Steve Gunn’s blonde, acoustic Martin guitar got cracked in transit when he flew JetBlue to the West Coast in November to play some new music from his forthcoming record,Â The Unseen In Between. Some friends in Los Angeles hooked him up though: they took his six-string to a specialist who was able to restore it to playing condition even if a scar was still visible. Steve, though stoic, was still mildly steamed about the mishap.
One of the songs he played that night on his mangled-then-repaired Martin was “Stonehurst Cowboy,” a solemn tribute to his late father. Gunn’s version of folk music, though notÂ bright per se, usually lives in the lighter shades of dusk, his low voice kind of like the pinkish haze on the horizon. But “Stonehurst Cowboy” is chillier, darker, and much slower. As a eulogy, that makes perfect sense, but there is something else going on.Told from the perspective of Gunn’s dad, “Stonehurst Cowboy” is ballad/biographical account about revisiting a familiar place when your world has changed completely. For Gunn’s dad this happened after he and many of his neighborhood friends got drafted during the Vietnam War. For those who made it back, the same sunny streets they grew up on adopted darker hues: “Dear old house on 69th street looks the sameâ€”trees are strong, faces are gone,” Gunn sort of winces as he sings and plucks his guitar. The song is Gunn at his most isolated and its very disarming to hear if you’re familiar with his more mellowed work. “Tonight, I’m past the world,” he sings.While I was watching Gunn perform this song live, something really important eluded meâ€”in my defense, it was easy to come away with “f–k JetBlue” as the lesson of the night. But like for Steve’sÂ dad, or Steve, or Steve’s guitar, a sizable setback could have completely derailed an evening, a week, or longer. It was a kind, lucky thing that Steve’s friends helped him with his instrument and that he was able to play for us that night, even if he had to mess with his tuning a little bit because of the new ding. I thought about this, too, when I read Steve’s note about his dad in the somber song’s description: “My father was a positive, and hilarious force among his family and friends.” The damage is inevitableâ€”duhâ€”but there is also the part after that when you have to figure out what you’re going to do with it. “Stonehurst Cowboy” is a pretty tribute and also a helpful reminder.