Todd Johnson: Before leaving home this morning, I caught my reflection in the TV monitor, one of those big plasma screens you see adorning the walls of sitting rooms. Who knows how many times I’ve done this without really noticing, but this morning I paused to gaze at myself, and my life that lay beneath.
Pete Prevost: Looking in the bathroom mirror in the morning has always given me a feeling of well-being for years now. After washing my face, as I pat it dry with a towel my hands slowly explore my face starting with my eyes and I grin. It’s a smile at the person I have become, as if each day I renewed the pleasure of catching my reflection in my present, together with the baggage of my past.
T. I suddenly realized that my face recalls that of my father one afternoon, thirty years or so ago. I was about eight then and he had come home carrying an old, broken TV set that he had given to me. We were not that well-off in that period, although I probably didn’t realize this at the time. My toys were old radios and all sorts of items that I could take apart and then reassemble as I wished. So the broken TV was the best present I had ever had and I think my father knew this. I took it apart and studied all the internal components down to the last transistor and eventually I even managed to reassemble it and make it work. I was really pleased with myself. My father was so proud that he installed it in my bedroom as a reward for my efforts and my brother and I connected our Atari console whenever we wanted to play.
P. This morning again I couldn’t help automatically looking at my head and shoulders with a smile and cocking my head slightly to the left, satisfied above all with the idea that came to me last night. I can’t wait to try it out at the lathe, and I only stopped to think about it when I fell asleep. This is what happens: I go to bed thinking that I can rest body and mind, whereas the latter is always busy creating. I know that the only way to work off this activity is to take a piece of briar and shape it. I know that when I sit at my workbench, as if by magic my brain stops buzzing. I am well aware of this by now and I know myself. When I wrote music it was more or less the same thing.
T. It was my father who sparked my passion for mechanics. The noise of engines was the soundtrack to my early years. Dad was the foremost expert on Corvettes in the world. However, I have always preferred older cars. My first car was a 1948 Anglia. I restored it the way I wanted and did some really good work on it and drove to school for three years before finally selling it. I’ve had quite a few cars in my life, maybe thirty-odd in twenty years. Some years ago unfortunately I had to sell my dream car, a Maserati Quattroporte. It was a difficult relationship, but I think everything turned out for the best for both of us. Now my Maserati is being driven by someone more faithful than me.
P. I love playing gigs. Travelling to venues and actually making a living from this has been my dream job for ten years now. Fewer grey hairs in my beard and a few more kilometers clocked up in my car. I admit it was a stroke of good luck learning how to make pipes as my second dream job. Besides, when you have met the great love of your life, you never know if you will meet another great love and when this actually happens, it is an unexpected gift.
T. I made my first pipe when I was eighteen and it was love at first sight. There have been two loves in my life that have gone together: pipes and my wife, Rachel. When I proposed to her, because here in the South we still do it the traditional way, it was my future father-in-law who told me to keep on making pipes, as not everyone is lucky enough to have a job they love, and this also funded my studies. “It doesn’t matter how much money you make, but what you were born to do and in this case it is clear that you were born to make pipes”. A great man and a great phrase that I must admit really encouraged me. Rachel and I have been together since school, like my pipes. There is a poem by e.e. cummings entitled i carry your heart with me, and a verse expresses perfectly these two loves that have always been with me:
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
P. When I made my first pipe, I started to examine my past and above all my future and these question marks, like small hooks, caught me and I could do nothing to resist my new destiny as a pipemaker. It took me two years before I could say that I was proud about signing my pipes, but after that everything was clear. My hands were able bring pleasure to people not only by playing music, but also by carving briar. There is nothing as rewarding as that. I must confess that the life of a musician is not exactly a bed of roses when you’ve got kids.
T. Pipes, like kids, should be made knowing that one day you must let them go their own way. Even if you keep on loving and caring for them, their lives will continue in the hands of others. In my opinion, being a pipemaker is not so much a job, but a vocation. Unfortunately, some people seem to forget this, but making pipes and being a pipemaker are two different things altogether. Technique is pretty useless without passion and inspiration. You can learn techniques, but following your own artistic intuition when you’re working at the lathe with two blocks of briar cannot be learnt. Either you have it, or you don’t. There is a lot of mediocre work around and I’ve seen quite a few aspiring pipemakers who believed they were brilliant from the start, unaware that it takes years of hard work to become an outstanding craftsman. There are certainly few Gianni Riveras around and, in fact, the ones I have met work with me now.
P. You will say that I could have kept on writing music and travel less, but there’s no substitute for enjoying inscribing an aria on the veins of a block of briar like a musical score that people can breathe in and not only listen to. My new band, so to speak, with which I prepare these precious instruments for slow smoking is fantastic and our loyal fans always get special treatment.
I’ll tell you a story and then finish getting ready, as I’ve got work to get on with. One of our clients had bought two Calabash pipes and twice his dog had stolen them and chewed them up. You can imagine how upset our client was. Indeed, he sent the bits to us begging us to try and restore them. It was an extremely difficult task, but we eventually managed to repair them. However, apart from the renewed pipes, we wondered what we could send to the dog who had appreciated our work so much, even if it was in his own way. So, during one of those nights when my mind wouldn’t stop buzzing I came up with an idea for a special gift: a briar bone with the dog’s name inscribed on it. This gift was much appreciated, both by the dog and his owner. We even have a photo hanging up in the workshop of the pipe-chewing enthusiast with his new, more suitable dental treat, and now he’s a member of our fan club, too.
T. How far can the mind travel just looking at a blank TV screen hanging on a sitting room wall? The Phenomenology of Spirit of a pipemaker who meets himself and the Absolute one morning before going out. Of course, it would have been different if instead of the TV there had been Mark Rothko’s Tiffany Blue hanging on the sitting room wall, apart from the fact that I couldn’t have seen my reflection, but anyway that’s how things have gone this morning. I’ve had my portion of blue and the Absolute. If I tell the others about this when I get to the workshop they’ll never stop making fun of me. But this is also all part of the game.
Special thanks to Todd Johnson and Pete Prevost for their precious contribution
Milan, January 2016