NPR is running a bluegrass instrumental.
It comforts me.
Never used to.
Never liked bluegrass, particularly. Too, of course, “country”, synonymous with “uneducated”. Pretentious, I was.
Dad liked country music. The hymns that lulled my little brother and me to sleep every single night, on the Philco stereo, were sung by Helen Barth, the Palermo Brothers, and country artists, like The Little Man with the Big Voice.
We never knew his name, my brother and I. He was just the Little Man with the Big Voice. Kinda like Dad.
Music finds its way into our realm in all sorts of ways. Sometimes it is the song our grandmother sings to us, as babies – “The Little Brown Church in the Vale”. Little melodies, faintly intoned by delicate voices, right next to our ears. Sometimes it is our father, with his strong anthem or big band croon, “Oh, Lord My God”, “You’re Nobody’s Darlin’ But Mine, Love”.
Other times, whole orchestras, again on the radio, Bert Kaempfert’s or Mantovani, making our pre-pubescent bodies ache with ephemeral desire beside an imaginary pool in the bright summer sun, lovers from the 1960’s with their lacquered, teased, bleached flips and their hairless chests. And, us, curled up on the davenport while mom ran the sweeper, our heads burrowed into the deepest corner of the upholstery until we found the portal, the escape into fantasy.
I was raised on the Great Lakes. Home wasn’t home without a waterfront, and a peninsula of endless beaches. Bluegrass was music from a foreign country.
No matter that most of the genre found its roots in the mountain range just south of here, called Appalachia. In these parts, we’d have to take a day trip across the state line, to Panama Rocks, to hear it played live, and even then. Seems bluegrass was a type of lawn, came from Kentucky.
But, right now, I am comforted. It pulls from my memory vignettes, little shadow box scenes. The first, of a tall, muscular blonde with shoulder length hair and a mouth full of teeth who danced to it, in the dark wood- floored bar in the town of Dunkirk, NY. He swung his partner, and his irresistible body swung, too.
The second, a skinny boy, who played trumpet in high school, and then grew to be a seasoned song writing singer with a voice like Randy Travis and the attitude of one who knew I’d eventually come around. He even wrote a song named after me. He can still play it on his guitar, or his violin, from the south all the way to the cozy gathering corners of Maine.
But, the real fiddler was a child who became a young man and moved to Nashville. He’d come home, with his traveling band, and play private concerts at his grandparents senior living center. And, it was at the first of these that I decided that bluegrass had to be experienced live. Something about the bass pulse, and all the harmonic sonorities. Recording couldn’t touch the music of the mountains and the south; it required true atmosphere, like being outside eating a picnic made all food taste better.
So, now, I can hear bluegrass anywhere, and am provoked by these connections. It has spun its weave around me, and I am listening. Dimly, I see a sinewy, lean boy, and he is playing for me.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo
9/5/15 All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for listening.