Tuesday, July 2, 2013

When Banjos are the Sound of Silence

Last night, I took my dad to see Steve Martin and his bluegrass band, the Steep Canyon Rangers.

We had lots of fun.

I think my sense of what's funny was born from my early exposure to Pee Wee Herman and Steve Martin. My parents used to play Steve Martin's stand-up comedy on their record player, and I remember laughing at my mom quoting it long before I understood what was so funny (or so brilliantly unfunny) about the jokes themselves.

A request like "Please pass the pepper" could result, at our dinner table, in a giggled "Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you! Like this:

But while I grew up appreciating goofy humor, I didn't appreciate bluegrass music. There was simply too much of it around.

My dad played bluegrass music, loud, all the time. He played it on CD's, DVD's, tapes in the car, and he'd claw hammer it out on his own banjos right in our living room--always oblivious to whatever was going on around him.

I remember sitting in the back seat of the family car, eager to get in on my parents' conversation in the front, but not making anything out over my dad's tape recording of Flatt and Scruggs' My Long Journey Home, blaring out of the car speakers. 

My dad even went through a phase in which he believed that playing music at your musical instruments could condition their wood, or something like that, so he he would line up his instruments in an attentive row and play bluegrass at them when he wasn't even home.

There was no escape. In my house, bluegrass was the sound of silence.

Meanwhile, I craved electric guitars. I hated bluegrass. My mom said she did too, but joked that she wouldn't be a "bluegrass widow" and actually followed my dad to concerts.

I didn't start to soften on bluegrass until I was 24, and briefly moved from one dinky apartment into the one located above my dad's music shop. By then, my dad was successfully running his guitar, banjo, and mandolin store, and I rented a place just up the stairs over his storefront.

On quiet afternoons and evenings, the sounds of finger-plunking and jam sessions would filter up through my floors. Suddenly, I'd feel almost as safe and soothed as I did decades ago, when my mom had a pot on the stove and my dad played Earl Scruggs for the instruments in our empty basement.

And now, I have Steve Martin -- and my dad, also named Steve -- to thank for a fun night last night, one in which I tapped my toes and chair-danced and enjoyed the bluegrass tunes every bit as much as Steve Martin's goofy jokes in between.

Best of all was spending time with my dad, who almost never allows himself any fun outside of his music store. When I asked him, as we waited for the curtain to go up, what his favorite concert of all time was, he said he didn't know. I rattled off lists of my own -- best set list, best performance, most fun at a show.

Then, this morning, I received an email from my dad.

"The show was funny, and the music was very good. But most of all, being with you was special. You asked me which was my favorite concert? Last night was."

My dad.

And, it turns out bluegrass tunes can play the songs in my heart, too.

1 comment:

  1. What a sweet post! I'm so glad you and your dad had such a good time. Treasure those moments. :)