On the unfortunate summer day he blew himself to smithereens, Steven Cripe had big plans for his future, but the main pressure he felt surrounded getting a new set of custom-made fireworks ready for the upcoming Independence Day holiday. It’s doubtful the grim concern that his interesting life was about to end in a manner most spectacular had crossed his mind. He held high hopes for his future as a luthier, but the main guy he’d sought to please with his work was gone. Like all Deadheads, Jerry Garcia’s death the year before had hit Steve hard—but he probably didn’t expect to join the man quite so soon.
To a woodworker, luthier, and all-around renaissance craftsman like Cripe, however, dying while at the workshop bench no doubt represented a best-case scenario: If you got the chance to choose how you were to go, it’s possible many of us might select such a moment, immersed in doing that which we enjoy the most.
Creation was Cripe’s bag, or perhaps transformation a more accurate depiction: disparate chemicals combined just-so to result in a tremendous release of color, sound, and force; the wood of a living tree, transubstantiated into a brass cannon signaling the start of a parade, a beautiful mahogany dining table out of scraps found by chance, or a magnificent musical instrument seemingly capable of channeling spirits from the vibrations of its strings.
And yet the guitar-maker himself couldn’t play one of the damn things, although he thought back in July, 1990 when he first bought a book about how to build an electric guitar that making an instrument from scratch would finally prompt him to learn musicianship. “I figured that if I put all of the blood, sweat and tears into such a project I would spend plenty of time with it learning to play. Wrong. I liked building better than playing.”
But Cripe never gave up on that part of the dream, and not long before his workshop accident had begun making noise again about buckling down on a program of guitar lessons. His time to do so may have run out, but at least the [# of] guitars he finished survive to tell their own version of the story.