Playing With Fire

By: Josh Lucas

Django came home to his caravan late Friday night after a gig at La Java. It was already well past midnight, and his pregnant wife, Bella, lay fast asleep. Undressing for bed, he heard a sound from across the caravan. His hands reached carefully for the candle burning in the window sill, aware of the scolding hot wax that nearly overflowed the base of the small candleholder.

The small but concerning commotion happened near his wife’s things–mostly odds and ends that she would use to make crafts to sell–particularly artificial flowers. He made his way slowly through the cramped quarters in the candlelight; the caravan was brimming with celluloid flowers to be sold at the cemetery the next day.

“Probably just a mouse,” he thought. “Still, better to be safe and rid the caravan of the pest–who knows what a mouse will chew through. Better yet to be safe in case it is, of course, an intruder who’s come to sabotage our livelihood.” 

Having stayed alight through the late evening and night, the candle had all but burned to the wick, and the candle wax began to kiss his hand. Just as he had given up on finding the mouse’s whereabouts, the little intruder scuttled across Django’s foot, upsetting the candle wax onto his hand.

The shock of the mouse, and the scald of the wax came all at once. Django couldn’t keep the candle steady, as the wick dropped down onto the celluloid flowers, quickly igniting the artificial flowers one-by-one, all the way down the aisle of the caravan.

Django rushed to his wife at the other end of the caravan, screaming for Bella to wake up. The burning celluloid stuck to his skin like napalm, scorching him and continuing to burn hotter and brighter as he ran for the door. By the time he got there, his wife had already jumped to safety, and Django leapt into the dewy grass to quench his burning body. He laid there, shaking in the arms of his wife, watching their hard work, their dreams, burning and burning until, like a candle at the end of its wick, it stopped.

The inferno left Django’s body mangled with severe burns. Not only did he have to learn to walk again, but the fire paralyzed the ring and pinky fingers on his fretting hand. For almost everyone, it seemed like Django had played the requiem to his short career in La Java that night.

But Django didn’t give up.

In a period of convalescence that lasted 18 months, not only did Django learn to walk again, but he learned how to play guitar again.

His pinkie and ring fingers were toast, but he could still use them to fret chords. That’s right, those blazing fast runs that he played–he played them with just two fingers, his index and middle.

He found a way to do the impossible–because he believed he could, and because he knew he had to.

Now, you probably already knew this story, more or less. But why is it important? On the surface, as guitar players, we use it as inspiration to say, “Well hell, if he could do all that with two fingers, surely with practice, I can do it with all four of mine!”

To me, the deeper meaning is the sense of urgency that he felt. For many of us, unless our feet are held to the fire, there’s no motivation to go out and conquer the guitar. But Django had to play to provide for his family, and I’m sure part of him, the deepest part, down to his core, knew that he still had his best music to write. And if he hadn’t followed through on that, he would never have made the best and most important music of his life. Because his playing had meaning, he changed the world of guitar, and music, forever.

I can’t decide for you what that sense of urgency is. But what I can tell you, is that every moment that we live is precious–and time never stops moving. I know that music is a gift, and I often regret the time that I waste when I know I could be creating music. If you want to learn the guitar, if you want to master the guitar, start now and don’t stop. It will change your life, and I know you won’t regret it.