Seven Guitars is a story told in a flashback. It starts and ends at a funeral repast. Between the bookends of funeral ritual we examine a slice of the life lived by Floyd Schoolboy Barton. As with every Wilson work he is talking to us. What story does the life of Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton offer the living?
The men and women of Seven Guitars are ordinary folks; they are people I know. I know people with fire in their belly willing to take a chance to see where life will take them; the reckless and brash, wanting the sweetness they have seen life yield up to others. I know men who hunger for a quiet place and a woman who knows how to sit with them in the dark. I know women who want to believe in the men they love. I know women bruised by love and some who bruise with their love. Wilson says the work is inspired by his mother, and the beautiful notion that, everything about her was worthy of sharing. He found wonder in everything connected to his mother; the contents of her medicine chest, her music, the laughter of her and her friends were all of equal fascination to him.
The world in the backyard of Seven Guitars reminds me of my mother and her friends. It reminds me of fish fries, bid whist, bottled beer, and music. I am reminded of how much my mother loved music; she was a Southern transplant, first generation Californian. She got here from Mississippi via Chicago. I imagine she traveled straight up the 61 Highway like so many southern youth before her in search of a life in the land of milk and honey. She ended up in the East Bay in a small town and there she had a family and polished her city ways. Like Wilson I found my mother’s world fascinating and perhaps more so in appreciation inspired by hindsight. Wilson easily connects me to the world as it was when my mother was young–thusly offering me a way to understand the shoulders on which I stand and how I might live in my children’s memories.
Seven Guitars is a testament to the richness of the everyday. The work elevates the trials and tribulations of this small group of friends to the art that is synonymous with Wilson. The back yard as a meeting place for dreams and life lessons over a card table with a cold beer on a hot summer night is a perfect stage for the philosophy of a race to unfold. Wilson offers a plot as effortless as the dialog in this piece. It almost eludes you in its integration of the rhythm of ordinary life blooming, blossoming, and withering all at the same time in the same place, as is its habit. Wilson meets us where we live in all our drama and turmoil amidst the mundane backdrop of one day following another despite the brutality of the previous one.
The play is a blues/ jazz symphony orchestrated by seven people whose lives intersect. They are a skillful blend of wisdom, experience, desire, longing and raw joy at being alive to strive. With little more than a song and desire the inhabitants of the yard move forward in their lives despite obstacles and pitfalls. They take a chance on living and if you look closely you may find you see yourself or someone you know in the characters who have come to the game of life with all the gusto they can muster.