Topher, I’m sorry I threw a bottle at your NewGrass band. It was
uncalled for and impolite, and I would understand why you’re a little
confused and angry, right now. I do sincerely apologize, but I also feel
the need to maybe clarify what I was thinking right before I slung
Dierdra’s half-empty bottle of Sweetwater 420 at you.
are a lot of names for this music y’all are stabbing at: Old Timey,
String Band, Bluegrass, Mountain Music, etc. I’m a little older than
you- we grew up calling it “pickin’”, and it got played by a lot of my
family members at weddings, funerals, holiday gatherings, what have you.
Bluegrass wasn’t big with the whole family, of course. Certain older
ladies felt that songs about murder and whisky had no place in a house
with children and church folks in it, so sometimes the players had to go
the basement or the garage.
clarify: I didn’t hurl that bottle at you because I think you’re
terrible at playing music. You’re not GREAT, but you seem to know which
end of a banjo gets picked and which end gets mashed on. Y’all do seem
about 15 to 20 years early to start calling yourself “pickers,” though. I
reckon if you take a lesson from tonight and you don’t hang it up and
go to law school or get an MBA, you might get to the point where you can
show up at the barbershop and hold your own. Eventually.
I do appreciate you sprinkling in some classic old tunes like “Man of
Constant Sorrow” and “Frankie and Johnnie” in between your own songs
about weed and flying saucers “landin’ in the holler,” I guess. But
maybe don’t smile like a jack’o’lantern when you’re singing the last
verse of “Pretty Polly.” Polly was begging for her life before the
narrator drove a knife into her. It’s not like he was swiping left.
about all this talk about “hollers” and “moonshine stills.” Number one,
you couldn’t find a holler with three flashlights and a map. You’re
from Marietta. I’d say “Write what you know,” but nobody wants to hear
string band music about Panera. Also, “still” is just short for
“distiller.” Nobody says “moonshine still.” You don’t make anything else
in a still. That’s like saying “eating spoon,” or “chopping axe.” It’s
just “still,” Topher. Just say “still.”
could’ve probably hung in there and let it all go, and had a pleasant
enough evening listening to Dierdra talk about massage therapy school,
until your fiddle player started his “mountain preacher tent revival”
schtick. Look, I know you boys think hillbilly culture is Quaint, and
Charming, if a little, heh heh, BACKWARDS. I know Simon and his “fiddle”
dropped out of Julliard, and that one strap button on his overalls has
never, ever been buttoned. I know it all seems like a distant picture
postcard of The Simple Life, of A Better Time, et fucking cetera.
have a little different take on my own people, though, and they’re not
cartoon characters. My grandparents clawed their way up out of the
Depression, eating what they could grow and hunt, fishing for survival,
and breaking their bodies in mills and garages. They held themselves
with dignity, even when their hands throbbed from working in the cold,
and their backs ached from being bent in labor. They trusted in God,
lifted each other up, and never borrowed a dime from the bank. They
sometimes had little, often did without. They left their homes in the
hills and in the Piedmont to cross the ocean in enormous grey ships and
hit the beach at Normandy. They held the beach, marched to Berlin, saw
all of the attendant horrors of war, then made the journey home and
never spoke of again.
while I was mostly able to ignore Jeremy’s arhythmic clawhammer
picking, and the song about “Wacky Weed,” and your hyuck-hyucking and
DRAWLing between songs, when Simon started bucking, and stomping his
goddamn foot, and hollering about “JEEE-zus,” and “Resisting the
DEBBIL,” I must admit that I allowed myself to come a little unmoored.
not a religious man, which caused my grandmother no little suffering,
but I am not without some pride. My first thought was to say goodnight
to Deirdra, wish her the best in acupuncture class, or whatever she was
talking about, and roll out, but then Simon started in on
“HOMMASEXSHULS” and “FORNICATION” and I thought “Ok, enough of this
pickers in my family worked jobs. They played for the sheer joy of
playing. They did not sing perfect harmonies, they did not always
remember all of the words, and they were imperfect men, but they
struggled to accept the modern world, and they tried to meet everyone
with love and kindness.
mawkish, almost colonial, impression of those men is born of a deep
contempt, and frankly, I have enjoyed about all of that garbage I can
stand. I would invite you to watch the documentary “Harlan County, USA,”
particularly the scene where the film crew visits the widows of the men
killed in a recent mine cave-in. They’re just girls, really, barely
into their 20s, and they are dressed in taffeta and bows, probably in
the prettiest dresses available in whatever dime store downtown sprang
up to tempt the dreams of miners’ wives and daughters. Even poor women
want to feel beautiful, sometimes.
suspect that they dressed up for the film crew because they thought
that maybe there was a tiny chance that this time in front of the camera
had something to do with Hollywood. When there’s only one movie screen
in a company town, one doesn’t see a lot of documentaries. The whole
concept might not have dawned on them.
they are friendly, and gracious, and although I can’t remember their
exact words, I remember how searing it was to hear them talk about the
terrible day they heard the sirens wail. The sirens were to alert the
community that a tunnel had collapsed, meaning that someone’s husband,
or father, or son wouldn’t be coming home. And yet, they laugh and
smile, a little giddy to meet an actual film crew.
when they laugh, they daintily cover their mouths. And if you’re from
where I’m from, you know why. It is to hide their teeth, because they
know that people who don’t live in coal towns, mill towns, and hollers,
don’t have teeth like theirs. They know that movie stars don’t have
teeth that ache at night, and twist in odd directions, and are so much
trouble that eventually you go to the dentist two towns over and have
the bent, throbbing survivors pulled out. Old timers would tell you that
teeth are so much trouble, “You’re better off shut of them.”
I’m sorry that I let my anger get the best of me, but there was just so much of it at that moment. Oceans of anger.
bottle missed Simon, but it did silence him as he felt the wind of its
passing on his face. I’m sorry that I threw it. I’m sorry that your bass
player, Thomas, took it full on the mouth. I regret the whole affair.
though, going forward, Thomas won’t have to use a Sharpie to blacken
out that tooth. He’s better off shut of it, anyway.