Wednesday, September 29th, 2010
Okey-dokey, here we go. Thanks to Nicole for “dishwasher” and Gillian for “fret”. No third word today, sorry.
(c) Martin Livings 29-9-2010
I sit on the darkened stage, waiting for the spotlights to kick in. I can see the audience shuffling around in front of me, getting into their seats, chatting quietly amongst each other. My heart is racing, bouncing against my ribs like it wants to break out and run away, hurtle down the aisles and out one of the all-too-distant doors with the green exit signs above them. I force myself to breathe deeply, calmly. This is it. A lifetime of working shitty jobs, a dishwasher in a Nepalese restaurant, a garbage collector for the council, a telephone salesperson for one insurance company or another. All leading up to this. The performance of a lifetime.
More people are seated now, the hubbub quietening. I look down at the guitar in my hands, a beaten-up old Yamaha acoustic I’ve had for as long as I can remember. It feels familiar in my hands, like an old friend, like a part of my body. The strings, though, they’re new, new and very special. Barely played, just carefully tuned. Ready for this night, this performance.
They’ll never forget it, I guarantee.
The house lights dim, and two spotlights pierce the air, landing right on me. There is a ripple of polite applause. I smile at them, but don’t speak, don’t even have a microphone to do so. All the sound will be from the guitar, amped and ready. I reach behind my ear and pull out a plastic pick, then, without making a chord, I strum it across the strings, E A D G B E.
The pick falls to pieces in my hand, clatters inside the hollow body of the guitar, sliced by the razor sharp wires pulled taut across the guitar in place of normal strings. This is it, my magnum opus. Music should be dangerous, not the safe, soft pap that dominates the airwaves, crowds out the charts with child-friendly, inoffensive melodies and lyrics. No, it should have an edge. A razor’s edge, if possible. Music shouldn’t just affect the listener, but the player as well. Change them. Mutilate them.
I place my left hand on the neck of the guitar with some care, then, tentatively, form an A-chord. I wince as the wires bite into my fingertips as I press them into the frets. There’s a moment’s resistance, then it gives way, and something wet runs down my hand and arm.
I drop what’s left of the pick, and strum the strings with my fingers.
The first stroke removes my fingertips cleanly. The pain is hot and intense, and makes me shiver; there’s a gasp of horror from the audience as they realise what’s happening. That first strum is soft, but I grit my teeth and strum again, and again, harder and harder. Each time, more of me is taken away, a sacrificial offering to the music. I feel bone hit the wires now, which adds a deeper, stronger note to the chords, like using a pick again. But the wire is industrial grade, diamond-infused, and even the bone can’t withstand it, not for long.
There’s blood all over the guitar now, so much blood, and slices of me run down its body like crimson slugs. I change chords, to a D, and fresh pain blooms in my left hand. The gasps of the audience have turned to shrieks, and even with the spotlights and tears in my eyes, I can see people staggering to their feet, trying to get away. I smile despite the agony. This is exactly how I’d imagined it. No comfortable enjoyment, but confrontation, a challenge for both artist and audience. It’s how music should be.
My fingers are all but gone now, and I’m strumming with the stumps of them. I change chords again, to a bar chord, a B, then I flinch and slide it up to an E. The pain is minimal, surprisingly so, but my entire left index finger comes away in six even chunks and rolls off the guitar into my lap. I shift my remaining fingers to maintain a chord, any chord, but the blood is so slippery, the flesh so spongy and wet, that it’s hard. It doesn’t matter any more, though. I’m approaching the big finale.
I stop strumming, hold my ruined right hand above the guitar and let the mangled chord sustain for a few seconds. Then, with one fluid motion, I hit one last power chord, striking the strings with my wrist. My hand flies off and hits the boards by my feet with a wet slap, followed by a torrent of blood from the stump of my arm. I angle my head back, eyes closed, and enjoy the reaction, the screams, the sounds of vomiting, chairs being pushed over and smashed, feet pounding.
It’s music to my ears.