Imagine a magical guitar in your hands

No sooner had he started tuning — "40-year-old strings maybe last touched by John himself" — than a string snapped.

"I got to break John Lennon's string," he thought, and not happily. For all he knew, he had just ruined the guitar.

He hadn't, though, and when they took it back to the Old Town School, the guys in the music store there, in an attempt to share the bounty of this astonishing moment, took turns reverently changing each string.

Was this the guitar Lennon took to India? Someone looked for images on the Internet. No. That one had a black pick guard.

They found this guitar in Lennon's hands in a 1975 TV concert, apparently his last public appearance. Zooming in on the computer image, they detected the exact same swirls in the tortoise-shell pick guard.

Almost four decades after that concert, as Lennon, on the computer screen, sang "Imagine," Graves stood in the music store, strumming along on the same guitar and they all sang.

"I had goose bumps up and down my spine," he said.

Musical instruments are more than objects. They can seem alive with the places they've been and the humans who have touched them, altered by the music they've made. Or maybe their power is just in the stories we tell about them.

"I didn't think I'd feel anything about John Lennon's guitar versus anybody else's," Levitt said Friday as more people gathered to view the guitar, maybe play a Beatles song or two. "But there's something ..."

He didn't have the word for what.

"It has an aura," someone said.

On Wednesday, on what would have been Lennon's 73rd birthday, his guitar will go on permanent display at the Old Town School. It will live in a case that takes hours to open.

But while it's free, a few more people will get to touch it, to play the same notes and the same chords that John Lennon did, even as Levitt tries to keep its powers in perspective.

"We haven't had any spontaneous healings yet."

mschmich@tribune.com

CHICAGO

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