W.P. Norton

Posts Tagged ‘camel filters’

Ode to Guitar George

In W.P. Norton on February 23, 2012 at 2:44 pm
me and N

G.M. Norton; Afro-Cuban demon mask; the artist as a young man.

When I was 15—before Russia, before Obama, before the internet, before Chapman and the Dakota—when I was 15 me and my father, G.M. Norton, lived for a while in an abandoned sauce factory in Madison, Wis.

They’d long since stopped making the sauce there. And it would be a while before the property would be transformed into the condominiums of the Johnson Building that stands there now on East Washington Avenue, next to the car wash with the big Octopus head.

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But it was a building with a couple of floors and the kind of elevator with a heavy mesh cage that you fling open or shut with a crash, and we were there for a couple of strange months in the winter of 1979, and so was Uncle George for part of that time. My honorary Uncle George, that is.

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Uncle Guitar George

And it came to pass that on certain nd nights, there we’d be at a table in the former break room of the factory under the fluorescent lights, George and me.

There were cases of cold Huber beer, and Camel filters, and a guitar, and warm-hearted hours of instruction in the classics: the warm, curvaceous and supple notes of the beginning of “Norwegian Wood.” The breathless dextrousness of the rapid-fire blues plunked out of the little finger on “I Feel Fine.”

It seems I played in 15 bands after that, and mainly the bass, because there were many better guitarists in the vicinity at the time.

But in that Madison factory on a cold winter’s night, with Huber and Camels and a beat-up old acoustic held together with duct tape, Guitar George sat across the table and taught me how to coax more than notes from a piece of wood and catgut strings.

So thanks Uncle George, and cheers to you for those times you made the factory feel almost like home.

I happened to be in New York City when George Harrison died in 2001. At dusk I gathered amongst the many hundreds at Strawberry Fields, singing along with the throng while two brave buskers strummed every number in the Fab Four catalog on acoustics. I don’t recall a single mic or amp being used: just the two steel-strings. It was a joyful thing, much in contrast to Dec. 8, 1980.

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