he plays at every concert, every studio recording, and probably when he’s just hanging loose at home. The guitar is a Martin N20 nylon-string classical acoustic guitar. Nelson named it Trigger, after Roy Roger’s horse. He bought it in 1969 from Shot Jackson, a Nashville guitarist who repaired and sold guitars from a store near the Grand Ole Opry. The instrument is battered beyond belief. The surface, which consists of Sitka spruce, has been gouged with autographs and chafed and smudged and scratched after having been played solidly for forty-seven years. The frets - ebony from Gabon or Madagascar inset on a mahogany neck - are so worn down they seem more like suggestions than frets. Beside the soundhole under the bridge is another splintery hole, shaped like a crescent moon, or mouth, which the constant flick of Nelson’s pick has created as it brushed past the strings. The instrument looks as fragile as the web some errant spider constructed not long ago on the rear view mirror of our car, as if the tap of a finger would turn the ancient Martin to a pile of dust. What holds this guitar together is a mystery, and yet it produces a very pure and mellow sound, a strong sound.
Can an object have a soul? Sometimes, the difference between the organic and the non-organic seems negligible. Nelson has played this guitar so often, and with such loving devotion to the music, that the guitar seems to be endowed with its own soul.
I find a parallel in heat. If I turn the heat up in the room on a cold winter day I luxuriate in it. I feel enveloped by a benevolent energy. I ‘m guessing that has a lot more to do with imagination than actuality, but who, when it comes down to it, can speak with final authority on what is living and sentient energy and what is merely an excitation of molecules? What is dead matter and what is a breathing substance? If matter is ultimately and essentially solidified energy, isn’t it possible that the qualities of that energy are not always those opposite to life?
There’s a frontier which art and poetry and music reveal. We enter a zone where the edges of things blur in distinction and presences make themselves evident in sensation, not as dead matter but living phenomena.
Is that crazy? “I’m crazy for trying and crazy for crying / And I’m crazy for loving you.”
I don’t have conversations with the furniture. Matter is static. Life is full of animation. Life is animation. The furniture doesn’t mate and reproduce. Not that I know of anyway. I’ve never seen a couch copulate with a table, a chair eat a carpet or a carpet that needed mowing. The ceiling never changes its mind and decides to become a floor. I know the difference between a living organism and a block of concrete. And yet, it’s difficult not to believe that the music that brings an instrument to life doesn’t, over time, invest it with a certain talismanic energy, or like a splintery mouth in a soundboard of Sitka spruce, enrich out of loss what time has vainly claimed.