The day before the rehearsal for Johnny’s memorial I finish sorting and filing miscellaneous papers, except for the small pile that I cannot figure out what to do with. I am doing this because I have left divided stacks of things on my bedroom floor and I am afraid I will fall over them. When I have put the final unfiled stack in a folder I move on to my next task: changing the strings on my guitar. I consider changing the strings on Johnny’s guitar, too, but I decide that one string change is enough for the day.

Out come sharp scissors to cut open the string packet, dykes to cut string ends, a rag to clean off accumulated dust on the peg head and near the bridge. I sit on the bed with the guitar beside me and slacken the three lowest strings one at a time, loosening the tension until I can unwind each string from its tuning peg. I pry up the wooden bridge pins to detach each string from the guitar: as I remove each string I wind it into a circle and stow it in the used string packet. I run a red garage rag over half of the peg head and next to the bridge, swiping it over the pick guard as well.

I begin to replace the three lowest strings, one at a time, uncoiling a new string from its envelope, securing it with a bridge pin, running it through the groove in the nut. You wind low strings counterclockwise and I am in the habit of wrapping the string once around the base of the tuning peg before running the lead wire into the hole in the peg to secure the string. Then begins the painstaking process of tightening the string, turning the peg away from me. I turn the peg until the string in it is taut and straight, no longer curving, and then I begin to check for pitch. Tightening strings is scary business — there is always the possibility that one will snap and hit you in the eye. This has never happened to me, but the ends of strings are sharp enough to prick the ends of calloused fingers and I usually have a few bleeds doing this task.

After the three lower strings are on, I reverse the direction to remove and add the higher strings: wind the strings on the pegs clockwise, turn the pegs toward me to tighten, bending the strings sideways to stretch them periodically. Generally, you tighten them slowly and, inevitably some of them slip back suddenly, losing pitch — sometimes a bridge pin pops up, allowing the string to loosen. You push it back in and begin raising the pitch again.

Eventually, I activate my tuner and start bringing all six strings to standard pitch. I like to do this fairly slowly — I feel tension in my body as the tension in the strings rises, but I manage to gain the correct pitches without mishap. Once the guitar is in tune, I cut the loose ends of the strings with diagonal pliers, gather the string ends for the trash and stow the dykes back in my guitar case.

I put a capo on fifth fret and run through the melody of “Ingenue” on the strings, not singing, just picking out the tune. I will be singing this song, which I wrote about falling in love with Johnny, at his memorial concert on Tuesday evening. Completing the first run-through, I begin again, singing this time: “Open mind/open heart/It’s hard to live in the world when you’re letting it fall apart/Nothing to hold on to…”

My voice is true. I remember all the words. The chords come back under my fingers. When I hit the penultimate line of the last verse, “But my heart is singing like an ingenue,” my voice breaks and fades because I am starting to cry. I finish the song in a broken whisper. I hope I will be able to sing it on Tuesday without faltering, but there are no guarantees.

Returning the guitar to its stand, I check my email and find an email from our music director, telling me that the piano player who was to accompany me may not be at the rehearsal or the memorial. She gives no reason, so I send him a short email asking if he is alright and I send her an email thanking her for informing me and stating “The show must go on.” She sends me a thumbs up symbol in reply. I realize I feel entirely alone: although I’ve sung solo more often than not, I feel the emotional weight of this upcoming performance.

I call Patrick, one of Johnny’s bass players in his band Carnival, to ask him for a ride to tomorrow’s rehearsal. He leaves a message for me while I am at lunch, watching the Star Trek movie, “Nemesis,” which is playing on the Movie Channel. Johnny introduced me to Star Trek The Next Generation. (I scorned the original series, which my brothers watched during my childhood, and I had never wanted to watch Star Trek again). Johnny told me I was a snob and watched episodes with me, introducing me to various characters. I got quite fond of Data and Q.

I call Patrick back during a commercial. He will give me a ride. I give him my address and we agree to leave my house at 11:20. I tell him that I am singing with the band for the last two numbers, “The Weight” and “They All Ax’d for You,” so we have to be at rehearsal at the same time. I say I’m glad that he is singing in the show as well as playing bass.

We talk for awhile. I learn that he only met Johnny in 2009, around the same time that I did. I tell him I thought he had known him a lot longer because they were playing in a band together when Johnny and I got together in 2012. I would have asked a few more questions, but Patrick says we can continue the conversation tomorrow, so I thank him and hang up. He calls me “Kiddo.”

I have lost the story line of the Star Trek movie as I sit mending a thin cotton shirt. The movie will play again on Wednesday evening after the memorial is over. My mother turns the T.V. off and I go to check my email. This time I find a forwarded email from 2020: Johnny had sent his friend Dale his notes for a planned album. I knew about the album, but I had not seen Johnny’s notes on the songs for it. Johnny always had big plans: he mentioned wanting to write a third album of original songs. Dale’s list includes a song Johnny wrote called “Too Late to Reconsider.” I have never heard it.

In the last three months of his life, Johnny did not invite me to gigs or send me links to his live streams after the first one, which I attended. (I thought he had stopped doing them). We still talked on the phone occasionally or emailed each other. The last time I called him I called to see how his last gig had gone. He was disappointed by a lower turnout than he had expected but he said he gave a good show that made the audience happy. I saw some footage of that show after his death: I thought he looked weak and tired, his voice subdued, the man a fraction of his former self. It was sad for me to see him that way, as it is sad for me to live without him now — I miss his former vigor, liveliness, intelligence and empathy as well as much of the music he used to play.

I’m updating this Monday night Pacific Time: if any of you want to watch the memorial live-streamed in real time or later after it is archived, here are links to the live stream and the program:

New Live Stream Link:

The event begins at 6:45 PM Pacific Daylight Time (or UTC-0700 for you international types.) 

Event Program Link:

https://tinyurl.com/JHMemorialProgram