I bought an old vintage Martin guitar. It was 000-18 parlor size thing from 1955. The more I played it, the more I began to think about the artistic life and how this instrument/tool finds its place at the heart of it.
The lyrics grew out of the metaphor that the guitar is a living thing in some way; however, it can seem immortal in relationship to the human life. Therefore it becomes the thing that lives on, not the song or the artist. This led me to think of how this could be personified in the imagery: “every scar,” “the burns behind the neck.” Each word seems to have a deeper connotation. Once this emerged I thought about the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray as the guitar/painting containing all this suffering and pain, and this made me think about how it was the vessel that holds this pain and not me. Maybe wishful thinking, but in some ways songs do exorcize demons to some degree—I think.
A lot of thought went into how to play the song, as it had to fit in with the concept behind the album Old Songs for Modern Folk. That concept was that each song was to be recorded live to tape without any overdubs, and so the guitar playing had to be full and interesting. This led me to work the tune out in the alternate thumb style that most people consider to be traditional country blues. However, I think the style covers many genres. I like the idea of having the bass and melody happening at the same time, as it seems to convey both emotional depth and musical isolation.
Every scar on my guitar has kept me young
Like a picture in the attic that stories the pain
Deep cracks beneath the surface veneer
Are the wounds of the sorrows that you hear.
The burns behind the neck are there to see
Though they’re hidden by the lights they’re clear to me
Not even the hands of the luthier
Could hide traces of the repair
This old guitar will be here when I’m gone
It’s not me that’s the vessel of the song
Unknown hands have tugged on these cold steel strings
And split the wood that hold the bracings
And the glue that binds the body will defy
Everything except a tear dimmed eye