Aimee Mann's guitar

Photo: Burcu Avsar

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The guitar I used to play live with—for years it was my old faithful—is a Gibson J-160, which dates probably to about 1954. It's a classic, a great vintage find that I bought used. I took it along when I went on tour with a few musician friends in 1999. One afternoon during that trip, the four of us were driving the van from Chicago to Ann Arbor for a show and I wanted to get some sleep. I lay down across one of the bench seats and thought, It's going to be hard to sleep with this seat belt on. But I put it on anyway, and dozed off. And then I woke to this massive impact, and the sense that the van was floating. There was another impact, and then we started to roll. The glass was smashing out of the windows and dust and dirt was flying all over the place. I felt myself start to slide off the seat, and I had this awful sense that I was going to get thrown halfway out of the van and then get crushed when it rolled again. I remember thinking, "It's over." Finally we came to rest—upright, thank God. My foot was sticking out of the window, and the seat belt was loose around my waist. I was cut from the flying glass. I got out of the car and threw up. We were all in terrible shock. One of my bandmates said, "Are we dead?" I saw my guitar, which had been in a soft case, lying on the road, and picked it up. It was just a bag of splinters. I'd been through some tough things in my life, and I'd always felt so haunted by them. I'd struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life. As we were being taken to the hospital, I worried that this trauma was going to trigger a state of anxiety I wouldn't be able to manage. But then I called my husband. The first thing I said was, "We're okay." Then I told the story. And he immediately accepted how bad it had been. I understood then that we all need a witness to the difficult things we go through. When something awful happens to you and people tell you it wasn't so bad or that it's time to get over it, the trauma becomes doubly awful, because not only do you have to deal with the pain of the thing itself, you also have to feel like you're crazy for feeling it. For someone to just say, "Wow, that must've been hard for you" makes all the difference. That's how you heal. Which I managed to do—and amazingly, so did my guitar. Funnily enough, the world's foremost guitar repairman happens to live in Ann Arbor, and six weeks after the accident, he shipped it back to me. It sounded better than it ever had.

—Aimee Mann, singer-songwriter
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