• Emily Misura

Pillowgate: The Story of a Kwanzaa Miracle



I don't know the proper way to begin discussing this magnificent instrument. I need to give you some background on how, when and why this Luis & Clark came to me (my precious). On 10/15/17, I made plans to meet up with a former fiddle player named John Henry Gates after seeing a Facebook marketplace ad listing a carbon fiber instrument in the Chanot style. If you know anything about me, you'll know I'm a huge lurk (I work in IT soooooooooooooo...) I am constantly creeping the internet and its tubes for interesting/rare violins, unique bows, and/or generally good deals. It's a bad habit, since I do the same thing with clothes, antiques and even other instruments. But my favourite thing to search for is, by far, violins of all shapes, ages and sizes.  The Luis & Clark instruments have been known to me for years upon years. They're VERY rare to find online unless you buy the instrument directly through them, though the waiting list and cost are potential drawbacks. I wasn't looking for an instrument seriously and almost talked myself out of going to meet him to try it out. I knew that there was a good chance I would fall in love with it and then feel super shitty about not wanting to drop a pretty penny on it. But I ended up going anyway to give it a whirl. I was initially anxious since I don't like to go for internet meetups alone, especially when I'm going to someone's house. I also had some anxiety about what I would be playing in front of him. It's one of those things that actually makes me nervous- to saw away in front of another violinist. Would he be judging my technique? Would he be looking at my bowhold and posture? Would he think my choice of repertoire to test the instrument's range was short sighted or inexperienced? Let's just say I'm not one of the wanna be rock monsters wailing away (aka aurally jacking off) at Guitar Center on a Friday night pretending I'm onstage at MSG.  He let me come inside and had it ready for me to play. I usually do a combination of the following: harmonics, double stops and rolled chords, spiccato (though sometimes it's all about the bow with which you're playing), "stratosphere" notes that are NOT harmonics (mostly on the E string), 6th position and higher on the G string [lololol], and various shifts. It sounds like a lot and definitely worried me that he would think I was being tedious. He let me try his wireless system as well as his amp, which I assumed was the intervention of technology rather than the instrument itself. However, when I unplugged everything and just played acoustic, it was bright, responsive, clear and powerful. The way the instrument reacted to my less-than-immaculate playing was a welcomed surprise. And at that point I knew - I was fucked. The thing about liking something out of your price range is that you'll always end up falling in love with whatever you can't have/shouldn't even be looking at and wanting to then kill yourself because the obsession becomes all too real as you slowly fade away into blood, tears and feces. (Pretty sure that's actually one of Murphy's laws.) I knew I would end up here. I mean, shit. Look at that violin, for Trudeau's sake! It's fucking beautiful! I've always had a thing for the Chanot style violins, which are sometimes called guitar bodied, corner-less or edge-less violins. But once you factor in the tone, the quality, the craftsmanship - it was all very overwhelming. John was being cool about it, knowing I wasn't ready to buy the same day as trying it out. Instead, he walked me through his house and showed me various clippings, photographs and albums covering his entire musical career, which you can read about here. Basically, he knows his shit. But heartbreakingly enough, he was in a car accident that ended up cutting his prestigious career short, hence why he was selling his L&C. Cut to the end of October/beginning of November. He marked the listing as sold and it about near killed me. I pissed and moaned about it for a week straight and bitched to my boyfriend Derek something along the lines of, "CAN YOU FUCKING BELIEVE THAT IT SOLD ONLY A FEW WEEKS AFTER I LOOKED AT IT OF COURSE IT DID IT'S JUST MY LUCK I HATE MYSELF I SHOULDN'T HAVE EVEN GONE OVER TO SEE IT IT'S MY OWN FAULT I'M A FUCKTARD WHAT ARE THE FUCKING ODDS EVERYTHING HURTS".  ​ But of course I couldn't leave it there. So, being the douche canoe that I am, I REACHED BACK OUT to John on Facebook like the sorry excuse for a human that I am:

Look at him giving my dumbass the thumbs up. He probably thought I was insane.


Look at him giving my dumbass the thumbs up. He probably thought I was insane.

I continued to think about it and generally feel sorry for myself, but knew it was the best move at the time. I had been saving up to launch my shirt company* Shat Tag and knew that the upfront cost of printing all the designs would be the same amount as the L&C. It wasn't feasible and I knew that. But the heart knows no bounds. Or something. *Did I just #LoganPaul myself? Flash forward to Christmas. There is a large triangular box under the tree. I was instructed to open it last. Me being a naive cunt, I assumed that it was a new pillow [begin brief intermission for side storytime] because pillows were a running joke with us. I had gotten him one of those super de duper luxxxxxxxxe pillows that are in Bed Bath and Beyond. I never quite found a giftbag that was the correct size, so I attempted to wrap it, which is probably one of the shittiest ideas I've ever had. He immediately stated that it was the Tesla of pillows, to which I got extremely butt hurt because he had stated a literal fact. He didn't even have to guess. It was literally a pillow half wrapped in paper with no attempt at disguise. But I am a crybaby sensitive Susan and had a mental breakdown. Ever since Pillowgate, it was a running joke about guessing gifts. I thought that he had ironically gotten me a pillow to drive the point home that not everyone is an asshole and doesn't know how to correctly disguise-wrap pillows, since the box was presumably a pillow-like size.  Never. Did. I. Think. What. It . Would. Be. I opened one end of the oddly shaped triangular box, feeling more and more frantic about the entire situation. Damn, he's really driving it home that I'm a wrapping failure who can't disguise a pillow. I mean, he made a custom triangular box, for fuck's sake. I went to a gifted school. I didn't think to make a triangular box. What the fuck is wrong with me?  But then, I saw the case. And then I started to cry. Here is a quick re-enactment: "You did not." "Didn't what?" "You've got to be FUCKING KIDDING ME. I am so fucking pissed at you. Why would you do this?" [crying] [him, playing it cool] "I mean, I-" "No. Fuck off right now. You did noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooot-" and then I became a unicorn. His justification for such extravagance was that he was "presented with a unique opportunity. A violin isn't just something that I can run out and get you, but because I knew you had played t and liked it, I figured that I couldn't go wrong." He continued to explain that he looked all over Craigslist but couldn't find him and ended up asking me. I didn't think anything of it, since I assumed he was just listening to my rabid self loathing about missing out on buying it. Never once did I think he was asking because he was going to FUCKING BUY IT FOR ME. Because I've gone to Muni Strings quite a few times since we've been dating, he knew Muni would be a good person to look it over. So he BROUGHT IT OVER TO MUNI. That in itself is incredible, since he must actually listen to me and retain the things I ramble on about. That's a very specific thing to remember!  To this day, it's still very hard for me to fathom the story behind owning this instrument. It was played by a musician rich in experiences and recollections of the classical and fiddling music scenes. It was coveted by a nobody violinist who went to see it on a whim, knowing full well she shouldn't have even been looking at it. It was purchased by an attentive, thoughtful, loving and generous man who trusted his instincts and more so, trusted her to be worthy of playing it. And now it is owned by me, a violinist hopefully worthwhile enough to deserve the love that overwhelms this instrument's story.

© 2020 by Emily Misura