耶誕節的吉他

給兒子的禮物,揭開我塵封多年的回憶
Jean Chavot◎撰

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Illustration by Bodil Jane/FOLIO ART

犬子即將十歲。我們一起出門的時候,他偶爾還會牽我的手,不過要是遇到其他的孩子,尤其是女孩子,他就會鬆手。那年冬日傍晚,我們在巴黎的街道漫步,耶誕燈飾把街上照得晃如白晝。腳下踏着髒雪,我們在一家樂器行的櫥窗前停下了腳步,他的小手舒適地攥在我手裏。

我們看着架子上閃閃發光的吉他,長長的琴頸有金屬箔片裝飾,看起來就像綁了彩帶的鴕鳥(有些人就是不懂得尊重樂器或動物)。我們立即剔除這些模樣可悲的傢伙;兒子夢想的可是一把狂野的吉他,能讓他馴服駕馭。我們走進了店裏。

多年前他甚至還沒滿週歲時,每天早上我們會對他哼唱一、兩個音,好看他醒了沒有。說是「我們」,其實主要是靠他媽媽那歌手美妙的嗓音。而他會回以同樣的旋律。後來這成了一場千變萬化的遊戲,越來越錯綜複雜,會聽到他立刻跟着哼唱,直到迸出一串開心的笑聲為止。這是他說「再來一次!再來一次!」的方式。

等到他大了點兒,我們時不時地會問他想不想學樂器。我倆身為音樂家,問這問題再自然不過了,況且他顯然有天分──我說這話可是以家長的立場做到盡量客觀。他總是明白乾脆地拒絕。我追問原因,他說不想「將來被逼着在三百人面前演奏。」

他去過多場我的以及他母親的音樂會。我納悶他是不是對其中某幾場特別差的演出感到失望,或是怯場這個東西會傳染?或者看着我們一路走來,敏感的他因此胃口盡失?抑或是在他心目中音階、練唱和排演只是典型的成人職業,是賺錢餬口的一種方式?又或者他有更好的理由認為試着同理解力有限的成人解釋是徒費脣舌?

幸好,他有個同班小朋友正在學鋼琴,〈頑皮豹〉彈得極好。兒子立刻把旋律熟記於心,還第一次留意到家中有一架鋼琴。一連好幾個星期,他低着頭,閉着眼,用各種方法盡情地彈奏這首曲子。

一天,或許是因為已用罄所有的組合變化了,他直接宣佈:「我想學樂器。」我們都鬆了一口氣。

「好極了。」我們也同樣直截了當地答覆他,生怕他會改變主意。

「你想學的是鋼琴嗎?」

「不,是吉他。」

「和爹一樣?」

「不,」語氣中有一絲絲的不屑。 「

那為什麼學吉他,不學鋼琴?」

「因為我喜歡和樂器有肢體關係。」

我和他媽二人對望。我們不太習慣聽他說這麼有深度的話。那天他沒再多說些什麼,但我們希望聽懂了他的意思。我買了一把吉他給他,然後應他要求,幫他報名音樂學校。

他欣賞古典吉他演奏家費南多.索爾和海托爾.維拉羅伯斯。但自然而然的,他很快就想彈奏更接近自己品味的音樂,用他自己挑選的吉他,培養完美的「肢體關係」。我們就是為了尋找那件理想的樂器,才會在那個平安夜走進了那家樂器行。

一名店員過來招呼我們,神情好似利用滾石合唱團巡迴演出和查理帕克錄音之間的空檔般地紆尊降貴。因為付帳的人是我,他光顧着跟我講話。我點頭,示意他招呼兒子。他才是正主。

店員以為這代表我對吉他一竅不通;而顯然的,小男孩也是。

他拿出一把吉他,形容它「超級適合獨奏」;接着拿出另一把鑲了珠貝母的;然後又把那些他銷不出去的貴玩意兒全拿出來。兒子一把也沒看上。他太害羞,不願在生人面前試彈。他問道:「我可以自己看看嗎?」店員對我們這種外行人煞有介事地挑選感到不悅,但同意讓他到店的裏面去。

等待期間,我回想自己的第一把吉他。當年我希望父親陪我一塊兒去樂器行選購,但他決定讓鄰人的兒子陪我一起去。那人叫麥可,他的父母對他想放棄習醫改當吉他手震驚不已。他則矛盾萬分,舉棋不定。

當時家父協助麥可追尋他的熱情,並居間調解安撫他家人。他這麼做很了不起,值得敬佩。但有一事我很確定:他絕對不會准許我隨心所欲,放棄學業。我基於強烈的怨恨和忌妒討厭麥可。

約好碰面買樂器的當天,我遲到了十五分鐘。他人已經走了。更有可能的是,他壓根就沒來。我才不願空手而回呢!我一個人挑選了吉他。回家後我和爹大吵了一架。我以為我是誰呀?我買的是一把便宜的初學者小吉他,但我從聽到第一個音符起就愛上了它。它的音色棒極了。

兒子從店後頭走出來,手上拎了一把民謠吉他。正是他尋尋覓覓的對象。店員用花稍的手法彈奏另一把更貴的,想說服他買下。他把〈天堂之梯〉前奏彈得荒腔走板,我們父子倆還得強忍笑意。兒子說:「爸,我們走吧。」

店員把吉他拿到結帳櫃檯上。兒子彈了幾個音,一耳貼着琴身,做了個怪表情。

「這把不是我的。」

「是,是這把。它們同一款,」店員保證。

「這把不是他的,」我說。

店員走回倉庫,帶着那把民謠吉他回來。兒子彈了幾個音,對我微笑。

 

耶誕節當天,他從耶誕樹底下取出吉他,撕開了包裝紙以後,立刻遞給我父親──急着想聽他的評斷。只見他祖父以專家慎重其事的態度彈了幾個慢節奏和弦及長琶音。

「這把小吉他聽起來很棒。」

兒子強調:「是我自己挑的!」

父親說:「乖孫子,真厲害。我以你為榮。」

我們坐下來吃耶誕大餐。那一年的火雞比往常更加美味。


The Christmas Guitar

My son was about to turn ten. He still took my hand from time to time when we were out together, but he let it go when we met other children, especially girls. On that late afternoon in winter we had strolled through the Parisian streets illuminated bright as day with Christmas lights. Dirty snow beneath our feet, we came to a halt in front of the music shop window, his small hand tucked cosily in mine.

We looked at the guitars gleaming on their stands. Their long necks decked with tinsel made them look like ostriches tied up with ribbon (some people have no respect for musical instruments or for animals). These pathetic-looking creatures were ruled out straightaway; my son dreamed of a wild guitar to tame. We went into the shop.

Years earlier, when he wasn’t even one year old, we used to sing a few notes to him each morning to see whether he was awake. I say “we” but it was especially his mother, with her beautiful singer’s voice. He responded with the same little melody. It became a game to vary it, make it more intricate, and to hear him reproduce it right away before breaking into his delightful rippling laugh. It was his way of saying, “Again ! Again !”

When he was older, we asked him from time to time if he wanted to learn to play an instrument. As musicians ourselves, nothing seemed more natural, especially given—and I say this as objectively as possible for a parent—his obvious talent. He consistently responded with a clear and definite no. When I asked why, he told me that he didn’t want “to end up being forced to play in front of 300 people.”

He had been to many of his mother’s and my performances. I wondered whether he had been upset by the shows where we were especially bad, whether stage fright was contagious, or whether his hypersensitivity meant he’d been put off by seeing us go through it? Or could it be that scales, singing exercises and rehearsals were, in his mind, just a typical adult occupation—a way of earning a living? Or did he have another good reason that it would be useless to try to explain to someone with the limited understanding of a grown-up ?

Fortunately, he had a little classmate at school who was taking piano lessons and played “The Pink Panther” divinely. My son immediately learned it by heart, having taken notice for the first time of our home piano. For many weeks he played the tune in every pitch and every key, with his head down, eyes closed …

One day, to our great relief, perhaps because he had exhausted all possible variations, he declared bluntly, “I want to learn to play an instrument.”

“Good,” we said, just as straightforwardly, afraid he would change his mind.

“You want to learn piano?”

“No, guitar.”

“Just like Dad?”

“No,” he replied, a touch of disdain in his voice.

“Why guitar then and not piano?”

“Because I like the physical connection with the instrument.”

His mother and I looked at each other. We weren’t used to hearing that level of language from him. He didn’t say any more about it that day but we hoped we’d understood. I bought him a guitar and at his request we enrolled him at music school.

While he appreciated classical guitarists Fernando Sor and Heitor Villa-Lobos, it was only natural that very soon he wanted to play music closer to his own taste, on a guitar that he’d chosen himself, with which he could develop the perfect “physical connection.” It was in pursuit of this ideal instrument that we went into the music shop on that Christmas Eve.

A salesman greeted us as though he were condescending to attend to us between a Rolling Stones tour and a session with Charlie Parker. He addressed his remarks to me alone, as the debit cardholder. With a nod, I referred him to my son. He was the customer.

The salesman took that to mean that I knew nothing at all about guitars and that, obviously, the boy didn’t either.

He brought out a guitar that was “super for solos,” as he put it, then another encrusted with mother-of-pearl, then all the rubbishy expensive guitars that he hadn’t succeeded in flogging. My son couldn’t see one he wanted. He was too timid to play in front of strangers. He asked, “Can I look on my own?” Disgusted that suckers like these were making such a fuss, the salesman let him head into the depths of the shop.

As I waited, I thought back to my very first guitar. I’d have liked my father to come to the music shop with me, but he had decided that I should go and choose it with our neighbors’ son. Michel was his name. His parents were devastated that he wanted to give up studying medicine to become a guitar player, and he felt so conflicted that he didn’t know what to do any more.

My father had helped Michel follow his passion and also intervened to reassure his family. It was a big thing for him to do. Admirable. But I knew one thing for sure: my father would never have let me give up my studies to follow my heart. I hated Michel with a fierce and dark envy.

I arrived a quarter of an hour late to meet up with him to buy the instrument. He had already left, or more likely, he had never turned up. No way was I going home empty-handed! I chose my guitar all by myself. When I got home there was a terrible scene. Who did I think I was? It was a cheap little beginner’s guitar. I loved it from the first note. It sounded terrific.

My son returned from the back of the shop, carrying a folk guitar. It was definitely the right one. The salesman tried to talk him into a more expensive model by giving him a flashy demonstration. We had to hold back our laughter when he massacred the intro to “Stairway to Heaven.” Then my son said, “Let’s go, Dad!”

The salesman brought the guitar to the till. My son picked out a few notes, one ear pressed to the body of the instrument. He made a face.

“That’s not mine.”

“Yes, it is. It’s the same model,” the salesman assured him.

“It’s not his,” I said.

The salesman headed back to the stockroom. He returned with the folk guitar. My son picked out a few notes. He smiled at me.

On Christmas Day, he took his guitar from beneath the tree, unwrapped it and handed it immediately to my father—eager for his verdict. With the solemn intensity of an expert, his grandfather played some slow chords and long arpeggios.

“This little guitar sounds terrific.”

“It’s me who chose it all by myself!” my son pointed out.

“Well done, my lad, I’m proud of you,” said my father.

We sat down to Christmas dinner. That year the turkey tasted even better than usual.

 

 

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