He Would Always Laugh and Say “Remember How We Used to Play…?”

Thursday, January 31 might have been the last time I would ever see or play my baritone ukulele. This 1960s Guild uke has been my primary instrument since about 1996, the one for which I had to order from Brooklyn a custom-built hardshell case, the one used at just about every Viper & His Orchestra show ever played (see picture below), and the one to be heard on both Viper recordings. And it was almost lost for good when I left it behind in the classroom for my 8:00-9:15 class. At least we would have gone out with a bang — or, more accurately, a “Bang Bang,” as I’ll take up in my next post.

The Viper and his Famous Orchestra (baritone ukulele at right)
Costumed as an allegory of life under Das Capital
Halloween 1999, The Hideout, Chicago, Illinois

When I started writing this post on Friday, February 1, the fate of that uke was still very much up in the air. It wasn’t in the classroom when I checked first thing Friday morning, it hadn’t showed up at the university police department’s lost & found, and the pleading contact message I scrawled on the classroom blackboard when I came in on Saturday had been wiped clean by Monday morning. (I take this erasure as a function of teaching at a private university — at the state school where I did my graduate work, we RESPECTED the “do not erase” sign.)

So on Monday, I started trying to track down the information on everyone else who’d taught in that same classroom after me, and emailing them my sob story. The first responses that started trickling back weren’t encouraging, though one of them indicated at least that the uke had still been in the classroom as of 12:25. It wasn’t until 9:18 on the morning of Tuesday, February 5 — after four rather depressing days — that I got a message from a faculty member in the Philosophy department named Chris Venner that he had the instrument, that I could pick it up in his office, and that “Charley Patton’s ‘Jelly Roll’ sounds pretty good on it” (the which I don’t doubt).

Reunited and it feels so good. Chris, I will always be in your debt. And in the next post, I’ll put up my recording of what otherwise might have been the last Viper performance ever on this instrument.

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