Family Matters

Family Matters

Rhythm Guitar: Stepping Out of a Big Brother's Shadow

By Robert Fontana

January/February 2021

My wife, Vicky, and I were walking to our car after a concert one evening, when I felt a stirring of sorrow inside me. We’d just finished watching a delightful husband-and-wife duo perform a handful of oldies at a small venue down the street from where we live, the stands packed with Birkenstock-wearing Boomers. The wife had sung with a bluegrassy twang, strumming an acoustic guitar that melded with the riffs of her husband’s 12-string Rickenbacker.

“Tonight, we’ve got a special treat for you all,” she shouted to the crowd. “This guitar rarely leaves our house.” Soon, the husband leapt into Roger McGuinn’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The crowd swooned in a moment of nostalgia, ignoring for a moment our body aches, potbellies, and varicose veins, as the music transported us to a time many, many years ago. But as we left, the sadness hit me like a tidal wave.

“Vicky, when was the last time you heard someone whaling on guitar like that?”

We both paused.

“Joe would’ve been thrilled,” she said softly. “I wish you could tell him about it.”

She looped both arms around me as the tears began to fall.

Joe was my older brother. He’d recently died at age 69, after spending many years struggling with obesity, heart problems, and ultimately, kidney failure. His descent had been painful to watch. He spurned…

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