Sometimes I just have to listen to bluegrass. Maybe it’s my Scots-Irish heritage. I still have kin living in the hardscrabble hills of Missouri whose families dress them in their finest overalls before laying them to rest. There’s likely more than heritage to my fondness for bluegrass, however, since I can’t stand its kissing cousin, country music; their common roots are unmistakeable in every twang.
Bluegrass takes me back to a simpler time…not just to an earlier slice of Americana, but literally back to my childhood. The Ozarks were a repeat vacation spot when I was a kid. We camped in the mountains that I still consider the most beautiful in America, and I’ve seen the Rockies, the Smokies, and the Appalachians. We’d visit Silver Dollar City, the down-home theme park, watching craftsmen making horseshoes and lye soap and candy the same way our elders did, all against a constant backdrop of bluegrass music. For me, bluegrass is an instant, virtual time machine back to a carefree time.
Yet bluegrass isn’t really feel good at its core. The skill required for Dueling Banjos is formidable, and one can imagine the camaraderie present at its composition. But bluegrass gospel lyrics are all pretty much the same: climbing mountains and going home and escaping the difficult burdens of life. There is nothing in them to romanticize what was, and still is for many, a tough existence scraped out of the hills.
We may romanticize a simpler life and time as the technology and complexity and stress of our modern “life of leisure” underdelivers on its promise. I suspect we will eventually learn that life will never be easy, it will only become easier in some ways and harder in others. But we won’t be able to help ourselves, and we’ll still listen to bluegrass and yearn for a simpler, better time that never was.
“You know for most of its life bluegrass had this stigma of being all straw hats and hay bales and not necessarily the the most sophisticated form of music. Yet you can’t help responding to its honesty. It’s music that finds its way deep into your soul because it’s strings vibrating against wood and nothing else.” –Alison Krauss