I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of knowledge lately and a conversation I had yesterday really brought home one of my favorite parts about what it means to know things.
At our local farmers market, there is always someone playing acoustic music. When we walked up this week, we saw the performer’s back and I noticed that his guitar looked special. It looked like a Lowden, something I’d never seen up close (only at Richard Thompson concerts), but had looked at online. He had a tuner on the headstock, obscuring the logo, so I couldn’t be sure. We went about our shopping. As we were getting ready to leave and were walking back past him just as he finished a song. I asked what kind of guitar it was.
“It’s a Lowden,” he said. I said I’d thought it was a Lowden, but I’d never seen one up close. And right there, we had each signified to the other that we were members of the same tribe. He told me he was going to take a break in about five minutes and that I could play it if I wanted. I accepted (just to be clear, this is a fabulously well made and VERY expensive guitar. It’s the kind of thing you hand down to your children).
When I came back a few minutes later to play, he handed it to me and I began to finger pick a little. Hearing, I suppose, that I could play somewhat tunefully, he offered me a pick while noting that there was no pick guard (but assuring me that I didn’t look like someone who banged on guitars. Again, more code. He is effectively saying to me, “You can play, and I see that. I’m pretty sure about you, but not entirely sure. Use this, but please don’t damage my very nice instrument.”
After I played for a minute (I took a little solo while the guy who was spelling him strummed), we talked about the nature of the guitar. the neck shape. The sound. I mentioned Richard Thompson playing one (this is more code – guitarists are supposed to know about Richard Thompson). In the end, he invited me to stop by a song circle that has been going on for years and to which all stringed instruments are welcome (except banjo’s, “we don’t want it to turn into a country thing”).
The whole exchange was maybe ten minutes and would be all but meaningless to most people, but for the two of us, it was really cool, and it would not have been possible if we weren’t both intimately familiar with guitars. We both had specialized knowledge that we had spent years trying to obtain. It’s amazing how far that can go toward starting a friendship.