–And the Sound will set you free. __Eck teaching
The big Wabash couldn’t have been a tougher instrument to play. Its thick neck (slightly bent even when new) and high bridge required tremendous finger pressure to seal off even one string, let alone all six needed to produce a full “F” chord. A classical barre was out of the question. Its king sized body filled a picker’s arms, daring the musician to meet its challenge. As a reward for persistence, however, it offered the successful chord grabber a clear tone with enough depth and volume to back up a bellowing cowboy songwriter without amplification.
Shortly after I turned eighteen, it became my first guitar and the first instrument of any sort attempted since giving up clarinet for basketball after high school’s freshman year. A little fancy work with a woodburning pen and some colored liquid plastic produced an inlaid blue “Fred” signature. For years, the oversized Wabash toughened fingers while remaining its owner’s first choice, eventually acquiring an electric pickup and forty-five watt amp to give it even more thunder during the home times. On the road or otherwise, it bespoke comfort and understanding, tranquilizing a young cowboy often bruised of body and emotionally ragged, serenading a young lady, lulling a baby to sleep, emoting the blues felt Soul-deep by a spiritual seeker. It outlasted many “second” guitars. The double pickup hollow body Harmony and another with no name, both sold to an uncle. Two U.S. Army acquisitions, the cheap PX acoustical and a tiny red solid body electric dwarfed by the mammoth flattop.
Plus several others, remembered no better than a list of Vice Presidents.
Finally, the Wabash moved on, donated to a teenager who considered the price to be right, replaced at last by a small Gibson classical hybrid appropriately named “Hoot”. Much easier to play, Hoot contained only one curious defect: Impossible to tune correctly. It could be tuned half-and-half, three strings at one setting and the other three just slightly off, but it refused to let all six work as a fully integrated whole.
During Hoot’s tenure, realization dawned that my musical instruments reflected clearly my struggle to unfold spiritually. For years the big, bold, macho, hard to play cowboy style Wabash had ruled the musical roost–years in which its owner was certainly no easier to live with than the guitar to play. Then had come a Gibson with a split personality as I fought a fierce war between my two halves, battling the little self to bring it in line and to begin sloughing away the many layers of eye-watering onion skin that prevented Soul from shining forth with clarity.
What would come next?
It turned out to be a Yamaha, a plain Jane box with an extremely wide neck and better tone resonance than instruments thrice its price. A bit more karma down the road, both the Gibson and the Yamaha departed, eventually replaced by a beautiful little Conn classical named–of course–Connie. Connie stayed behind in Portland, Oregon. In San Diego, a borrowed nameless instrument of Mexican origin offered tough-turning tuning pegs and fantastically good sound. It returned to its owner after midwifing the birth of a dozen musical song-babies.
Then came the Hohner.
The Hohner possessed its own strange quirk. On one string in particular, playing three notes up the scale, bing-bing-bing, produced a peculiar dissonance, a wavering that fascinated rather than repelled. It then occurred to me: Musician, heal thyself. Every guitar had been a healing force in my hands in one way or another, and this one’s dissonance vibrated at exactly the rate–or set of rates–to help cure certain attitudes and opinions best left behind.
Musically speaking, “Hoot” Gibson had carried the ball from nasally sung and hastily written western songs to those more Eck oriented. Instead of an adolescent bellowing about Seven Steps to Misery one drunken night after being dumped by a first love, there was Blue Light, a gentle tune wrapped around an A Minor chord. At Eckankar seminars scattered throughout the Midwest, audiences listened to Blue Light and later questioned the singer.
“Who was that lady singing with you?”
“Well, I didn’t see anyone else on stage, but I clearly heard a beautiful female voice accompanying you.”
Once, a young man announced excitedly that he had captured the second voice on tape. “Can you take the time to listen to this? After the rest of the program, that is.”
“Certainly,” I grinned. Who wouldn’t want to hear a voice from the inner planes acting as his own personal backup singer?
By the time we located one another later in the day, he had played the tape half a dozen times for fascinated listeners. Each time, the feminine voice had been clearly heard by all concerned. This time, only my voice remained on the tape; the lady’s song stylings had departed.
“It’s gone!” He exclaimed.
“That’s understandable. The Eck gave the experience to those who needed it, then erased her voice so we wouldn’t get all hung up on phenomena.”
“You think so?” He smiled finally, relieved to realize his word was not being doubted.
A year later, Eckankar members gathered in Des Moines, Iowa, for a seminar featuring a talk by the Living Eck Master on opening night. Just before the Master spoke, a creative arts segment included among other things a rendition of Blue Light. Following the program, a Nebraska Eckist approached me about taping the song in a professional sound studio. I liked the idea, she paid the expenses, and we cut the tape a few months later. Listening to the playback, I admitted amazement.
“That guy can sing!” I exclaimed, astounded at the difference in sound as compared to the nasal, poorly done home recording of an earlier decade. This sound was beautiful.
All right. The Wabash had started me off; the Gibson had brought me to vocal beauty. Past them, past others, pausing for a moment with the borrowed Mexican instrument….
Christmas, 1985. Through a full-fledged Eckist and not in any way considering myself a Spiritualist Church member, I had in November joined Millie’s class. In that “in-tune-ment” class, we told little personal God-stories illustrating Spirit’s activity in our daily lives, and–in a darkened room–practiced “tuning in” to past life experiences and visitations from deceased relatives and friends. In time, the ability of Millie and other class members to give unconditional love brought much unfoldment my way. Millie possessed a conscious awareness of the Kingdom of God as the goal, with any attendant psychic experiences a pleasant but minor spinoff. The awareness made us all comfortable in her presence despite any differences we possessed in individual belief patterns.
Millie assigned me to write a song for the Christmas program. The tune that manifested ended up borrowing its title from a Patti Simpson book, Hello Friend, modified to Hello Friends and beginning with the words, “This is the time of year love is flowing free.” I wrote it, taped it, filed it, and forgot it. At program time, the lyrics had to be propped up on a chair; they weren’t even memorized.
The audience loved in anyway. Gene, one of the church’s more sensitive members, told me, “When you got up to sing, three shafts of light came in above and behind you, behind your right shoulder. They are light beings, pure light beings, and they want me to tell you, Fred, you’ve been searching for your mission in life. You have found it. Search no more. This is your mission; you will minister to man through your music.”
Well, maybe. That my songs constituted my principal outflow to the world around me…it seemed doubtful for a fellow who sings every other week or sometimes every other month. Other avenues such as the written or even spoken word seemed more likely for me personally. Likewise, just because a medium says it doesn’t make it true.
On the other hand, Gene had been correct in certain earlier readings he’d given, and receiving such approval from one’s circle of acquaintances can be a soothing, healing force in itself. I thanked him and let it go.
Millie, however, did not. She assigned me another songwriting mission, something suitable for our class’s graduation in late May. This time, the new tune revolved around the simple refrain line, “…and I find myself a-singing one more time….” Its verses quick-sketched each class member, beginning with Reverend Millie herself.
After the May performance in church, one member of the congregation commented, “You just beam when you’re singing. You should sing more often in church; you could raise the whole vibration.”
“Thank you. It’s nice to be appreciated.”
“It’s impossible to imagine you without a guitar,” a class member added.
Curiously, I’d never thought of myself as a musician, one of those slightly alien creatures easily able to translate hydra-headed ink blots into triple-tongued flute trills capable of charming birds out of trees. Musicians work all night and sleep during the day; they know the names of notes they sing and call their instruments “axes”. No, I’d not care for the price one pays to be a musician.
But I do like being a Guitar Man.
For our readers who may not recognize words like Eckankar or Eck, the definitions can be found in A Glossary of Eck Terms at Eckankar.org.