Sunday, 10 March 2013

A Tall Tale

Robert didn't have much in this world, but he did have work and he did have his guitar. It was more than a lot of other people had at the time, but it still wasn't enough for him. Robert wanted to be better and he wanted to be recognised - traits that were not uncommon in other men. Robert also had a tall tale to tell.

The moon hung full and bright in a clear, purple night sky. Robert walked alone, taking slow and deliberate steps to ensure he didn't upset the dirt on the road beneath his feet and fill the air and his lungs with dust. As he walked, he clung to the guitar that dangled at his side, wary of the flimsy nature of the strap he had made to carry it on his shoulder. He had crafted it himself out of spare string and it dug deep into his flesh. He was fully aware that the knots he managed to tie were not particularly tight, but they were the best knots he could muster with his unusually large hands.

The weight of his guitar and a hard day's work were beginning to take its toll on Robert and he desperately needed distraction from his blistered fingers and the ache that clung to his spine. Robert started to whistle. It was a slow, mournful tune, full of lament and regret. He soon forgot about the world around him and disappeared into the blues. He was blissfully unaware of the stranger approaching him from the junction up ahead.

"That's a mighty fine looking guitar you've got there, Mister."

Robert looked up at the tall stranger stood before him. His wide-brimmed hat not only cast his face into shadow but seemed to spread the darkness over his entire body.

"Mind if I take a little look at it? I'll be real gentle."

A bead of sweat formed at Robert's temple as he reluctantly handed his guitar over to this seemingly mystical character stood by the roadside. He couldn't bear the thought of losing his one earthly possession; the one item he relied so heavily upon to pass his spare time; the object he frequently lusted over and was so eager to master. Despite his apprehension, Robert freely - willingly - handed him his guitar and watched as the man steadily re-tuned the machine before strumming a few chords drenched in melancholy. The stranger meekly returned the guitar and without uttering a single word of thanks or farewell, turned on his heel and started walking down the road heading south. Robert gazed, almost dumbfounded, as the stranger disappeared into the depths of the night.

"A ghost?"
"Straight up."
"A ghost?"
"Yeah, Sonny. A ghost. Or something like that. Somethin' out of this world."
"A ghost? You're tellin' me you met a ghost, or somethin' outta this world, up at those crossroads and he just decided to show you how to play the guitar? That somehow he made you some kinda better player?"
"Sure thing. He was as real as you are sittin' in fronta me; as real as the cornbread and beans in my gut."
"That's a mighty tall tale, Robert, and I ain't too sure I believe it."
"You callin' me a liar, Sonny-Boy?"
"Naw, I'm callin' you a drunk. You bin suckin' down whiskey outta open bottles agin ain't ya? I tole you notta do that. You cain't ever be sure what's in 'em."
"I'm tellin' you I was sober, and I'm tellin' you I'm tellin' the truth, so help my soul. An' I've tole you before; never, ever knock a bottle outta mah hand, Boy."

It was sound advice given by old Sonny-Boy; advice that Robert would have been wise to adhere to. Several months later, Robert met his end drinking whiskey from an already open bottle that had been laced with strychnine. It had been passed to him by a stranger in a wide-brimmed hat. He was only twenty seven when he died. With his soul taken - lost - his blues still echo through the ages. They cry out from the heart of America. His songs can still be heard today, saving many a soul of the beaten, blue and downtrodden. The desperate ones, the unlucky ones, the misfortunate and the broken ones, they all still have a voice. They all still have the blues. Blues born from one man and his mighty tall tale.