Sunday, February 8, 2009

Daddy Played The Banjo?

"Daddy played the banjo
'neath the yellow tree.
It rang across the backyard,
an old time melody.
I loved to hear the music.
I was only five.
I listened as his fingers made
the banjo come alive.
Sometimes I'd wake up at night
and hear a distant tune.
The banjo would echo
'round my childhood room.
I'd sneak down the back stairs.
Daddy never knew.
I'd grab a broom and make believe
I was pickin' too.
One day Daddy put my fingers
down upon the strings.
He picked it with his other hand.
We made the banjo ring.
Now the music takes me back
across the yellowed age,
to the summers with my Dad
and the tunes he played.
But I'm just tellin' lies
about the things I did.
See I'm that banjo player
who never had a kid.
Now I sit beneath that yellow tree...
hopin' that a kid somewhere
is listenin' to me.
Daddy played the banjo
'neath the yellow tree.
It rang across the backyard
and wove a spell on me.
Now the banjo takes me through
(all) the foggy days...
where memories of
what never was
become the good old days.
S. Martin & G. Scruggs
"The Crow"
This is the first song on Steve Martin's new CD. It sets the stage for fourteen more truly exquisite banjo masterpieces. This particular song (above) "strikes a chord" (pun intended) with me because it does just what the words me memories of what could've been but never were. When you are retired and getting older, nostalgia is big, especially cloudy, partial memories that get all mixed up with good feelings and fun times. Banjos seem to do that for me. They say, "Banjos can't play a sad tune." I don't know about that...maybe "a heritage of mountain music (blue grass) that could've been. I've always had an affinity for this type of music, i.e. fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar, even ukulele, autoharp and dulimer. Whenever I hear it now days, I pause and really listen and tap my toe, or slap my knee. I might whistle the tune if I don't know the words. I think my folks played it on the radio in L.A. and about two weeks every year in the summer for many years we took our trip to dad's homestead in Kentucky. He grew up in "coal-mining" country with lots of hills and the hollows (valleys in between) called "hollers"...because the form of communication from one to another was just that. On most evenings, warm and humid we'd all sit on the front porch, chairs, double swings on chains and the steps and tell stories, listen to the radio or even play/sing live music. He had 10 brothers and sisters and some were still around. I, then, didn't realize what precious times those were. I was out chasing fireflies and catching them for the fruit-canning jar. I was in kid heaven because I got to go barefoot the whole time. I got to eat gramma's biscuits and gravy and fried chicken that she got from the backyard. She matter-of-factly caught one, swung it around over her head by the neck and let it run around the yard...headless. What a shock to a "city boy". I found and collected a weed called "life everlasting" and tried to smoke it. Yuk!
Steve Martin has brought me other memories that are kind of "foggy". I remember seeing him perform as a very young man at the "Birdcage Theater" in Knott's Berry Farm. He played the banjo then as part of his "warm-up" act and then he was the hero in the on-going melodramas there. I kinda remember taking my best girlfriend there on a "church social" and after the theater and the chicken dinner with rhubarb dessert, I got down on my knee in the car (my monza) and proposed to her ...In Song! "Two lovin' arms one faithful heart..."
When I began to teach it was a natural-no-brainer to incorporate music into my lessons - both performing/listening and participating/singing in groups. I went to the folk music center to learn banjo, guitar and autoharp from the owner. She was amazing. In my plays/dramas I always tried to put in appropriate intro/exit mood music of a folk or classical nature. I sang with my classes the folk ways and had regular "hootin' Nannies". I even held the autoharp the upright, folk way. I felt the most accomplished with the baritone uke. I play it to this day. It is in the shop (Folk Music Center) getting a crack repaired. The rooms of kids I visit as a sub usually request it..."only if you sing along", I say. It always leads into many verses and a "dramatizations" of some sort. Our latest was "Alligators All Around" from "Really Rosie" by Carole King. This was from her musical for young kids. It goes through the whole alphabet with alliterative activities.
So many kids now days have "absent fathers". It takes a toll. They have to develop their own "memories" of ghost fathers who might play the banjo, or teachers who might love to play and sing their lessons. I'm a lucky guy. RRR

No comments: