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Of Loyalty, Fealty, and New Beginnings

Suggested song: My Back Pages, Bob Dylan (I love this 1967 version by The Byrds) Suggested drink: Loyal Lager, Yards Brewing Company, Philadelphia

Things we’ve owned

I bought this Suzuki F-100 acoustic in 1978, at a pawn shop in Waco, Texas. It was priced at $150 and didn’t play particularly well. The action left my fingertips aching and its intonation up the neck was dreadful. It did, however, have an unexpectedly beautiful tone that touched me. I played it, put it down, played it again, then down again. After a few cycles the hook was set and haggle began. An hour later I drove home with my first 6 string.

I had arrived in Waco that August to start college in the fall. I was fresh off the farm, just dumped by a girlfriend (who was soon pregnant to a good friend back home), penniless and clueless to the world as a new-born lamb. Learning to play that guitar was the best therapy possible for this this heartbroken, homesick hippy lost in a land of redneck cowboys and supersized pickups. Guthrie, Nelson, and Dylan were my teachers, memorizing their playbooks and learning their simple chord structures. Two years in Texas gave me 2 educations: laser jock and guitar picker. Both would take my life in unexpected directions over the next 40 years. (Another essay.)

The Suzuki has found a home at Alexandra’s place in San Francisco, where I stay when in town. My boys have learned on it, just as dad did. I love having an instrument in the house when visiting, and I polish and restring it once per year (whether needed or not). While much better guitars have come and gone from the Magill collection, I just can’t sell this humble beauty. I still run through my set list of folk classics from the giants mentioned above and am transported back to those younger years in Waco. It’s magic. To some things we remain loyal.

Places we’ve lived

I’m in San Francisco for 2 weeks. There’s a wedding to attend and I never miss a chance to see my kids. And I still love the city by the bay. I lived more than 20 years in this town, going to university, getting married, buying a home and raising a family, launching a career, playing my music in clubs (that required better guitars), and chasing a thousand dreams through its foggy shroud.

San Francisco wasn’t my first stop after Texas. A new job brought me into the region and weekends free brought me into the city. There’s a mystery and romance to this town that preys on dreamers, that gets under your skin. That path has been well trod through the decades: sailors and miners; beats and hippies; techies and investors; everyone panning for gold. There are other amazing cities for lost romantics: Paris, London, and New York offer all the essentials. But San Francisco is the one that fed my wanderlust.

I know every green park and gritty alley of San Francisco, the dim sum palaces and Mexican taquerias, the coziest Italian cafés for a rainy afternoon and dog-eared paperback. There are always newer, hotter spots in a trending city like this. I haunt the places that matter. City Lights Bookstore, the Tadich Grill, Mario’s in North Beach, the Lone Palm on 22nd Street.

I still get goosebumps waiting for a downtown train in the Sunset, the cool ocean brume drifting up Sloat Avenue, the blue Pacific glimmering in the distance, the rattle of MUNI street cars, the anticipation of another night in Baghdad by the Bay. To some places we remain loyal.

Of loyalty and fealty

Don’t confuse fealty with loyalty. Our former president is a case study in this allusion. His continued dominance over the Republican cult (was once a party) is easy to rationalize. He still commands a large and enduring following that can determine elections. If you want his nod prepare to go prone and grovel.

At the peak Trump’s Twitter accounts had almost 90 million followers and he garnered 33 million likes on Facebook. He still brings out the MAGA United despite having nothing new to share. The election was stolen, radical liberal judges are on a political witch hunt, his call with Zelensky was perfect. Rewind and repeat. But because of his unquestionable appeal to their voter base most all Republican politicians – congressmen, governors, state and local representatives – sing his glories and pledge their allegiance. He would be well served not to confuse this show of fealty with loyalty.

Hitler, too, was a messiah to the masses and his staff of sycophants and nationalists fell fervently into goosestep behind him. But at some point, all emperors with no clothes get the big reveal, and when that happens the façade of invincibility evaporates in a flash, then the worship. In Hitler’s case that started with a bad spanking in Stalingrad and the fall of North Africa in 1943. When the Allies pincered in from the boot of Italy and the beaches of Normandy that shroud of supremacy dissolved quickly. Confidence had so waned by 1944 that attempts on his life were being conspired by his closest advisors.

Trump still wears the robe of a king maker today, but the moment the surety of his nod loses its guarantee (his man in Nebraska just went down in flames) the fetid taint of his association will far out-stink it’s questionable influence. Expect the fall to be fast and ugly. Suck-ups who’ve trafficked (prostituted might too harsh, but then again…) their allegiance for ratings or votes – the Vance’s and Hannity’s and Gaetz’s – will abandon Trump World like rats from the Titanic. Well, maybe not Matt Gaetz. Even Hitler had his Goebbels.

New beginnings

The wedding was a beautiful affair. The wine country north of San Francisco shares a climate and culture with my own part of the world now along the Mediterranean rim. Warm days, cool nights, long summers, beautiful people. Endless fields of trellised vines and charming towns that revolve around all things white, red, and rosé. Trendy restaurants for the loaded (in both senses) and humbler options for the less well-heeled.

One person missing from the family gathering, a key person, was my sister Cathy, who passed away suddenly 4 years ago. And joining us was my brother-in-law’s new friend. Welcoming her into the group was easy. She was warm, open but not overeager, respectful and making an effort, and I imagined keen to be embraced by the fold. Doing so felt like a turn of the page, a moving on, a door firmly and finally closed, while a new one was opened. Cathy was gone and also her chair from this and future family tables. It left me off balance.

I have thought a lot about loyalty since the wedding and accepted that it’s not a zero-sum game. Steve’s decision to move on with his life is neither disloyal to my sister’s memory nor to us, her family. And I can honor her memory and remain loyal to a guy who filled her life with kids, comfort, and happiness. There’s a connection to my sister that Steve enables, the flash of warm moments we all spent together. He deserves only happiness with the possibilities ahead, and every evening I’ll continue to light a candle to Cathy’s memory.


Bill Magill Aix-en-Provence

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