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Monday, January 25, 2010



In my search for what is behind my emotional responses to old-time mountain music, I thought I was getting pretty close yesterday. I'm looking now at approaching it by facets. This morning I had an email from Chris Davis that opened another facet for me, that joy down deep within that is constant. I'm seeing that sometimes old-time music will tap into that joy in the soul and that's when it gets me going. Like a well sung gospel song, like the Marshall Family singing I Just Want To Thank You Lord. That song always touches what I'll call my joy center.

Joy is never in our (my) search for why mountain music brings tears to your eyes. For me, my JOY comes from Jesus deep in my soul. Like something just born in me. There for me to leave alone, or embrace. I embrace this Jesus Joy totally. For me, it makes tears come to my eyes when I hear the old time music, see the orphans of Haiti, appreciate my blessings, etc.

Happiness comes and goes. Joy is living in me deep down. Nearly spewing out everywhere, each time I just open my eyes and see this gorgeous place we live, its animals, birds, people, family, friends.

That rang a gong for me. Chris said it with such light in her words, I wanted to reproduce it here, with her permission. She defines that place better than I could. I believe about all of you reading this will recognize that place in yourselves. Old-time music taps my joy place within. I think what it is that opens the joy center is the human dimension. Old-time banjo pickin is such that no two pickers can sound alike. Every picker has his/her own sound that is particular to the individual. It's music from a time when the individual was important. The musician didn't have to have a face without features or a personality without features. None of the mountain musicians had their noses remade by plastic surgery.

The mountain tradition has a beautiful humility in it. Rule number one, you don't talk down about other musicians. A few years ago a young boy of 13 who was getting pretty good on his banjo said something about another kid couldn't play, to Agnes Joines. Finger waving in front of his face, she let him know in no uncertain terms that she will never again hear him say something about another musician like that or she's gonna let him have it. He knew she meant business too. That's how the mountain musicians learn their etiquette. Humility is enforced the same way in youth. Humility is about the most important part of the integrity of a mountain musician.

The music is a living tradition passed from generation to generation. It's a living thing. It's about square dancing and flatfootin. It's about dancing, about motion. It's about making music as good as you can possibly make it. It's about the spirit of music, the flow. I can't help but go ahead and say it's about the fullness of being human. It's about extraordinary beauty being made by just another Joe, a coalminer, a sawmiller, hard working people. I'm listening to Lee Sexton, who's from E Kentucky, old-time banjo and singing. I know if I were to shake his hand, his hand would be hard as stone. A man who has worked hard, fought hard, made his way a hard working man getting paid very little in return.

Number one in a mountain musician's list of priorities is feeling. If the playing doesn't have feeling, it's not music. It isn't working. The fiddler has to feel what he's playing, take the note where he wants it to go by feeling it there. It's the same with all the instruments. Feeling is number one. Possibly this has a great deal to do with why it strikes me so emotionally, the feeling that's in it. When the musician plays from the heart, the music is received in the listener's heart. Musicians know that. Carter Stanley's love for the mournful old songs was from his continuing attention to making music with strong feeling. I believe feeling must be the way to the joy center within. Thinking about it sure won't do it.

Something else about mountain music. It is happy music. It's a lively social music of several people dancing together in square dances. It's about people getting together to laugh and let off some steam at the end of the work week. It was people at home. People entertaining each other. People knowing each other. Actual community. Everybody knew everybody. From where we are now, we're looking at 1984 in the past. We're way past it when it comes to mind control of the masses. The Supreme Court just a few days ago nullified the individual. Up to that moment we were the electorate. Now, we don't even have that, the world's most advanced Democracy. Evidently, advanced right out the other end.

Old-time music came from the time when people believed in Democracy and that old American individualism I was raised in school and church to believe in. Even then it was over. These kinds of sorrowful feelings in our time of seeing the American citizens take it lying down, becoming laughably manipulable subjects and believe the propaganda that it's good for the middle class. A good time to hear Aerosmith scream Love In An Elevator. In the time of old-time music people thought something of one another. You don't see much of that these days. The state of mind we live in during this time is full of anxiety about a long checklist of subjects, tv telling us we don't have enough, we need more. No matter who you know, they're not as cool as people you don't know. No matter who you are, you're regarded at the educational level of the fourth grade. To say something about it is out of order. Fit in. Don't think for yourself. Spend money.

Dark, heavy feelings. So I crank up the volume of the Rolling Stones doing Street Fighting Man. Bob Dylan and the Stones expressed for all the rest of us what we were feeling, an underlying current of anger around our impulses to be full human beings frustrated over and over until the struggle becomes just an ongoing struggle. It's been going on since VietNam. Government does what it's going to do and We The People can take a jump. You don't like it? Get used to it. You will.

Out here in the mountain I don't have to think like that anymore. I've give up the struggle. It's endless and it's counterproductive. It's jumping in and playing the game, starting out the loser. When I hear a fiddler hit the chicken notes in Cluck Old Hen and Chicken Reel, it touches my joy center. Music from the time when people walked everywhere they went. Walking turns out to be a kind of prozac and driving just the opposite. Now we go through several varieties of anxiety getting wherever we're going. We've turned down our emotional natures replacing them with what we call rational mind. Let's just say mind. Not all mind is rational. Feelings are a good guide, but when we collectively push feeling down in favor of mind, an untrained mind is no guide to follow. Feelings that aren't understood are no guides either.

Myself, in this last half of my life, have very little place for the dull thinking about what the dark cabal in control of That Great City is doing to delete Democracy in America, step by step, fixing it all the way so there's no going back, so we the people have no voice. What's done is done. I'd rather stay on my mountain and let all that mind go someplace else, not in my head. It's when I tap in to real humanity in the music of these mountains, the best of what we are, it opens joy within and I feel light. That's what I think Chris is getting at. Let all that stuff, "the world," a dark burden in the mind, go its own way and I go mine. Thank you Chris.

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