Hooked on Bluegrass
The few people who are aware of my love for bluegrass music…those most trusted in my inner circle before I was, shall we say, ushered off the stage of national service and global statesmanship…believe that I was infected while on my first trip to America in 1959. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ironically, it was Stalin, who hated the U.S. with the ferocity of a rabid dog that was responsible for introducing me to the music of Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers. I’d recently been re-appointed as head of the Party in Moscow city and province. At that time, 1948-49, the aging Stalin rarely called Politburo meetings. Instead, much of the high-level work of government took place at dinners hosted by our Leader.
Attended by the likes of Beria, Malenkov, Kaganovich, Voroshilov, Molotov, Bulganin and myself (the handful of men that the ever more paranoid Stalin trusted, if, indeed, he trusted anyone), these sessions always began with showings of cowboy movies favored by Stalin. Stolen from the ‘western dogs’ as the Leader put it, films lacked subtitles and were hence nothing more than gibberish to us. That is, except for the music, which, as any man knows, is the universal language. I tolerated the cowboy music of the ‘horse operas’ but I remember so well one night, quite late, (the dictator had the dinner meal served at around 1 a.m., and insisted that his subordinates stay with him and drink until dawn) a few shorts were collated In with the full-length features. There, on the screen, Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys sang and played I’m On My Way Back to the Old Home. My life would never be the same. Bluegrass music had me in its tender grasp and would forever be my master.
Of course it would have been certain and sudden death had anyone become aware of my obsession, even after Stalin’s death in 1953. Nonetheless, I gradually amassed a sizeable collection of bluegrass recordings and, even better, ordered the KGB to infiltrate America’s southern broadcasting industry, (on the pretense that the military industrial complex was sharing coded messages with the European allies) and nearly every day a fresh batch of bluegrass radio shows was hand delivered to my office at the Kremlin. WBSN’s Cousin Cyrus Show out of Shreveport, WXRT’s Mother Irene’s Grits Hour from Louisville and, of course, once each week, the Grand Ole Opry from Nashville’s WSM.
Even after assuming the mantel of supreme leadership in 1959 my adoration of all things American bluegrass remained a closely held state secret; particularly with the cold war heating up, a Soviet dictator, especially one with my hard-nose persona, could not be seen having an interest in, let alone an affection for, any western bourgeois entertainments. And so, I listened in solitude. I was, alas, a grinner who grinned at no one.
One last somewhat humorous note in regard to my long-held fondness for the music of Bill, Earl, Lester, Ralph and Carter—the shoe-banging incident, which occurred during the 902nd Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly, held in New York on 12 October 1960 was allegedly caused by inflammatory comments made by the head of the Filipino delegation. I let this impression stand at the time of the occurrence and, indeed, have let it stand to this day. Now, in the dimming twilight of my life, with very little that a political foe could, or would bother, to inflict on me, I set the record straight: the imbecilic assertion made by then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, to me at a reception the night before the U.N. session that the Country Gentlemen played anything even vaguely related to true bluegrass music demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that the man’s utter void of ability in matters of state was second only to his knowledge of and taste in bluegrass. What is bluegrass? Do not ask Stevenson.
(The California Bluegrass Association wishes to thank Anatoly Morozov, long-time CBA member, for his Russian to English translation.)
[Note: This is one of several “hooked” stories from creative CBA’ers who have imagined how an historical figure might have become engaged with bluegrass, if they had had that opportunity.]
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