A year after I followed Johnny up to the Cur-ville festival in Kenwood and heard his triumphant performance of “Burnin’ Up,” a year after he called me “the fabulous Sharyn,” a year after everyone I talked to at the festival told me what a great guy he was, I go back on my own to sing a small set at Cur-ville on a secondary stage. I have taught myself to play an accompaniment for my own song “Clueless,” which I had been relying on Johnny to play since I wrote it. I will perform it for whatever crowd I have while Johnny sits in San Leandro doing whatever he is doing. It is August and he has only made it out of the house since June to buy booze and to get himself a new phone charger, but he cuts his fingernails the day before my gig, which will allow him to start playing guitar again.

Busking has prepared me well for singing at Cur-ville. The stage is near a couple of food trucks, some small tables. People order their food, chat to each other. They are not listening to my lyrics, hanging on my every word.

The M.C. admires my vintage pawnshop Harmony guitar. People applaud when I sing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Others look up when my friend Mary comes to the stage to sing a duet with me on “Morning Shanty.” Another performer sings a snatch of my “Wallflower Waltz” and says she has meant to learn it. I wish Johnny were present to hear my set, to comment on what he felt I did well.

My friends Mary and Alan give me a ride home so I get home at a decent hour. I am able to call Johnny. Reviewing the festival for him I say “Lots of chops, no taste.” Many of the musicians I have heard play can play and sing well, but their songs are forgettable. I, on the other hand, can write a memorable song, but have no chops. I fantasize about making a record with Johnny, either Johnny producing and playing on my next album, or perhaps making a duet record with him, but neither of us are making records today.

Johnny tells me he is drinking more water. His voice sounds stronger and more spirited. He expresses some interest in music performances, recordings and documentaries about musicians. He talks to me about the arrangements and personnel on Dale Geist’s record (Johnny produced it and is 99% happy with it). The fact that Johnny is talking about music shows me that he is on the mend.

In teaching myself to play “Clueless,” working out an accompaniment, I am learning what I will have to learn many times over: hanging out with a great musician can be fun and they can enhance your performances or arrangements if they are in the mood, but you still need to build your own skills, rather than relying on them for the hard bits.

A few days after my Cur-ville mini-set I am possessed by the desire to learn to play Richard Thompson’s “Walking on a Wire.” I know the song to sing it, but it is a minefield of hard chords to play: C# minor, G# minor, B major. If a song has just one chord I find hard to play, such as a B minor, I can work out a way to cheat the chord, or I can capo, in some cases, and play an A minor shape, which is easier, but there is no key in which I can sing Thompson’s song that will not require some difficult chords. I am limited by my inability to play barre chords, chords where you place your left index finger across all of the guitar strings and make the shapes of the chords with your other three fingers: it takes strength and practice to hold down a barre and get a clean sound on all the strings. Johnny, of course, when he is playing, can play any chord. He likes to call himself “a twelve-key man,” meaning he can play in any key anyone wants to play in.

Johnny suggests that I just play the root and the fifth of each chord instead of trying to play the whole thing. I try this out, but I don’t like the way it sounds, so I go back to the real chords. I can play two finger barre chords — just — where I can use both my index and middle fingers to hold down the strings, which means I can play F# minor and G# minor, but other chords require a full barre, so I decide I will practice barre chords for ten minutes a day.

I ask Johnny for tips on how to play barre chords and I also find some online information: someone says you use tiny muscles in your middle knuckle to play barre chords and recommends standing while curling and extending your fingers as fast as you can for a hundred repetitions. I have never tried this before. The online sage also mentions that no other thing you do in normal life works these knuckle muscles.

It turns out that ten minutes a day of barre chord practice is too ambitious for me: by the time I play for two minutes sweat is pouring off my forehead, my left hand is cramping both in the palm and at the base of the thumb and my forearm is hurting as well. I will have to practice two minutes five times a day to get ten minutes in.

On August 16th I get an email from Johnny. He is back to using his email and has contacted his bandmates and the Avonova venue and a recording studio. Good. Progress for Mr. Harper in reclaiming his life. He also starts the practice of sending me one song a day to listen to. Sometimes he sends me the words and some background on the song, sometimes just the link to a video. His first selection is “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Somewhere in this time period Johnny has actually quit drinking — he doesn’t send me an email saying “I’ve quit.” Instead, he sends me an email saying that he has been going through all of his old email from before he started isolating until now and he has had some really bad news. He says he is “in the kind of pain that sure would have sent me to the bottle.” He says he does not want to drink and he doesn’t know what else to do. He says there is nothing on T.V. and he can’t talk to me because I am at the Farmers’ Market singing for tips. He concludes, “Music is my refuge, I guess.”