DECATUR—Right now I’m onstage at the Princess Theater. People in the audience are looking intently at me as though I am wearing thong underwear. This is what it feels like to perform.
The Princess is one of those theaters that’s expressly American. The tall neon marquee is unforgettable, towering over the wet streets of Second Avenue. Photographers come from all over to take the marquee’s picture because everyone loves art deco theaters.
This building was originally a livery stable back in 1887. Which means that this floor was once covered in, literally, millions of fresh horse apples. This gives me chills.
In 1919 they renovated the building, turning it into a vaudeville playhouse and silent picture theater. Soon, the floor was no longer covered in horse excrement, but popcorn. The theater entertained mostly kids who screamed at a silver screen while an elderly woman, probably named Miss Ida Mae, played an upright piano along with a Charlie Chaplain flick.
Throughout history some big acts played the Princess. Ray Charles once performed here, so did
Glenn Miller. They all stood where I am standing. That’s kind of cool.
In honor of this occasion, I’m playing my old crummy guitar. It was built in 1919, the same year this room was resurrected.
I got this guitar from a trim-carpenter in Houston who found the guitar shattered in a dozen pieces. He was not a guitar maker, just a run-of-the-mill carpenter. He glued it back together the best he could, but he admits he did a sloppy job. I didn’t care. I’ve been playing it ever since.
It’s not a valuable guitar. For its whole life it’s been a low-grade instrument owned by a list of no-name street performers. In other words, it’s a glorified piece of junk.
But I’ve always liked pieces of junk. Because when junk lasts for a hundred years, it’s no longer junk, it becomes archeology. There’s something to…