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Why We Hit the Road: Cloquet River Press reviews Blue Guitar Highway

By Mark Munger
Cloquet River Press

Metsa_BlueYou’re asking: “Munger, what the hell do those guys have to do with you writing a review about Minnesota’s hardest working, less-than-a-household-name, guitar slinging Iron Range boy, Paul Metsa?” Fair question, dear reader. Fair question. Well, immediately after finishing Metsa’s memoir of the road, Blue Guitar Highway, having read numerous passages depicting Metsa’s home in North Minneapolis as a virtual library of pressed vinyl, I was so moved by the book, I began pulling out my old LPs: records I haven’t played in at least a decade and started listening to music the way it should be listened to: Pillow under my head, flat on my back, a nice Merlot in hand, the volume way up, and no one else home. Oh, the journey Metsa paints with words isn’t always as pretty or succinct (a couple of scenes were repeated, leaving me with the sense that a bit more editing would have made the book even better), and, as someone else has written, Paul tends to be a name dropper (by repeatedly telling us whom, amongst the gods of rock, folk, blues, and jazz he’s shared a stage with). But in the end, for a first time author of a piece of substantial length, Metsa mostly hits the right notes. In fact, there are portions of the prose that fairly sing, that are as good as it gets in rendering a contemporary life on the page. Consider this passage, towards the end of the book:

Backstage were the musicians-the performers and listeners-who were there to enjoy the evening along with the crowd that was now arriving from all directions. Wherever lifer musicians gather the bonds are felt-those who know the decades of blasts of glory, music itself a life-lasting love. Followed by rejection, broken-down cars, the times in sickness and in health, other band members, friends at first, only in it for the money (like there ever was any) who will jump ship for a few dollars more. The slow suicide of drugs and booze that lurks in the guise of midnight angels and  whiskey queens, sirens who call from corners with the dove-like eyes of your first true love, but the intent of prostitutes who follow the feet of their victims in the quicksand of slow and meaningless death. Bar owners, booking agents, and record labels that could give a good goddamn. Audiences more interested in pinball or pool tables or television screens, the band on the stage nothing but a bother. Death and destruction, love many times lost, and the occasional one-night stand hotter than the skillet of a New Orleans short-order cook…Or real love with a human touch made to last with lovers sometimes drawn from opposite magnetic poles that proved marriage was possible and strong like David’s slingshot against the Goliath that was the music business, sweeter than honey…Building families that stand the test of time and kids that are now musicians themselves. Or the kids who never knew Daddy’s name, and some only remembering it as long as child support was paid on time, the waiting for that to come around, as music is nothing if not the discipline of hope. And all the rest-the poison gigs and the majestic ones that vanish as quickly as they came, all the things you could only wish would happen but would never bet on-that reminded us why were here in the first place, like black-robed priests who take an oath of poverty…whose faces we never saw but whose presence we always felt…

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Blue Guitar Highway