Weston was going on his winter tour and needed some focal point to make the tour more complete and relevant. He had recently bought a guitar at an auction in New York. The guitar had been beautifully made in California by a small company with a reputation among the leading rock musicians.
The guitar had a strange history, and was meant to have passed through the hands of a number of guitar heroes at the end of the sixties and early seventies. There was no documentation with the instrument to indicate who had owned it over the years, but the original bill showing that it was bought from Tansa of California had come with the instrument.
Weston hoped that he could use this instrument as an extra dynamic in his act. For a moment he remembered how the auctioneer had held the guitar by its neck, looking as though he was acknowledging the roars of a crowd at the end of a concert, with the handmade gold machine-heads on the instrument suddenly reflecting the lighting of the auction rooms. Weston had known instinctively as a professional musician that his excitement at seeing the guitar was nothing to do with the external appearance of the instrument. It was something deeper, almost like seeing a beautiful girl in a crowded place and then seeing her eyes turning to meet his, and not turning away.
There was a great deal of carving on the instrument, not unlike the sort of tooling and decoration that used to be found on muskets. The instrument was heavy, but Weston liked a heavy guitar, liked to feel its weight pulling down on his neck and centering in his stomach. With that sort of stability, his hands could flit around the neck and body of the instrument like white spiders.
When the rehearsals for his tour began, Weston realised that the guitar was no ordinary instrument. At first it wouldn't work at all. He felt clumsy, he felt as though he'd only been playing guitars for a couple of years, he felt as though his bones and muscles were reacting to the cold winter air like thick oil. But after a couple of hours the instrument began to sing, and by the end of the rehearsal session Weston was feeling good. When he had finished, he handed the guitar to his roadie. The roadie made it quite clear that although he thought the instrument very beautiful it was, in his terms, a "weird axe", and Weston would be better off leaving it alone. Weston laught this off--if the guitar had any sinister connections, he was going to blow them to pieces with his playing.
As he was getting ready for the first gig of the tour a message came through that Tansa of California were phoning from America, saying that Weston owed them for a guitar he had recently purchased at an auction. This puzzled Weston, as he had personally handed over the money to the auctioneer, but he had no time for these sort of problems, with only half an hour to go. As he warmed up in his dressing room the instrument responded well and Weston felt that the night was going to go in a positive direction. But when he got out under the lights in front of the audience and roars of appreciation had quietened down, he began to feel that same thick, oil-sump movement in his hands. He asked the management to put up the heating on the stage during the act. But things didn't get very much better, and by the interval he had changed his guitar and was back on one of his standard favourite instruments. When the second half ended, he pulled the place together and during his last number the audience had begun to dance at the back.
On the second gig, a similar situation occurred. With only a few minutes left before going on stage a message came through that Tansa wanted to talk to him about payment for a guitar. And again, when he went on to the stage the same thing happened: he couldn't make the instrument function properly.
It was during one of these moments, when he was on the verge of deciding whether to try a particularly tricky solo on the instrument, that he noticed a man sitting in the front row of the audience, clearly lit up by the stage lighting. This man was looking at him with something more than just the expression of a fan lost in a dream of appreciation. He was definitely trying to catch Weston's eye, and it wasn't to indicate to him that liked what he was doing.
Again he had to change over to another guitar for the second half, and again the gig took off as soon as he'd made the switch. Afterwards in the dressing room, he was told that there was somebody at the back stage entrance demanding that he see Weston about payment for the guitar. Weston dismissed it; but as they were driving away from the gig, and as usual many faces pushed themselves against the window of the car to look at Weston, staring into the back seat through the warm glass of the window was the face he'd seen in the front of the audience. The man was shouting something at him and he appeared angry. Weston gave instructions to the driver to go faster, and they cleared the crowd without any mishap.
By now the rest of the band were quite familiar with the weird, unpredictable playing of their front-man and were trying to persuade him to leave the instrument alone. Weston, however, took it on stage on the third gig, and after the first hour of the first half, having been unable to make the instrument sing and soar, he flung it across the stage, where it smashed into a stack of amplifiers and fell to the ground, with the whole of the back-plate coming apart and tinkling on the wooden stage floor. He picked up one of his other guitars, but the anger and frustration that had caused him to sling Tansa's instrument away from him seemed to have affected his guitar playing, and the concert was not a success.
This gig was in London, and by the time they'd finished and were coming down backstage, Weston could hear a strange silence through the dressing room windows, and he knew immediately that the whole of the city was encased in snow. Depressed and puzzled, he got ready to make a run for the car. As he was doing this, his guitar-roadie came in with the broken instrument, pointing out that there was no real damage and that it was nothing he couldn't sort out in a couple of hours.
Weston wanted to get back to his bed and sleep, so he went with the roadie in the crew van. As they were pulling away from the theatre down a narrow alley, a man came running out of a shop doorway, and immediately Weston recognised him as the man who'd been watching him from the audience. The roadie pointed out to him that it was the same man who'd been hanging around the stage door saying he was from Tansa and needed payment.
As they accelerated away, the man ran faster and faster, and although the vehicle was quite easily doing in excess of 40 mph on the wet and sludgy road, the man was still gaining on them. They could hear him shouting that he'd come for payment, that payment was needed and that until Weston had made the payment he would never be able to play the guitar in fron of an audience. The people inside the van were beginning to panic now, as on a straight run up a deserted and quite Oxford Street they hit 55, almost 60 mph--but the man was still gaining.
The roadie suddenly kicked open the back door of the vehicle and slung the guitar out into the snow towards the running man. He slammed the door and they skidded round the corner and were away. The last Weston saw of the guitar was the man gently picking it up out of the sludge, talking to himself--or to the instrument. Then a shop window full of Christmas decorations blocked his view. Weston didn't feel angry, but still he wanted to know what the hell his roadie meant by throwing his best guitar out of the back of the van. The roadie, who was quite shaken and upset, took a piece of paper from out of his pocket.
"I found this stuck inside the back of the guitar."
It was a bill from Tansa, and written on it were the words:
"One handmade custom guitar--material and sundries: $2000.00."
"Special effects for enchanting & capturing the minds of audiences, our fee: One soul."
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©1990 Andy Marvick