Let’s talk about guilty pleasures. Let’s talk about superstitions. We’ve all chuckled about somebody else’s; the ballplayer that always wears his lucky sock, the pilot that always has his lucky coin in his pocket, the sky diver that always mumbles his lucky phrase before a jump, the housewife that tries to avoid stepping on cracks in a sidewalk. Funny stuff. Not long ago, I read that Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer before finalizing the president’s daily schedule.
Now I’ll admit I’m subject to being proved wrong on this, bit I think you’ll find a pet superstition if you study anyone closely enough. It’s there whether you admit it or not. We all have our secret (maybe subconscious) ways of trying to foretell the future or exert control over the way things go down.
This brings me to May 16, 2003. See, that was the 50th anniversary of Django’s death. Django Reinhardt is one of the most gifted and utterly baffling guitarists who ever lived. He was born and raised in the gypsy camps of France and was steeped in the majesty and mystery of gypsy music. He was a promising young musical prospect, but was horribly injured in a fire when he was eighteen. His right leg was paralyzed and, even more devastating for a guitarist, the third and fourth fingers of his left hand were paralyzed. The doctors told him his leg would need to be amputated and he’d never play again.
He willed himself to beat the odds. He refused the amputation and forced himself to recover. Regaining the use of his leg was the easy part. The real challenge was for him to devise a completely new technique for creating guitar music because his fingers remained virtually paralyzed for the rest of his life. But create he did. His love of-- his yearning for the creation of music refused to yield to his body’s limitation. That yearning and that love served to lift Django to heights of musical perfection that leave us mere mortals in a state of--amazement.
Legendary American guitarist, Chet Atkins, places Django at the top of the list of the ten most influential guitar players in the 20th century. If you’ve never heard Django and Stephane Grappelli play together, do it. You’re in for a wonderful experience. If you have heard them, you know what I’m talking about.
Here’s where my favorite superstition comes in. I think every day of the year has a secret power, an essence, a potential for elevating the spirit. I think you can seize the day’s magic by picking an event or group of events that occur on that day to create a frame of reference to promote the good things the day has in store. So, on May 16, 2003, I was considering Django’s determination to ignore his misfortunes and create something wonderful.
That was on my mind because some friends of mine were taking vows of mutual love and loyalty. The skies were grey and there were tornado sighting all over the neighborhood. The wedding was to be outside and rain was threatening. But all that dissipated. The tornados missed us, the skies cleared and they had a beautiful ceremony.
Early tragedy could have destroyed Django’s ability to make music. It didn’t. Early heartbreaks could have destroyed my friends’ ability to nourish each other. Didn‘t happen. They were able to put past sorrows behind them and commit to a life dedicated to the pursuit of uplifting each other. I’ll never forget the song they selected to describe the importance of that moment. Everything is Different Now.
So now, each year when I approach May 16, I have a very uplifting frame of reference. Disabilities can be overcome. Sorrows can be minimized. And if I hold my mouth just right, I can tell the future. I predict it will be a good day. And guess what. I’m usually right. I love that superstition.
If guitar phenoms and long-shot weddings don’t do it for you, May 16 has some other fun stuff to contemplate. In 583, St. Brendan, the patron saint of seamen and whales died. In 1866, Charles Elmer Hires invented root beer. In 1920, Pope Benedict XV announced that Joan of Arc was a saint. And in 2000, “Bodacious”, the rip-roaring, hard bucking, side winding, high kicking, cowboy throwing champeen bull of the professional rodeo circuit passed on to that green pasture in the sky. If music hath charms to sooth the savage breast, maybe Bodacious will look Django up for a little musical refreshment. I guess we should all keep our fingers crossed.
I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
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Thu, May 14, 2009
by Michael Hinkle