‘What’s Your Favourite John Mayer Song?’

That’s a good question, my young friend, because enjoying John Mayer is not something a ‘real’ man is willing to broadcast.

Indeed, I was impressed that your admiration for him stems from your studies in playing the guitar. I remember watching you bent over your acoustic on Instagram, working away to produce ‘Neon’.

It was fascinating to hear that song emerge from your guitar, courtesy of those fingers that have blistered along the same frets as Marty Feldman did for his iconic ‘Tornado of Souls’ solo for Megadeth.

You told me Mayer has terrible technique – he is self-taught – but has enormous hands that allow him to defeat many of the limitations that constrain the average guitar player. He also has the ability to employ great sophistication to convey a simple, seductive tune.

I was introduced to John Mayer about eight years ago. I’d never paid him any attention – he was the kind of meat you’d feed to your dog named Slayer. I had no regard for him; if I know more about who a person is dating than his music, that’s a bad sign.

That introduction was made by way of a girl I saw this morning. Sometimes, she swims up from the abyss of my subconscious like Ophelia to press her ghostly face against my mind, her summer dress billowing like the wings of a Siamese fighting fish behind her.

It seems that no amount of time can drown her.  

At that time, we were in the death throes of our two-year relationship. She sent me the live version of ‘Slow Dancing in a Burning Room’.

It’s not a silly little moment

It’s not the storm before the calm

This is the deep and dying breath

Of this love that we’ve been working on.

I flipped my wig. I think I actually rang her and started yelling, desperate, at the literal end of my tether. ‘I-I’m sorry,’ she stammered, ‘I didn’t think.’ I thought we had negotiated our way around a series of major obstacles, and it looked like we might be able to pull it together.

But when I heard that song, I felt that deep and dying breath in my own lungs and no matter what she’d intended, John Mayer had come to ring it out, sending that rock-bottom truth pealing through my heart.

After we had broken up, a friend of mine enquired over coffee, ‘How are you going?’

‘I’m listening to a lot of John Mayer, late at night,’ was the reply.

‘Doomed enterprises divide lives forever into the then and the now,’ says Cormac McCarthy in his novel The Crossing. John Mayer knows this. He knows the embarrassing old man tears you come to carry everywhere with you, lingering at the back of your mind the way the loose change in your pocket gets caught up with your keys when you need them.

Mayer knows that life is shaded with the chiaroscuro of suffering. And, for many a young man, the first experience of true, crushing grief will be the death of love.

Pain slows time, even makes it irrelevant. You will feel that love leaving you the way you feel every single grain in the weave of a rope as it is ineluctably pulled, burning, through your hands. It is at this point you will be transfigured; it is at this point you will truly know, you’ll know as your own certainty, rather than a platitude, that life is beautiful. 

Love, even more than combat, is the ultimate whetstone.

John Mayer knows that grief and nostalgia are the separate sides of that particular coin marked suffering, but no matter which face is showing, it will always buy you beauty.

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