There’s a famous story that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. I looked it up, and it turns out Nero supposedly played an instrument called a cithara. There is another problem with that story. He couldn’t have fiddled, because fiddles weren’t invented until much later. There’s even disagreement over whether he played any musical instrument at all.
Either way, the cithara was a stringed instrument similar to a guitar.
I’m thinking maybe that famous saying – “music feeds your soul” — applied to him in that situation. He couldn’t think of anything helpful to do, so he retreated and “fed his soul.” I know of another person who reacted to a crisis similarly. He was the owner of the ranch my dad was managing. I was about 10 years old, and my dad bought a small herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle, the first black cattle ever seen in northeastern New Mexico.
After they were delivered and turned out into the south pasture our family went to town for groceries, feed, etc. We returned after dark, and from a mile away we could see flames and smell smoke. The pasture was on fire. Nobody was out there fighting the fire.
We dashed to the ranch headquarters and Carl, the owner, was …asleep in bed, his radio playing music. When my dad yelled, “Did you know the south pasture is on fire?” Carl said, “Yes, I saw it,” and offered no explanation for his action – or inaction.
We all know musicians (and those who enjoy music) are a little off the beam. I’m one of them and I must admit sometimes I’m a bit strange as well.
E.Y. Harburg, the great American lyricist (The Wizard of Oz, Brother Can You Spare a Dime), said, “Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.”
The guitar, the supposed descendant of the cithara, has become, in my lifetime, the instrument of choice for many types of music. I recently attended a “celebration” of cowboy life. I’m sure there were at least 50 guys with high-top Western boots (some even with spurs – in the house, yet) and large hats carrying a guitar.
Some of them were very good musicians, but after listening to the 20th rendition of Bury Me Not On the Lone Prairie” my ears pooped out. A few of the guys had written songs themselves, and that was a treat.
A couple of brave souls even ventured into comedy with their songs/stories. Humor gets no respect, as I personally can attest. Sir Max Beerbohm (English caricaturist/writer – who lived 1872-1956) wrote, “Strange … of all the countless folk who lived before our time…not one is known in history or in legend as having died of laughter.”
I REALLY identify with Oscar Wilde’s comment: “Of course the music is a great difficulty. You see, if one plays good music, people don’t listen, and if one plays bad music people don’t talk.”
I would add, “If you play guitar, make sure you have your own shtick, and original music.”