|Author: Karsemeyer, John
Jack Norman’s mother wanted to be the proud parent of twins. She didn’t get her way, because Jack was her first and only child. And there he was some twenty-four years ago coming into this ol’ world all by his lonesome. Oh it wasn’t Jack’s fault, but nevertheless, way-way-way back in his mom’s mind she neurotically laid part of the blame on him. She was, in any case, a good woman and a good mother, and her outward behavior toward Jack never resembled retribution. But she did put forth a plan that gave her a certain degree of consolation.
What she did, you see, was to give him two first names, with the second of those being his last name. The first name Jack, and the second Norman. Her husband had no objection to this, for Jack’s matriarchal mother was the only person in the family who wore pants (other than Jack). Mom had discovered Genealogy.com, and located a far distant Scottish relative of Jack’s dad. And so, with a heavy hand (you might even say fist) she ordered Jack’s dad to wear a kilt during his waking hours. Dad was compliant, because, well because, well that’s another story.
Mom also was an influential force in her community. So much so that she talked the county clerk into officially recording Jack’s last name (second really) as “Norman” on all the records. So in some remote, irrational part of her brain she had embraced her fantasy of producing twins. Another big reason, in addition to the twin thing, is that she really disliked the marital moniker bestowed on her at the wedding ceremony forty years ago, and didn’t want to pass it on to her son. She went along with it because her young husband (young at the time) was the striking figure of a man; the most handsome she had ever seen (live or in the movies). And to more than slightly edge out that reason, he was the most compliant example of the male gender she had ever encountered. So she went along with it, and mentally and legally embraced her own new last name of “Bellum.” But as I mentioned, she had made sure that Jack didn’t. Yes, Sarah was a stubborn woman, but she knew when to give in to get what she wanted in the long run. Anyway, back to Jack.
At the tender age of twenty-four Jack found himself living in a state that is two states away from California, directly north east as the buzzard glides, thriving in Polygamy County, Utah, living in an abandon dwelling that was once inhabited by a family of Navajo Indians. As a newly appointed national park ranger he was sent to oversee, protect, and maintain the pristine wilderness of a land that was not only magnificent to behold, but was beyond his wildest dream to actually live in and at the same time claim gainful employment.
In this land of fulfillment they were encounters of the closest kind regarding other humans, whose behavioral patterns were very different from Jack’s experiences with folks who were from Ohio; the place from whence he came to stake his claim in the land that once belonged to the indigenous people of America.
Jack was a single man, had never been married, and didn’t wish to be so in his pursuit of the libertarian life. He loved his job, he loved his life, he loved his future (as he predicted it), and he loved bluegrass music. He played the guitar, and he was good at it. However, he felt frustrated and limited because he wanted to be a multi-instrumentalist. He wanted to play the 5-string banjo, the mandolin, the fiddle, the Dobro, and the standup acoustic bass (not all at the same time, just in case you’re wondering).
He gave a go at them all; gave his everything that he had, but to no avail. He just didn’t have it on anything but the guitar. So, he settled for what he could do on his wood and six wires creation. “Thou shalt not covet,” kept entering his thoughts each morning as he awoke, but he was able to push those thoughts to the back of his mind by noon, almost every day. He admitted to himself, “I want to be like one of those guys or gals who can play all the bluegrass instruments. Well at least four, or three. I’d settle for that.” Life was unfair and unkind in his mind regarding his musical abilities, and if a person listened carefully they could hear him say, three or four times a day, “We are not all created equal!”
So life went on and life went by, and Jack was okay as okay can be. He was just barely inside the boundary of happy regarding musical fulfillment. As long as he stayed away from multi-instrumentalist bluegrass musicians, life was good. It wasn’t that he resented them, he just didn’t like self-imposed inferiority.
As so often is the case, we don’t know how to get what we want until we give up, and then the answer is there, staring us in the face. This happened to Jack during an invitation-only Indian ceremony/secret ritual one spring month, during a full moon, at one o’clock in the morning (during the middle of May to be mostly accurate).
After being a park ranger for a couple of years and interfacing with more than a few of the locals, the word got out that there was a tall and in the dark handsome single man living in the area. That word was tossed around, mostly by the young adult females, and the older females who were wanting for grandchildren from their currently single daughters.
During the aforementioned Indian ceremony that was more than loosely centered on the ingestion of certain secret herbal potions, Jack’s vision came to him. “I’ve got it. That’s it!”
The long and short of it was that an idea came from seemingly nowhere that assured him of the closest thing he could get to becoming a multi-instrumentalist. If he couldn’t accomplish that himself, he would start his own band, with some or most or all of the bluegrass instruments that are currently known to man (and woman) in the state of Kentucky, the IBMA, and points beyond that can only be seen through high tech telescopes. And not only that, he would have full control of who played what, when, and how they played it (Jack was an avid reader, and had digested six books that were about the “Father of bluegrass music”).
You must realize that the potential for Jack to accomplish his musical goal of which we speak is that in this desert region where Jack Norman worked and lived there were more than a few women who had mentally embraced the strong belief that it was okay for one man to have more than one wife.
These gals didn’t belong to any formal organizations that subscribed to this marital format. But through some form of cosmic osmosis that can only occur in a certain part of a desert, and only in a certain part of the good ol’ “US of A,” could this be mostly true.
But we must pause here and bring to light another factor which may (no proof) have been the causation of this phenomenon. And this is the water that Jack and the other inhabitants in this area drank regularly, profusely, and with vigor. Yes, the water that flowed swiftly and directly from Salt Lake City, Utah. Alas, another unsolved mystery; just a hunch, just a guess, just wild speculation.
Whatever the reason or reasons, Jack’s courting rituals landed him five wives in what you and I would consider a way too brief time regarding dating and trying to figure out if this was the woman (women in his case) he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
Jack was a smart boy. Regarding the marriage thing he was picky, the details of which shall not be discussed here. However, the basic requirement for which he would choose a woman was almost entirely based on if she could play a musical instrument. And you just know that it had to be a bluegrass music instrument.
Prior to this Jack had no personal motivation to tie connubial knots, but the aforementioned secret ceremony with the Indians paved the way for his sudden insight that being married to a number of women who played the different bluegrass instruments would somehow be like he was a multi-instrumentalist himself; the foundation of this belief being based on his fragmented memory of what he thought was a biblical passage that went something like, “And ye shall be as one.”
Again we could go into other specifics regarding how he picked and chose his wives, but space does not permit. Suffice it to say that he tied the knot(s) with the following spouses: one who could play the 5-string banjo (Earlene); one who could play the mandolin (Thileah); one who could play the fiddle (Vassarina); one who could play the dobro (Douglassiah); and one who could play the honest to goodness wooden upright double bass (Missy). What about Jack? Well, he took over the guitar chores. He figured that marrying a guitar player would be musically redundant; and besides that, he considered himself “King of the Guitar” regarding this band.
Now those of you readers who are married may have acquired the wisdom that every woman doesn’t always tell a man everything about her before the marriage occurs. Some do, some don’t, some will, and some won’t (okay, okay, men are guilty too). Whatever the state of the world is regarding this, Jack’s five wives didn’t tell or show all.
The band generally turned out okay (as long as the wives’ secret was safe). They had fun. And the band’s name, “Solomon and the Serenaders,” didn’t bother the wives (at first, during the honeymoon phase). There were plenty of jobs, the pay was decent, and the free meals, libations, and the just plain fun-of-it made it all worthwhile. And of course Jack had a full-time job as a park ranger, which provided the economic foundation for the survival of all concerned.
It has been said that being in a band is like being in a family. You have to learn to get along, do things and give up things for the good of the band as a whole. Band mates need to compromise, relent, see the big picture, and eventually realize that it’s often difficult work on each member’s part to make the band work. Of course in Jack’s case the band was also the family (double duty).
But people are human, and not all bands last forever, as you well know. Eventually one wife started to criticize Jack’s playing, saying, “Don’t you know how to play in time?” And then another wife piped in, “No Jack, the metronome works like it is supposed to.” Finally, after about six months they all ganged up on him. “We’re tired of your dictator style of leadership Jack!” They wanted a desert democracy. Jack politely responded, “I’ll think about it.”
He thought about it. He was willing to try, to compromise, to give more time to his playing with the metronome. He’d play for hours along with CDs to get his timing right. Jack could have dealt with all of that. But there was one last puncture that blew out the tires on his bluegrass bus.
One afternoon when it was Jack’s turn to go to town and get the groceries (he’d relinquished his dictatorship), he’d gotten a mile down the road when he remembered he’d forgotten his checkbook.
When he got back to his house, from out in the barn he could hear the sounds of live bluegrass music. He slyly and noiselessly tip toed to the barn, peeked though a knot hole in the side, and there they were. Yes, all five of them playing and singing bluegrass music, without him.
Jack said, “Well that’s okay, it’s even good. Never can get too much practice.” Jack stayed for a second song, and that’s when it smacked him like a rubber hammer to the forehead.
Just before the second song started, the wives all traded instruments. And adding insult to injury, just before the third song they did it again. And then again, and again on the fourth and fifth song.
“Each and every one of them is playing a different instrument on every song,” he gasped.
We have to stop here again and admit that many a man in this situation would be more than happy to have a band of multi-instrumentalists wives. But we humans are a diverse lot. Some people see the Grand Canyon as a marvelous wonder of nature; some see it as just a big hole. Even though Jack (being a park ranger) embraced the Canyon as a wonder of nature, such was not the case now with his family band.
Jack’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder regarding multi-instrumentalists hit him with the full force of a desert storm. He turned around from the barn, got in his truck, hit the road (way beyond the speed limit), and never looked back.
Some say he’s hiding out in a small cabin back in Ohio, composing instrumentals and songs for guitar only. Some say he’s living in California, and is a tour guide at the Empire Mine in Grass Valley, and only goes to the CBA’s Fathers Day Festival so he can attend the guitar workshops. And others say he’s still in the desert living with the Navajo Indians, teaching guitar chords and getting everyone singing, “Tequila Sunrise.” And one other National Park Ranger says Jack is living in delicious obscurity at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
And what did Jack learn from all of this? If you were a red tailed hawk, circling on high above Jack’s new dwelling, you could hear him say, “The wealthy people are the ones who have learned to be content with what they have.”
As for the wives? They never found out what happened to Jack after he went to town for groceries. They did keep their group together, and are now known as, “The All Babes Boys.” They are thriving as a bluegrass band, touring in a 1967 Volkswagen camper van with a rebuilt engine, coming to a town near you….
Copyright © 2002 California
Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
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