That was true only if they were good, and

by the guitarist’s vigor and vulgarity, I could tell he was. As for the washtub player, he’d add novelty to our act, give us a pulse and a prop. It wouldn’t much matter if he played in tune. It’s hard to go off message even with a sloppy washtub bassist. “We’re all on the same page then,” said

the washtub. “Ed, is it?” I asked him, while wondering,

which got there first, the bad skin or the body fat? I couldn’t help it. For a beat I worried about the unhealthiness of his roaming musician life. “My friends call me ‘Tippecanoe.’” “My friends call me Bill.” “Actually, it is Ed. ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler

Too’ is what I call our duo, but that’s because I did a lotta X in the late ‘80s.” He pointed to his forehead, then to Tyler. “This one don’t like the name.”

“How do you do, Tippee?” I said. Limp as a dead kitten—Ed’s handshake. “My buddy talks a lotta bizarro crap, Bill.

That’s why we get along! I’ve no idea why he thinks I don’t like his stupid name for us.” “‘Cause you never call us it, not even in

the friggin’ bistros!” Only twenty-seven, as I soon found out,

Tippee Canoe had already lost half his hair. Unsmiling and squat, he stood with his washtub braced under his boot-sole, ready to throb. The guitarist, with his overfriendliness and lengthy dirty-blonde hair, looked like the younger of the two. I struggled to get my mind around his advanced years: thirty-six. Their ages could have been reversed.


“What do you want to do?” Tyler asked

me, looking up from where he’d stooped to open his case, pull off a silken cover, and gently take out his acoustic: a pristine Martin. Tyler got his clothes from thrift shops but sure as heck hadn’t skimped on his guitar. “How about ‘Fire on the Mountain’?” A good musician cares for his instrument

as a soldier for his rifle. That’s another thing Miss Gross taught me, knowing the warrior symbolism would stick. Standing, Tyler ran the guitar strap over his shoulder and connected it to the brass button where the neck met the body. He handled his instrument with reverence, adding to my suspicion of talent. As for my instrument, it didn’t belong

in those streets. It was made by a famous old German family and worth far more than Tyler’s Martin. Miss Gross hadn’t known the value of the violin she’d sold me, not long before my last lesson, or maybe she did. In any case, I was glad to have a memento of her when she died some years later, of disease linked to drink and smoking, but I had to go to Europe to grasp her real legacy. If I focused my playing on “mere”—as she would have it—folk tunes, just by being out there I proved that her life’s passion had caught in the heart of another. She never learned that I too had come to feel the calling. We jumped straightaway into “Fire on

the Mountain.” My hunch panned out: Tyler delivered on his axe, while simultaneously singing, belting, and baiting the audience, a born showman. I crooned and fiddled. Ed plucked the chord of his washtub about as good as any

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