Better Than No Grass At All
Years of expensive therapy have enabled me to admit the following: I are a bluegrass musician.
There are the ill-informed among us who assert that, if music is the universal language, bluegrass speaks with an accent that suggests missing teeth. This really hurts my feelings. I have nearly all my own teeth, and so does my brother Skeeter who, now that we’re married, is my husband.
Now, now — stereotypes hurt everyone, especially if you have the type of stereo I do, from the 1970s, with an AM/FM tuner, receiver, 8-track player and built-in turntable. When that sucker falls on your toe, it really hurts. Which is why Skeeter has agreed to let me wear shoes after this next baby comes.
See what I mean? Once these things get started, it’s hard to stop.
Seems like bluegrass is one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated musical genres. (This is something — and the only thing, I’d guess— that bluegrass and rap have in common.) If it were an actor, bluegrass would always get cast as the guy who didn’t get the girl, or if it had a guest appearance on Star Trek, bluegrass would be that nameless guy in the red uniform who always gets killed in the first six minutes.
Bluegrass is the Charlie Brown of all music, which is why so many people say, in association with bluegrass, “I can’t stand it!”
But bluegrass is just misunderstood, that’s all. Somehow it has become the official theme music for imbeciles. It’s true. Please notice on the movie sound track what music accompanies the entrance of the guy in the tobacco juice-stained flannel shirt with the sleeves ripped off driving a mud-spattered pickup jacked six feet off the ground. “Oh!” says your subconscious, “That bluegrass music tells me this must be the backward-ass redneck goat-humping wife-beater!”
Heck, just reading the above description of that guy probably started the banjo playing in your head, didn’t it?
Some people even confuse bluegrass with folk music, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that bluegrass musicians are not interested in whether we shall overcome, who works on what railroad all the live-long day, or where Michael and his sister row the damn boat. Jimmy can crack corn, and trust me, these people do not care.
They are focused instead on dishing up hearty helpings from the Four Food Groups of Misery: poverty, addiction, sin and death. Particularly death. Bluegrass tends to favor death: dead mamas, dead trucks, dead girls and dead dogs.
Hollywood movie scripts apparently follow a commercially-successful formula that works something like this: Boy meets Girl; Boy loses Girl; Boy gets Girl back. Hence the term, “Hollywood ending.”
A lot of bluegrass songs also follow a formula: Boy meets Girl; Boy loses Girl; Boy hunts Girl down, shoots her dead and buries her in a hole; Boy writes bluegrass songs from prison, then is hanged. Hence the term, “I can’t stand it!”
That’s probably why a lot of bluegrass musicians are also long-distance runners — they do it because it feels so good to stop.
Other self-appointed, know-nothing critics say that bluegrass music is a contradiction in terms, like “jumbo shrimp” or “decent lawyer.” ‘Bluegrass music’ is not an oxymoron (although “bluegrass star” is, or to be precise, it is merely delusion, like Sasquatch or subscribing to Playboy Magazine “for the articles”).
Bluegrass haters are the kind of people who probably wouldn’t know an f-hole if theirs broke out in lesions, who bypass the pre-war Martin because it’s scratched (ew!) and buy the guitar that’s pink and has a mermaid on it. They probably think No Depression is a website for mental health activists.
The bluegrass fan base is growing, though, thanks to movies like O Brother Where Art Thou, which seems to be rebroadcast on television about every third day. It incorporated bluegrass to illustrate, rightfully, the film’s geographic, cultural and historical context rather than to signal ignorance, incest and a lack of dental hygiene.
And thanks also to the inspirational support of public policy-makers, such as the good folks in the Arkansas state legislature who recently outlawed both chain gangs for women inmates and common law marriages for females younger than twelve.
There’s a bluegrass song in there somewhere, Senator, and we appreciate it.