This guitar was new when my father got it in 1943, not long before he graduated high school to join the Navy during WWII. After the war, he took it with him when he started his career in the merchant marine. The cover of The Relic is a photo of him holding this guitar.
Now, my father was in no way the inspiration of the character of Santiago in the novel. My father was an American, a mate who worked his way up to be a ship's captain, and a man with a "steady as she goes" bearing. Santiago is a polyglot Spaniard, an engineer, and a man of freewheeling passion. On the guitar, Dad played a steady accompaniment to "Give Me Five Minutes More" and "Whispering." Santiago strums a fiery flamenco and plays with a natural ease, without a hint of the self-doubt that can tie you down with a thousand Lilliputian ropes.
And that's how the main character, Chick Charles, the cabin boy, always wanted to play. Santiago promises him a guitar lesson (and the guitar) if the lad would help him break out of the brig; it is a promise that gnaws at Chick's soul to his dying day.
And though The Relic is not autobiographical in any way, the scene that shows Chick's effort to win his dreamgirl's heart by playing a song for her at a fateful Christmas party draws on some of my own "epic fails" in other musical situations. I know well the performance anxiety that can turn your hands into hooves on those guitar strings, and how everything else--voice, lyrics, rhythm, falls apart and crashes to the ground in an embarrassing, smoking heap, leaving nothing but a desperate desire to find a hole to hide in and condemn yourself for even having tried such foolishness.
And yet, even with my failures, I still play. Just not in front of people. I suppose it'll be my enduring regret to have never made it routine to play with others, and for others, because that's what music is, isn't it? Something to share and enjoy.
Maybe someday. Someday soon.