Chapter 64:     El-Excalibur

ART writes--

To say that Adam became obsessed with music would be a gross 
understatement. The band was only meeting for practice three or 
four nights a week because the others wanted some semblance of a 
life, but Adam almost never stopped practicing or trying to write 
new songs.

Adam's guitar playing had changed since his return.  After a short 
awkward period of relearning his repertoire and getting back up to 
speed, he gradually became a more clarified musician.  He was 
understanding what he wanted to do, directions, techniques he 
needed.  He was focused and concentrated, playing a lot, whenever 
he was not busy with studies or some job around the ranch, never 
wasting time on television or casual entertainment.  He was either 
in his room, or out in the woods playing his guitar.  We could 
hear it becoming better every day and there was power in the music, 
as if we could actually hear his magic haka flowing through it.   
Some of that improvement had to be due to the guitar itself, which 
was quite special: 12-string, hand-made and Extra-Extra-Large.  It 
rang with especially jingly overtones, producing a full but clear 
sound.  A wonderful guitar.

I have not told this story before because the first part took 
place shortly before Adam was shot and I became too focused on 
that disaster to write any kind of feel-good chapter.  But now all 
that tragedy has been thoroughly over rumpled by music and magic.

Adam had learned to play on a nylon-stringed classical guitar, but it had never been his dream machine, even after customizing it in several ways. His hand-made Mexican guitar with extra wide neck had solved his hand-size problems and had served him well for many years. He had tried several electric pickup variations over the years to get a more powerful sound, but what he really needed was steel strings to match the power in his fingers. He also needed a yet wider fret board now, his hands had grown slightly larger since the Mexican guitar had been built. We could also hear the limits of the guitar itself, the clarity of tone was vague, the resonance inadequate for the demands Adam was making on his instrument. He had reached a plateau after years of practicing, becoming dissatisfied with his sound, even though his playing became better all along. "I just can't get the sound I want. Jeez it's frustrating. This guitar can't do it, it's just a toy. I need steel strings, wider neck, a bigger box, a cutaway." "Well, you've had that one a long time and it wasn't especially expensive. So get a new one." "Right, but I can't just go out and buy the guitar I need. Steel strings have skinny little necks, I couldn't even start to play one of those." "You could convert to a wider neck, like you've done before." He shook his head, "I need a guitar that's bigger all over. Balanced, not a collection of parts." "So have the entire guitar hand-made by a professional luthier." "Sounds expensive. Can I afford that?" We weren't exactly rich at that time, having just spent a lot of money redoing the roof of the house, so we did not actually have thousands of extra dollars for a guitar. But so what? "Can you afford not to?"
We called Steve Bonneville in Bellingham, our guitar expert, to ask if he knew of a good guitar builder. He said he did indeed, just down the street from where he lived. Herr Fischel was an old Austrian violin maker who had made guitars for several friends of his. Not only was he a good craftsman, but an artist who did it more for his own pleasure than for money. I hadn't been off on an adventure in a while and it seemed like an experience for Adam and me to share, so I told Steve that we were going to come up to Bellingham for the weekend and have him introduce us to Herr Fischel. Steve was enthusiastic. Friday evening Adam and I jumped into the Squatchmobile, top down, and waved goodbye to Elaine and the horses, ducks and chickens. Just the guys this trip, off on a Quest to Find The Perfect Guitar. (And maybe spend a wild & crazy evening carousing the cool college town scene.) So we boldly ventured a vast seventy miles to the frosty north. Both Steve and I had gone to Western Washington University when we were young, but he'd never been quite able to tear himself away from the place. Now he was teaching art there. We had a great time. We got there early and picked Steve up and went out to eat dinner. We ate Mexican Food at Dos Padres in the South Side, had a drink in a tavern, looked at college girls. No one questioned Adam's age at all, even though he was technically a minor (20 years old) and everyone knew who he was. Besides, he was drinking apple juice; he had no interest in alcohol, which only made him feel hot and sweaty, then sleepy. Steve had probably bragged about being buddies with the famous Adam Leroy Forest because the locals seemed to have no trouble accepting that a sasquatch was sitting in a bar with them. Bellingham's like that, easy going, laid back, experimental college at Fairhaven; they saw weird stuff all the time. We did a few more taverns on the South Side, Steve and I reminiscing about how great the taverns had been in our college days there: the Old Fairhaven, the Kulshan, memories of old friends, girl friends, Aurora Borealis. But neither of us were actually interested in getting drunk, so we went on back to Steve's place. Steve was my age, mid-40's then, but was still living like a hippy. He taught art at Western and owned a big house in town near the campus and rented rooms to students, so it was effectively his private commune, mostly younger people. He was a musician and artist and lived that lifestyle to its fullest. Steve had gone through a string of much younger girl friends for many years--he kept getting older but the age of innocent new college girls passing through his life was always about 18-20. I was never sure whether to pity or envy him, since they were always beautiful and smart. He got away with it because he was a cool guy, with his Bohemian lifestyle, his guitar and his ponytail. But now he'd finally seemed to have settled for Marie, who had also been one of those pretty and innocent young students passing through when he'd met her four years before. She was from France and was maybe even more Bohemian than Steve, so she didn't mind the loose communal lifestyle that had eventually driven all his other girl friends crazy. It was kind of chaotic, there were seven people officially living in the house and their friends often showed up because it was the happening place, so there were people drinking beer, smoking pot, playing loud music. I thought it was fun for an evening, but was glad this wasn't my life all the time. Actually, there was a bigger crowd than usual because they'd come to meet the famous sasquatch, Adam Leroy Forest Himself. Later, one of Steve's musician friends, George, came by with the guitar Herr Fischel had made for him and we looked it over. It was a Western guitsr, quite beautiful: steel-string with cutaway, blonde wood that looked like glass. George played it for us. He was a good guitarist and the guitar complemented him, they sounded stunning together. Adam had been slightly doubtful about an old Austrian violin maker's ability to make a real he-man guitar for him, but he became enthusiastic as he listened, looked it over and tried to play it. He could just barely squeeze his thick fingers onto the narrow neck and strummed a few chords and decided that he liked the sound. Especially when George told us the very fair price he'd paid for it: not cheap, but well under the price we'd dreaded.
The next day we went to see old man Fischel. Steve had called him the day before and mentioned that a guitar playing sasquatch would like to meet him. He didn't build guitars for just anybody any more, he was 82 years old and had to be interested. But he knew who Adam was and was eager to meet him. Herr und Frau Fischel lived in a wooden house on Champion Street, there was no visible shop or store front, just a sign in the front window which read "Violin Repairs". You simply had to know about him, he got all the business he wanted from the colleges and schools in Bellingham. Herr Fischel was the caricature of a short little Austrian who had become plump and jolly from eating strudel all his life. His accent was exactly as it should be, klar und dick. He invited us into his house, which was full of old cuckoo clocks and other Germanic kitsch and led us to the kitchen where Frau Fischel was baking a strudel for us at that very moment. His shop was behind the kitchen, a low-ceilinged annex, also crowded with violins, tools, pieces of guitars. Adam couldn't quite fit into the shop and had to talk from the kitchen. Herr Fischel actually knew quite a bit about Adam's history, from television and magazines and was delighted to meet the young man. He had even seen Adam play guitar once on TV and told him, "Really, I thought even then that you zhould have a spezial guitar und chust for spass, I dezigned one." He was delighted when we all gave a spontaneous cheer. Adam showed him his Mexican classical guitar with the extra-wide neck and described the guitar he thought he needed. Herr Fischel had Adam play a few pieces and asked what did and did not satisfy him about the sound. They talked. Not just about guitars, they got to know each other a bit, interested in what the other was capable of. Herr Fischel told us his story about experiencing the Nazi the occupation of Vienna when he was a boy. Adam told what it was like growing up... and up...and up. Oven-warm strudel was served with coffee, ja, es war sehr gemütlich. "It zhould be ein 12-ztring," Herr Fischel suddenly stated, "mit efen vider neck for extra room between the pairz of ztrings, extra deep and wide box, but not longer than ztandard-- othervize you can nefer get ztrings for it--neck joined at 10th fret for zolidity. Ein monster Gitarre," laughing and spreading his hands expressively, "bigger than any normalle mann kould hold or play." "I don't know," Adam said, "a 12-string is another sound than I've been thinking of." "Aber ja, naturlich! It IZ that other zound you haff been LOOKING for. It'z like playing two guitarz at once, ein Orchester! You kan't begin to uze the power in your big handz on a ztandard 6-ztring, und that'z vat you vant to do, nicht wahr?"
It took over four months for the old Austrian to make that guitar. By then Adam was lost to us, somewhere dead or alive in the wilderness, we didn't know if or where. Steve Bonneville called me from Bellingham to say that he had received it from Herr Fischel. It was an awkward call for him to make, since he knew about Adam's disappearance and that Adam might never play that guitar, but he had to inform me anyway. We had already paid Herr Fischel in advance, so that was no problem. We arranged that Steve would bring it down and spend the weekend with us in Monroe, but there was no hurry. By the time he got around to it we had received that January telephone call from Adam and knew that he was alive after all. Herr Fischel had done a glorious job, putting something very spezial into this one-of-a-kind project. He liked Adam and the few times we had stopped in to see how he was coming along on the guitar he would tell us of his days conscripted into the German army in 1944 as avery young boy, how he had once seen Adolf Hitler, how he had deserted in Africa and been smuggled to Malta by nuns and his years as an illegal immigrant in Spain making guitars. We were never sure if the stories were true or not, but it hardly mattered, they were good stories. The four + months it took to finish the guitar was actually rather quick, since he had other projects as well and was not a fast worker, but a craftsman. Wood had to be bent gradually into form, glue had to set slowly, varnishes had to dry, it was a long process. He was also old and spent only a few hours a day in his shop, it being more of a hobby than work, since he was actually retired with a pension. But he lived for his hobby; you could see that in this guitar. It was made with all the best woods, the top was Sitka spruce, the sides and back Brazilian rosewood, the neck solid mahogany with ebony fingerboard trimmed in ivory and polished brightly. The cutaway gave access to the 16th fret, an extra thick steel rod resisted the stress of 12 strings, there were gold tuning pegs and an Ovation piezoelectric pickup installed in the bridge. It was also huge, deep and wide, ein monster Gitarre. It even came in a special hand-made case, which was in itself a craftsman's showpiece. Elaine and I were impressed just by looking at it. We strummed it, the sound was magnificent-- but none of us could play a guitar designed for the Bighands of a Bigfoot. So we laid it on Adam's bed, ready for him to play when he came back to us. A few weeks later, Steve called to tell us that Herr Fischel had died of a heart attack.
When Adam finally did return to us he was surprised by the guitar he found lying on his bed, He was also very satisfied with it, very respectful, felt he owned a work of art that he had to justify having in his hands. Since it was both acoustic and electric, he dubbed it "El-Excalibur". Of course he was shocked and sad to hear of Herr Fischel's death. Adam had liked the old man and loved the guitar he had made for him. "Well, at least I'll never forget him," he said.

Chapter 65

Adam out of Eden