Author: Daniel, Bert


"That pygmies could cast such giant shadows, only to show how late in the day it has become." (Erwin Chargaff)
"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." (Isaac Newton)

One new thing I like on the CBA web site is the grist feature. It's a series of pithy quotes, not necessarily directly related to Bluegrass, that makes you think as you start your day. I used to check the Wikipedia page every day for similar intellectual stimulation but now I don't have to. My favorite web site has it covered already. And if I forget, it's no problem unless the quote is lame, which it rarely is. How do these great quotes get up there? I heard at one point that there was a contest with prizes but I don't know if anybody ever won. Maybe I missed it. I sent in a few good quotes, but I never won the prize.

I love grist so much that I even created a file in my computer to save ideas for future welcome columns. I had to bypass it just now when I tried to save the draft of this column. Sorry, that file name already exists. I guess I'll have to just knuckle down and finish writing this column.
Like I say, I never won a grist prize but I did try. Maybe I should have sent in the two quotes above. They are two of my favorites. Erwin Chargaff was a biologist who discovered a very important fact about DNA. The base ratios he documented allowed Watson and Crick to figure out what the physical structure of that molecule was. Maybe Chargaff was envious of the fame Watson and Crick had suddenly achieved when he penned his pithy imagery.

Newton was one of the greatest geniuses who ever lived. We all know about Newton's laws. Calculus originated with Newton and with his contemporary Leibnitz. Although the quote is associated with Newton, it was actually first attributed to Bernard of Chartres centuries earlier. If I had been as smart as Newton, I doubt I would have been quoted with such modesty.

If you've read this far you're either a nerd like me or you're desperately hoping for some Bluegrass content to hold your interest. Your buddy Bert usually gets to the point. Doesn't he?

Here's the point. Good grist, like the two quotes above, applies to Bluegrass just like everything else. It's up to the modern practitioners of Bluegrass to live up to the promise of the genre that was created by people like Bill Monroe, the Carter Family, Flatt and Scruggs, Jimmie Martin and many others. Those people I mentioned have all passed on but the music they loved has not. At least not yet.

Many others have come along, before and after, and enriched this special music. Those of us still getting vertical are lucky. We can stand on the shoulders of giants. So go out there and play this music. And listen to it with an open mind. If someone plays an old standard in the classic Ralph Stanley style, honor that and be grateful that the old harmonies are still alive. And if a new edge band plays Wildwood Flower with some Rap style lyrics, keep an open mind and listen to that too. Maybe you'll like it and, if you don't at least you might learn some new ideas for a music that is vibrant, not static. Stagnation would mean death.

As a Bluegrass fan, I personally favor the old classic style. I can never get enough of it and there's as much variety there as I could ever take in. But, if I hear a hot new band that plays Bluegrass well and doesn't fit my style preference, I try to listen. After all some of my very favorite music now is stuff I didn't appreciate on first hearing.

Here's another quote from old timer Clint Howard. It comes from the Kruger Brother's CD: Carolina Scrapbook: "Any kind of music that I can listen to on the radio, TV or anywhere else, there's SOME of it that I like. Just some of it I like MORE."

So listen to what you want at your next festival. And if you hear some good Bluegrass, that's just too "modern" for your taste, wander on back to the camp area and jam with me and my buddies. We might be getting a little long in the tooth but we can still learn a few new tricks by listening, and we'd be the last to say that the pygmies are casting long shadows.

Posted:  8/20/2012

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