Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.



the guitar

Come sit by the fire. I have a story to tell.

Ok, so it’s Verlon Thompson’s story. And Guy Clark’s.

there will be bad times, brother

shutterstock_224292622 for web

“Although the fig tree shall not blossom,
neither shall fruit be in the vines;
the labor of the olive shall fail,
and the fields shall yield no meat;
the flock shall be cut off from the fold,
and there shall be no herd in the stalls.”

Do you hear me? Do you understand? There will be bad times, brother.
In my eighty-one years, you better believe I’ve had them.
Three years ago I lost Nita.
We’re supposed to get wiser as we get older, and I guess I have.
Even so, loss is hard and lonely.

Here’s what I know.
Listen, now.

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet,
and he will make me walk upon mine high places.”

I didn’t always know that.
When you’re young, you think the fig will always bloom.
You think there will always be fruit on the tree and cattle in the stalls.
Now don’t be thick-headed. You know what I mean. Even if you’re young, you know what I’m saying.

But this isn’t my story. It’s Trevor’s.
Trevor for sure didn’t know.
To this day, I don’t know if he’s taken hold of the truth.
It’s not profitable for a man to express his faith in these days, and when you’re young like Trevor, you’re not inclined to go against everything the world says is right.
One has to be tried, tested, and hardened by fire.

That boy.
He’s a remarkable boy.

— Maxfield Martin

copyright 2016, joseph e bird, from the novel A Prayer for Rain

This is how you write.

Joe Higginbotham was a great writer.  In 2010 he wrote a piece about his father, who had just passed away.  In doing so, he not only managed to tell us what was special about Emery Higginbotham, but he also took us inside the world of professional music and back in time to the British Invasion of the 1960s.  It’s timely, inasmuch as we are currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

If you want to know what good writing looks like, click the link below.

Emery Higginbotham

The New Mastersounds

jazz fusion from the UK, The New Mastersounds


I haven’t dropped any music lately, so let me tell you about two of my recent discoveries.

First is the Mahogany Sessions, stripped down acoustic music by various artists, mostly in a moody or melancholy style. It’s good for late-night listening or when you’re in one of those moods. This evening might be right.

There’s an interesting story about how I found out about Josh Garrels, but I’m not going to tell you right now. Here’s one of his songs from the Mahogany Sessions. Just put in your earbuds and groove to the vibe.

Twenty two minutes.

guitar 2-6-16 for web

AT FIFTEEN MINUTES PAST TEN the next morning, the news site flashed a red banner across the top of the screen announcing a plane crash in Texas. He clicked the link and saw that it was a commuter flight from Houston to Dallas. He would not have been shocked if it had been their flight. That’s how life worked, it seemed.

Witnesses reported a giant fireball. He looked at his disfigured left hand and touched the side of his face and felt the scars.  He knew the agony they would have to endure if there were survivors, but that was unlikely.

If you want to know a man, know his pain.

It was one of dozens of quotes he had heard in his freshman literature class at the University of Tennessee, but the only one that stuck with him. For obvious reasons.

At the time, the physical pain he had endured was still fresh and still issuing reminders that his body had been greatly traumatized. During the months of recovery he had put on the brave face and carried a resolute disposition. And then the real pain began. The isolation. The guilt that never quite seemed to leave him.

If you want to know a man, know his pain.

He closed the internet browser.

He was supposed to be compiling demographic data to be used in establishing the housing ratios for the Renaissance project, but his thoughts were elsewhere. Loss. Grief. Dani. His own desolation.

He opened a new document and closed his eyes as he let his emotions speak to him.

He felt the rhythm first. A slow, three-four time. His body swayed slightly, his eyes still closed. Then music. The chords. On the down beat.

He opened his eyes, his fingers on the computer keyboard.

At first, random words: Pain. Loneliness. Her smile. Her eyes.

Then they began to find order.

Bring me back
from the dark of night,

Let me feel
love in your light.

He wished he had his guitar. He wrote a chord progression, not sure if it was really what he wanted. A melody started to form in his head and he wrote to it.

More random thoughts filled the page. He wrote quickly, trying to capture the mood without losing the music. A chorus. More words altered the mood and he heard the change in the tune that would comprise the bridge. There were typos all over the page but he didn’t dare interrupt the flow. More words. The last verse. And the chorus again.

He read from beginning to end. He closed his eyes and let it sink in.

Then again from the beginning, this time singing softly.

Then he scrolled back to the top of the page and wrote: Bring Me Back, by Trevor Larson.

It had taken him twenty-two minutes.

You Gotta Move, he sang.

This is the way it was meant to be played.

Parker Millsap.

He’s coming to play at the levee in Charleston on June 20th.

First Lesson

He sat in the break room, feet up on the table, guitar across his lap, and played the same riff over and over.  It was a tricky combination of finger-picking and a shuffle strum that would take him a while to learn.  He could make it easier: slow the rhythm, alter the chord progression, or change the tune altogether.  It was his own composition, after all.

He played it three more times, each time, a little faster and a little smoother.  There was no rush.  It wasn’t on his playlist for that evening; most of those songs he could play in his sleep.   But he knew when it was ready, when he was ready, it would be worth all the work.

The speaker on the wall of the break room crackled.

Customer needs assistance in electrical.

“That’s you, Chet,” Doyle said from his chair on the other side of the room.

He stopped playing and looked at Doyle.  “Chet?”

“You’re too young,” Doyle said. “Chet Atkins.  He was the guitar player when I was a kid.”

“They had guitars on the Mayflower?”

“Let me see that thing.”

Trevor dropped his feet to the floor and walked across the room to Doyle.

“Can you play?”


Doyle held the guitar and ran his left hand up and down the neck, his fingers buzzing on the strings while his palm slid along the varnished maple.  With his right thumb, he strummed the strings, muted by his left hand.  He lifted his fingers and strummed again.  Even though he played no chord and there was no tune and no music whatsoever, Doyle couldn’t help but smile.

“I can teach you.”

Doyle looked up and down the guitar, admiring the curves and shine and worn strings and that distinctive aroma that all musical instruments possess.  Then the smile disappeared.  “I’m too old.”  He held the guitar by the neck and pushed it back to Trevor.

“You’re never too old.” Trevor put the guitar back on Doyle’s lap and arranged his arms and hands in the proper position.

“What are you doing?”

Trevor twisted Doyle’s left hand so that his fingers hovered over the fret board.

“Take this finger and put it here.”  He positioned his ring finger on the second fret of the fourth string.  Doyle’s fingers were thin and bony.  Had they been more plump, Trevor’s experiment might have failed, a realization that came upon him a bit too late.  He placed his middle finger on the second fret of the fifth string, and his index finger on the first fret of the third string.

Customer needs assistance in electrical.

“Now press,” he said.

“You better go,” Doyle said.

“See how your fingers are flat against the strings?”

Doyle nodded.

“Straighten them up.  More vertical.”

“It hurts.”

“Yeah.”  Trevor moved Doyle’s fingers slightly, making sure they weren’t touching any other strings.  “Now hold that.”  He stepped back.

Doyle looked hard at his fingers, willing them to stay in position.

“Now strum.”

He did.  Doyle played his first chord.  He strummed again.  And again.

“Got to go,” Trevor said.

Doyle strummed again.

“That’s an E chord, by the way.  You wouldn’t believe how many songs start out with that chord.”  He wasn’t sure if Doyle had heard him. He plucked the srings one by one.  His first arpeggio.

copyright 2015, joseph e bird

The preceding is the opening of my current unnamed work in progress.  It will likely change as the writing progresses and the inevitable editing occurs. More to follow.

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