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Where I remember a dear friend
Honestly, the name was Mrs. Skewers’s idea. I started playing ‘cello in the 3rd grade, and she insisted that every instrument must be named. But I can’t, for the life of me, remember my ‘cello’s name. What I do remember is Mrs. Skweres, looking at me, exasperatedly, after I had missed yet another ‘cello lesson. It was getting toward the end of the fifth grade, and she just didn’t know what to do with me. I wasn’t enjoying myself, and she knew it.
To get people to practice more, she came up with a bribe system. As she started soliciting donations from anywhere she could find, she started announcing different values to tasks that should be done naturally by anyone taking lessons — but, well, kids are their own beast. Come to a lesson? 5 Monopoly dollars. Master a practice piece? 20 Monopoly dollars. At the end of the school year, she’d auction off each of the donations.
Most of the students had between $50-$60 as we went into the last concert. I head $23.
“John, would you think about playing bass?”
“If you can practice enough to be able to play in the concert, I’ll give you $200.”
After she arrived, I don’t think there was an hour that passed, that I was awake and at home, that I wasn’t playing her. Simply, I took to her . . . after just two weeks, I played her well enough to play that concert1.
The name “Lynnette” came because I thought it a beautiful name, and the fact that I had crushes on two girls, one named Lynn and one named Antoinette, is purely coincidental.
Lynnette was red — like, really, really red. In an orchestra setting, she, very nearly, looked out of place. Seriously, she stood out against the other instruments, just a little bit . . . until we started playing. And then she stood out a whole lot.
Because, you see, I have a problem being still. And she was my partner in crime.
I’m a firm believer that music is never, ever played, unless you’re just pressing a button to turn it on. No, music is performed. As the pianist from my very first musical group would tell you, the presence that is John Batzer would be wasted as a studio musician —
simply, when I play, I move. And I knew Lynnette better than I did my own self. I barely trust myself to walk down a hallway and not walk into a wall. My “dancing” can best be described by the quotation marks. But, with Lynnette, I could perform. When I was on stage, she was an extension of my body. As I played, I moved, and as I moved, she moved with me.
Those of you who have seen me play know what I’m talking about. Much like Ginger Rogers was a better dancer when Fred Astaire was dancing along side her, I was a better musician when Lynnette was my partner. I knew her.
Nobody likes the cold – but Lynnette seemed to despise the hot. Her G-string would go sharp as her E-string went flat . . . and it wasn’t a mere performance or two that I felt her going out of tune — not heard her, but felt her.
During the last concert, I knew something was wrong. It wasn’t a particularly hot day, but my mistress was throwing fits staying in tune — in fact, I had completely given up even thinking about playing an open string in the performance. Because you can’t correct an open string.
In the next-to-last song of the outdoor concert, it happened . . . honestly, I thought someone had shot her — just a sudden “snap” and all of the tension was removed from the strings. Nobody was firing at the flamboyant bass player with the “little bit too red” playing partner, but the bridge had collapsed.
I got things put back together and finished up, but, well, something like that isn’t supposed to happen in the middle of a concert. Or ever, really. Bass strings are under a good bit of tension – bridges don’t just collapse.
So I inspected her.
Her fingerboard was loose. There was a tiny bit of a gap between her back and the neck, and, where the end-pin met the instrument body, there was significant damage.
Simply, she was a student instrument that had outlived her time. The time I had spent playing her, in the end, is what did her in — she was, just slightly, too small an instrument for me, so I always had the end-pin at the highest level, meaning that it was putting the most pressure it could on the instrument . . . a plywood instrument. That pressure, over time, lead to warping, and that warping lead to unfixable damage.
I got the news last Friday . . . the luthier I took her to, one of the most respected bass repairmen in the country, laid it out . . . he wasn’t sure if he could fix her, but if he could, it would be expensive — and, while he didn’t want to press me to look into a new instrument, it was impossible to look at the amount it would take to fix her without taking the cost of a new instrument into consideration.
So, I packed her up — her strings unwound, the endpin that had been her destruction completely removed.
I’ll move on – it will be sooner than later, but damn, I’m going to miss her.