In eighth grade, I didn’t have much of a social life. While most kids were out with friends, I’d be found nose deep in 150 Classics for Romantic Guitar. My best friends were Mauro Giuliani and Francisco Tárrega; classical guitar was my religion.
The guitar made family dinners a rare occasion in my household. Most frequently I was fumbling a frozen dinner on my lap while I played. The guitar: my dinner date (oh, sweet Jasmine!).
Despite hundreds of hours of running up and down scales, I wasn’t much of a performer. I feared the thought of others assuming me as ostentatious. Because of this, my only audience was a group of wine-tipsy patio-goers at a small Cuban restaurant. Frequently, my loving audience would rather socialize about hairstylists and Maseratis than listen to me. Still, my music found refuge in their ears, but not in their hearts.
Why would they want to listen to a thirteen year old play Tárrega?
They didn’t. They didn’t listen to me, I didn’t play for them. We only sat close in proximity. Listening and hearing are two different universes.
There was a mutual agreement among the two parties – the winos and I – I filled their night with music, and I gorged on their hesitant applause (is he finished yet? Are others clapping? I don’t want to clap early and interrupt the song. I don’t want to embarrass myself like that).
So then, why did I play? I know I didn’t for accolades, or because my mother made me. I didn’t for scholarships, or to become a professional. One reason, I guess, is that it was a self acclaimed identity. I was a guitarist, that’s what I knew myself as. I had to play, because if I didn’t, I would seize to exist as myself (in my eyes). If I had quit, I would have been only a B average student attending some second-rate junior high school in Phoenix. There are ten million of those lounging around already! So to be me, John Hunter Tromp Priniski, I had to play the guitar. But behind this burden rested a passion (which rooted itself in the flesh of a man).
I also loved proving my guitar teacher wrong. He would often say to me (on scores of music I was aspiring to play), “This piece is too difficult, let’s go to one earlier in the book – it’s easier.” So, to prove him wrong, I would put in hours of practice (pushing my homework into the late hours of the night) to play that more (difficult) piece for him at my next lesson.
Like clockwork, after I finished playing the song for him, 91 year old Gabe would lean back in his old wicker chair and break out into raspy laughter and applause. The only applause from my younger years that I cherish from my younger years.
Those are my fondest memories. Let him rest in peace.
I have lost the spark of my passion, the heat of my flame. I maintained an art that (for so many years) went unnoticed. I, and my music, was elusive to nearly everybody.
My playing is more public than ever now. People applaud me sober. But the passion that pushed me forward in years past (“The Gabe Years”) is now dead.
It is no more. It lived its life, and reached its end. It lived in the ears of a dozen winos, and died with the flesh of a single man. I, like us all, should move forward.