One of life’s little mysteries is why some things you do in a negligent sort of way turn out to be wildly popular, while more serious endeavors meet with, well, a sort of big fat cosmic yawn. So all these years I’ve been working on being a serious writer like Steinbeck, Bellow, or Buckwald, and some little fluff pieces I cranked out in about seven minutes on the perils of fatherhood just made people giddy with delight. So when I wrote Bluegrass, I figured I should listen to what P.T. Barnum said and give ’em what they want, which was at least a little humor every other page or so. Or, well, at least every couple chapters. That and lots of wild sex.
But I knew my mom was gonna read the book, so I went easy on the wild sex.
That got me thinking about the whole concept of bluegrass humor. Bluegrassers are a pretty easy-going lot on a good day, and they do poke fun at themselves, but deep down there’s a lot of players that take themselves vvvvvvvvvvvery seriously. It’s sort of like making fun of your own dog. That’s fine and dandy. But let somebody else waltz in there and say your dog isn’t fit to take a poop and you might just have a fight on your hands.
So I was at a shindig yesterday, playing this and that, and I got to back up a serious yodeling cowgirl on bass. I mean, the words “yodel” and “serious” just don’t even belong in the same sentence, but there she was, hitting notes I didn’t even know existed and going like a house afire. Some people liked it. The good news is that you’ll seldom find bluegrassers with kidney stones. I think I was working on one, but that high lonesome is better than lithotripsey for busting them suckers up.
What I’ve noticed is that some of the second and third generation players like me have a more playful attitude about the music. I mean, hell, we know it ain’t mainstream, but it sure is fun. So one thing I just got done writing is our own version of the Skynard song which I call “Sweet Home Pennsylvania”, because, let’s face it, Kentucky and Tennessee get all the good songs and we don’t even have one. So here are the words, out of the key of E, and I think they’re pretty dang good ones, even if they did result from a weekend of excessive beer consumption and sleep deprivation:
Sweet Home Pennsylvania, where the sky is often blue
Sweet Home Pennsylvania, Lord I’m coming home to you.
IN Harrisburg we got a governor
(hoo hoo hoo!)
Lord he does what he needs to do
Now our governor don’t bother us.
Does your governor bother you? Tell me true
And then you finish up with
I never heard Neil Young sing about her
And I never heard ole Neil put her down
That’s ’cause ole Neil he really likes us
We’re so much fun to be around….
So yeah. It won’t win any big prizes, but I think it’s gonna sneak onto the Rambler hit list, right up there with Petticoat Junction, One Meatball and Fishin’ Blues.
Now I know some of the old-timers might think that’s sacriligeous, that you should only play fast songs about blasting the bejesus out of your wife with a .44, especially if she has long blonde hair. Hell, first thing I would do if I was one of those bluegrass beauties is get me some grecian formula for women and dye my hairs black. And I think I would avoid walking down stairs, too.
Anyway, the beauty of the music is the fact that Bill struck a right good amount of jazz into the stew when he cooked up the bluegrass recipe, and as everyone knows, when you’r a jazz player, it’s not called a mistake.
It’s improv hehe. So as long as somebody’s listening, and if music be the staff of life, then play on, MacDuff!
And flights of blonde-haired bluegrass angels sing thee to thy rest in a comfy Barkolounger chair.