from John Steinbeck's
The Grapes of Wrath
A Harmonica is easy to carry. Take it out of your hip pocket, knock it
against your palm to shake out the dirt and pocket fuzz and bits of
tobacco. Now it's ready. You can do anything with a harmonica: thin
reedy single tone, or chords, or melody with rhythm chords. You can mold
the music with curved hands, making it wail and cry like bagpipes,
making it full and round like an organ, making it as sharp and bitter as
the reed pipes of the hills. And you can play and put it back in your
pocket. It is always with you, always in your pocket. And as you play,
you learn new tricks, new ways to mold the tone with your hands, to
pinch the tone with your lips, and no one teaches you. You feel
around---sometimes alone in the shade at noon, sometimes in the tent
door after supper when the women are washing up. Your foot taps gently
on the ground. Your eyebrows rise and fall in rhythm. And if you lose it
or break it, why its no great loss. You can buy another for a quarter.
A guitar is more precious. Must learn this thing. Fingers of the left
hand must have callus caps. Thumb of the right hand a horn of callus.
Stretch the left-hand fingers, stretch them like a spider's legs to get
the hard pads on the frets.
This was my father's box. Wasn't no bigger'n a bug first time he give me
C chord. An' when I learned as good as him, he hardly never played no
more. Used to set in the door, an' listen an' tap his foot. I'm tryin'
for a break, an' he'd scowl mean till I get her, an' then he'd settle
back easy, an he'd nod. "Play," he'd say. "Play
nice." It's a good box. See how the head is wore. They's many a
million songs wore down that wood an' scooped her out. Some day she'll
cave in like a egg. But you can't patch her nor worry her no way or
she'll lose tone. Play her in the evening, an' they's a harmonica player
in the nex' tent. Makes it pretty nice together.
The fiddle is rare, hard to learn. No frets, no teacher.
Jes' listen to a ol' man an' try to pick it up. Won't tell how to
double. Says it's a secret. But I watched. Here's how he done it.
Shrill as a wind, the fiddle, quick and nervous and shrill.
She ain't much of a fiddle. Give two dollars for her. Fella says they's
fiddles four hundred years old, and they get mellow like whisky. Says
they'll cost fifty-sixty thousan' dollars. I don't know. Soun's like a
lie. Harsh ol' bastard, ain't she? Wanta dance? I'll rub up the bow with
plenty rosin. Man! Then she'll squawk. Hear her a mile.
These three in the evening, harmonica and fiddle and guitar. Playing a
reel and tapping out the tune, and the big deep strings of the guitar
beating like a heart, and the harmonica's sharp chords and the skirl and
squeal of the fiddle. People have to move close. They can't help it.
"Chicken Reel" now, and the feet tap and a young lean buck
takes three quick steps, and his arms hang limp. The square closes up
and the dancing starts, feet on the bare ground, beating dull, strike
with your heels. Hands 'round and swing. Hair falls down, and panting
breaths. Lean to the side now.
Look at that Texas boy, long legs loose, taps four times for ever' damn
step. Never seen a boy swing aroun' like that. Look at him swing that
Cherokee girl, red in her cheeks an' her toe points out. Look at her
pant, look at her heave. Think she's tired? Think she's winded? Well she
ain't. Texas boy got his hair in his eyes, mouth's wide open, can't get
air, but he pats four times for ever' darn step, an' he'll keep a-goin'
with the Cherokee girl.
The fiddle squeaks and the guitar bongs. Mouth organ man is red in the
face. Texas boy and the Cherokee girl, pantin' like dogs an' a-beatin'
the groun'. Ol' folks stan' a-pattin' their han's. Smilin' a little,
tappin' their feet.