Author: Karsemeyer, John

The Operation

Jimmy Dale Rimes (rhymes with “dimes”) is a bluegrass musician. An All-American no doubt about it card carrying banjo player; the 5-string banjo (no way would he be caught with a 4 string, Dixieland type, play it in a pizza parlor strumming with a flat-pick kind of banjo).

People describe Jimmy as an “adequate” and “good” player, and he agrees with that label. He can hold his own in a bluegrass jam, and has been on stage more than a few times playing for chump change (as Jimmy calls it). But somewhere along the long line, during his last fifty years (or so) of musicianship, Jimmy grew weary of being just good. He came to the conclusion that he would like to be better than good.

Mr. Rimes wanted to leap into another dimension. He heard somebody say, “The merely good is the biggest enemy of the best,” and he latched onto that as his personal credo (at least as it pertained to his banjo playing). So Jimmy started out on his personal quest to journey from the good to being the best; or at least one of the best.

He started attending music camps that offered banjo lessons. He took private lessons from Jack Turtle (a slow but renowned teacher in northern California). Jimmy bought DVD instructional materials. He got involved in bluegrass jams where folks played at a level higher than he did. He went on You-Tube to seek out lessons. In short, he tried everything he could to make the leap into a higher dimension of bluegrass banjo playing. Alas, none of this worked.

Jimmy’s final thought on the matter was, “I gave it everything I could, but guess I’ll have to settle for what I am as a banjo player.” However, there is a phenomenon that sometimes occurs when you give up. That which results in attaining the thing for which you hoped; some strange dimension that you enter when you let your dream go and then ironically find it.

About six months after he stopped pursing his goal of being one of the best 5-string bluegrass banjo players, Jimmy read a short article in a borrowed copy of a Scientific American magazine that definitely captured his attention, and held it. In a little known hamlet near Salzburg, Austria, three scientist-doctor-musicians had invented a technique that claimed to catapult a person into being one of the best musicians in the world. This technique was accomplished by implanting a silicon chip into a person’s brain. The clinical studies had proven the efficaciousness of the claim, although the sample size was really low. To be more exact, there were only two participants in the study, but they did become the best of the best musicians in the aforementioned small Austrian town (population 500).

The caveat of the process (for most musicians) was that the silicon implant operation would only work for one kind of musical instrument; the 5-string banjo (which happened by some strange process of osmosis, that resulted from a bluegrass band from the San Francisco Bay Area, whose tour included that town in Austria, that came in contact with the three Austrian doctors at a dinner, that included copious amounts of Austrian beer and a strange “blood brothers ceremony”). Now you might question why these two banjo players in the experiment never came to world wide attention, or why they never played at the Grand Ole Opry. One of the two answers is that as fate would have it these players suffered from Shyaphobia, the result being that these two Austrians (a man and a woman) were so overcome by playing their banjos in front of others that they never left the confines of their own personal woodsheds at home. Otherwise those two now would have been household names with people all over the world who share like mindfulness regarding banjo mania.

Well now, Jimmy, who has held firmly to the concept of predestination since his conversion at the age of twenty-one, read the article and blurted out, “Eureka!” He went on his computer, found the phone numbers of the three scientists, made an appointment to see them, bought his airline tickets, flew to Austria, paid the fee, and had the operation that took about four hours. He had to stay in Austria for five days to recover, but he did get to sample the Austrian way of life for a short time. After he boarded his airplane and was in the air back to the USA, he thought, “Sure glad that I live in America.”

Now it had been about two weeks since Jimmy had touched his banjo. What with getting ready for the trip, going to Europe, recovering from the operation, and flying back home, he didn’t have the time. As his plane touched down at the airport near his home in California, his thirst to get back to his banjo was overwhelming. This would be it, the time, the first time to touch wood, wire, and metal in the form of his beloved 1930’s Gibson Granada 5-string banjo, to experience the result of all he gone through to become one of the best banjo players in the world; possibly THE BEST EVER (his real, deep down inside, greedy, unbridled passion that existed at an unconscious level).

Then fate, or predestination, or whatever you may believe or disbelieve regarding the occurrence of events, entered the picture. When Jimmy got back to the “states” it was the middle of June, 2012. With everything going on in his life during the past two weeks he somehow forgot that when he got back home he was due to pack-up and head for Grass Valley, California to the annual California Bluegrass Association’s Fathers Day Festival.

“I don’t have time right now to play this here banjo. I’ll pack it in the truck with everything else and leave now so I can get a decent place to pitch the tent.” So off he went, with pop up tent trailer and optimism in tow.

Jimmy got to Grass Valley just fine. Everything went his way, and kept on going his way as he settled in right next to a group of musicians that had already set up camp in the tall woods that provided shade and protection from the piercing mid-day sun of June. Friendly folks they were too, just like every other person he had met there over the years (except for one). In fact his new neighbors were already involved in a jam when Jimmy started to put up his temporary canvas home. The jam consisted of one acoustic bass player, two guitars, a fiddle, three mandolins, one dobro, and seven banjo players. Right then and there Jimmy thought to himself, “Big jam here, and just look at all them banjo players. I can’t wait to get out my banjo, join in, and watch their jaws drop when I start playing my stuff!”

The thing is, Jimmy had waited. Up to this point he had waited for well over two weeks to actually play his banjo, and hadn’t touched the 5-string beauty (circumstantial predestination he thought). So he really didn’t know what the outcome of his operation in Salzburg, Austria would be. In any case he was confident that he would wow his fellow jammers with his forthcoming exalted banjo playing, and that soon people would describe him as being a threat to Bela Fleck, or better still, as leaving that banjo prodigy in the dust.

After an invitation from the jammers to join in, Jimmy picked up his banjo, put the strap on his shoulder, attached his finger picks, and waited for his turn to play in the jam circle. In fact, as the jam progressed he didn’t even play along with the other jammers. He didn’t want to introduce his new musical prowess to the group until it was his turn to choose a tune. Finally when it was his turn, one of the banjo players asked, “What are you gonna play?” “Think I’ll play Foggy Mountain Breakdown. I know it’s been overdone, but I know you’ll like the new twist I put on it. Something I’m sure you folks have never heard before. In fact, I guarantee it,” Jimmy answered.

Jimmy began his attack of the well known, well worn bluegrass standard that Earl Scruggs had created, which had spread around world like an out of control virus. As his fingerpicks touched the banjo’s strings a new force took over his brain. The neuropath ways of his brain that had previously formed from all of his practice in the past, that translated to his fingers so that he could play Foggy Mountain Breakdown, were suddenly gone.

Jimmy’s conscious thought process was in place, but while he was trying to play Earl’s banjo masterpiece, what actually came out from his banjo was Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major. “What the heck is going on here? That operation was guaranteed to be successful. I have it in writing from those Austrian scientist-doctor-musicians. Wait a minute, hold on now, oh wow. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was from Salzburg, Austria. Could it be? Oh no! I thought those doctors in Austria understood what I wanted. Their English was not that good, but certainly they, or I hope that they, I mean, oh no!”

For the next sixteen hours straight Jimmy conjured up his best of the best and tried to play other bluegrass tunes, but they all came out as Mozart compositions. Eventually his belief in predestination took over and gave him peace of mind. “This is what is supposed to be, and I accept it,” Jimmy concluded.

The upside of this story is that Jimmy actually became the best banjo player in the world. Sort of. Alas, he is limited to a certain music genre. By the way, Jimmy is now living and performing exclusively in Austria.
Posted:  3/11/2013

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