must have meant his upside-down washtub— with its broomstick post and thick mono-string— but he meant the tall guitarist coming down the walkstreet, his instrument at his side. I was flexing my fingers to work out the

knots when the lankier of the two friends stepped up, thrusting his big hand at me. “Fucking A, dude! We ain’t played with a fiddler since Munich! How goes it, governor? I’m Tyler.” A spirited shake. “I’m Bill,” I said. “Great.” I meant that. I didn’t always, but that night

I did. I felt in good form as a performer. Other times I felt off my game, tone-deaf, and cut off from my audience, as if I knew the world going by hated me. It could get bad out there. At times, even, a kind of scream unlocked its night on me while I was standing on the cobbles. It wasn’t a sound the onlookers listening to my music would have heard. I didn’t hear it either, exactly; but sometimes another type of ghost—the ghost of all that I’d been running from or wanting to keep buried, and all that I’d been trying to kill— smiled, and it came out sounding like a rumor of my death, or something else of a violence I could feel.

That night, though, my spirits had been

steadily climbing. The mischief at hand wasn’t connected to any of the unheard scream nonsense. While considering the musicians who’d

joined my company, I turned the nut of my bow a quarter turn, tightening the horse hair, which tended to loosen up on warm summer nights. Generally, I gave extra-wide berth to the American musicians I met, not because they weren’t any


“At times, even, a kind of scream unlocked its night on me while I was standing on the cobbles.”

good, nor because most performed strictly rock or folk-rock—types of music I loved but rarely felt eager to play. But because I spurned the familiar. Somehow, though, these two didn’t strike me as the roaming clichés I normally butted up against out there. The bassist put his daypack down against the building at my back. “We’ll let you go solo if you want,” Tyler

said, his voice a lusty song-ravaged whisper. “But how about doing just one with us? And afterwards you can tell us to fuck off. Holy Christ, you sure know how to get a crowd going . . .” “Away,” I noted. “That last one, the Irish tune. Ed called

it clear across the square! Was it ‘Old Maggie’? That’s what they call it back in Pittsburgh, PA, steel-country, where I grew up. I hit on another version a while ago in Sweden. Sweden! You believe that shit? You probably know it as ‘Sleeping Moggy,’ what most people call it. Where you from, my brother?” I knew it as “Sleepy Maggie.” “Upstate New York.” I was thinking of

Poughkeepsie, home of Vassar, my alma mater. While in fact born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and raised a few towns over, I wasn’t in the mood to hear the guy go on as if we were old compadres. Looking around, seeing almost no one

was left anyway, I agreed to let them stay. “It’s always nicer playing with people,” I said.

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