Erick is an 81 year old guitar player. He says he plays every day, and then corrects himself. "Let's put the emphasis on the word "play." I don't try to be exact or precise with the instrument anymore. After this many years, it's just me now."
I asked him what he meant by that. "I play because I like to play. I wish I could play for somebody. I thoroughly enjoy the interaction. And I miss the connection, the intimacy that the guitar helps in deepening the relationship. I used to play in college, for both my male and female friends. Never more than one person at a time. I felt that the music or just the feeling is best expressed in friendship."
"I lost that feeling when I played in front of crowds. It wasn't the same. It was never for anybody anymore. Just played. People yelled, but it was so crazy. I didn't like it. Stopped after a few years." Erick pointed to the wall, and had me focus on the top right on a black and white picture in a frame. Two men were holding guitars, and the man in the middle had a big smile. I looked at the picture and said, "Is that who I think it is?" He said, "Yeah. 1963. Very young Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. I sat in on a few dates..."
"But they liked all that stuff. Not me. I just liked to play so one person can hear it. And let me explain what that means."
"I can get up in front of a crowd and play quickly, up and down the neck, fire out a bunch of chords and to me, it's just noise. But when I'm with you and I do this." and he hit one note on his guitar, and bent the string just slightly, while the sound faded away. "See the difference?"
I told him about an essay I wrote about "one note" that Albert King played for Stevie Ray Vaughn, to which Vaughn replied, "that was the best note I'd ever heard."
"Yeah," Erick said, "one note. But you realize that Albert didn't think much of that note, but Stevie sure did. And that's my point. Your note makes the other person feel something, and that feeling is brought right back to you. It's not only how the note is played, but who you're playing it for that matters."
"And when I can see the eyes of the person in front of me, I can play a note from the bottom of my heart. And they know. They can feel it. That feeling is sent through the energy of the music. And it is received as deeply as hearing the words, "I love you."
"When I'm with you, each vibration is a note of love. Some people write. Some sing. Some speak. And, in my case, I will tell you I love you by playing a song. Want to hear one?"
And sitting in Erick's living room, I began to listen to the heart of a wonderful man, through his guitar, one note at a time.