Saturday, July 9, 2011

Something Else I'll Never Be Able To Do

When ever I hear the word "banjo", I think of the movie Deliverance. The infamous "dueling banjos" scene where the inbred is playing on the porch, of course. And then I think of Ned Beatty getting butt raped and I shudder horribly.

Tonight we went over to DB~'s cousin's house for a small family get-together because her cousin (Kane) and his wife were in town from Colorado. After dinner, Kane went to get "Allegheny" and returned with a case with a banjo inside. He proceeds to tell us about how he hand built this banjo and he would play gigs in order to keep funding its construction. He remembered each grommet and bridge and string and where the money came from. The banjo had beautiful detailing and design on the neck. The bridge that suspends the strings over the "circle part" was made of wood raised from the bottom of Lake Superior that never decayed after it sank, making it super strong.

Kane hand-etched the word "Allegheny" in script on the banjo to remind him of his roots, the Allegheny mountain range home to good bluegrass, and the cemetery where Stephen Foster is buried.

He played a few songs and sung them to the 8 of us there. He talked about how in 1986 he hitchhiked across the West to explore the world and he would busk in different towns. He did quite well in Jackson Hole, Wyoming even though you weren't allowed to have an open case to encourage tipping. He said people would just stuff money in his shirt pockets as he played.

Just being a wanderer, as Kane was for a while in his youth, is such a foreign concept to me. My life is scheduled and planned and organized. I can't imagine just...freelancing your life. I found myself thinking of how semi-jealous I was of thinking of Kane just living on the tips of strangers and seeing the country one town at a time. It's time like this that make me wonder if my hectic schedule is really the best way to live life.

His songs were about life in the 1800's and involved a lot of outlaws, because that's what he liked he said. He even played an original bluegrass song that he wrote and fighting a fire (he was a forest fire fighter for a while back). I was struck by the simple beauty of these songs and reminded that along with jazz, bluegrass is America's contribution to music. I can't imagine there are a lot of banjo players among the youth nowadays, but I realized that these traditions need to be passed down. It's our way of keeping our heritage alive through the storytelling form of music.

Sadly, I have zero musical ability, so it will have to fall on someone else to progress this forward.

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