Author: Sargent, Geoff

We need a new genre of bluegrass songs: “Getting Old Ain’t for Wienies”

I’ve wanted to compose music ever since I started playing……..ohhh somewhere around the age of 8. (I’ve also wanted to write a novel, but that’s a different story.) Anyway, my original aspiration was to compose classical, symphonic music. When I was younger, after band practice, walking home, toting my trumpet and schoolbooks, I’d hear full orchestras in my head and I found that if I concentrated I could change the arrangements on the fly. How cool is that, an entire orchestra, and musical score, under my control, in my brain, in real time. Call me crazy, but my psycho-orchestra provided a great distraction for long hikes and boring family road trips in hot stuffy cars, surrounded by stinky, noisy siblings.Back then children had hazardous lifestyles that required walking or biking miles and miles to and from school, various music and sport practices, libraries, friends houses, football games….you name it. We got a break sometimes and scored a car ride when it was raining, or when nuclear war seemed imminent, but otherwise it was “You better get going or you’ll be late and you’ll be in lots of trouble if I hear you don’t make it on time!”. So I had plenty of opportunities, traveling to and fro, to indulge in a rich fantasy life that almost always had musical accompaniment. As I got a little older, if I had a reason to murder one of my brothers the music in my head was more of an Alfred Hitchcock movie score or heavy metal, and when I had a crush on a cute girl it was something like James Taylor or maybe even Simon and Garfunkle. But, somewhere along the way I lost that ability to create music in my head….at least until recently.

My musical rejuvenation and bluegrass epiphany 4 years ago woke those sleeping mental musicians. Since I’m now playing in a couple of bands and my iTunes library is mostly ‘Grass, the new music I hear in my head is basically a trad Bluegrass band, except that my mind’s music sometimes strays into orchestral-like lineups with a multi-instrumental mando section, fiddle section, guitar section, banjo section, dobro section, and a bass (I just can’t get away from those symphonic roots). I have to admit when that happens, when the music gets too noisy and somewhat messy, I have to sit down and kill off a few instrumental voices to get it under control. But I digress.

Strangely enough, my re-discovered band-in-a-brain has resurrected my desire to write music. Now, even though I have all the best intentions here, writing music has always intimidated me. Whenever I get close to sitting down and writing, I always get stumped and can never figure out which comes first…..the lyrics or the melody. So usually I sit and fret and spin it around for awhile, and then decide to just go play my dobro instead. Maybe I over analyze the process, something I’m often accused of.

But, in any case, I was thinking about some of the songs I’m familiar with that might be good models for a songwriting project and realized that there are lots of pleasant, upbeat bluegrass, and almost bluegrass, songs about taking your girl and drowning her in the river, about growing up in cold cabins with dirt floors, no running water and outhouses, about spooky things in the pines, about losing everything you have, about regretting that you left the farm to work in the mill, about cold, cold winters, even about underage sex, and what about those footprints in the snow….but for the life of me I couldn’t put my finger on any songs that really focus on something else just as disturbing…….growing old. I don’t mean songs that make up some romantic folderol about ageing and wisdom, or gracefully graying, or even about mama dying and going to heaven to be reunited with pa…..but songs about normal, cranky folks that are annoyed and angry about growing old. I mean, if you think about it, or if you are it, growing old is kind of like a slow walk down to the weeping willow tree, but it’s not voluntary and it sure as heck isn’t out of depression over a cheating girlfriend. So I figure that all of us over the (arbitrary) age of 50 need a good upbeat bluegrass song, accompanied by a pleasant melody, at a medium fast tempo (one that is accessible to most jams), with opportunity for plenty of hot picking, and lyrics that truly describe what getting old is really about. And this song needs to have the same graphic detail as some of our more popular bluegrass songs that promote murder and mayhem. (Here’s a random, unrelated thought….some bluegrass and rap song lyrics are really about the same things (murder, violence, sex, alcohol or drugs, etc)….it’s just that the words are a little different. Does that suggest rap is an urban evolution of bluegrass, and consequently should we consider rappers as edge bands for festivals?.......Gotcha…joking!)

But back to my song. Even though I am on the downhill side of 50, I’m basically going on 19 mentally, and according to my wife that’s about my maturity index, but I haven’t yet experienced many of the side effects of age, except for my apparent increasing crankiness. Well maybe I have a few meds I have to take in the evening and I don’t recover from hangovers and all-nighters as quickly as I used to and then there is this annoying thing about my hair….or more specifically lack of.

I figure I might be able to come up with some decent lyrics about my natural reluctance to age, and I could come up with some lyrics about the side effects of growing older I haven’t experienced yet, but why not draw on the experience of a whole community of folks in the same boat. So I’m asking for your help. If you could imagine hearing a song, in the finest bluegrass tradition, with a tight vocal stack, driving banjo, weeping dobro, wailing fiddle, walking bass, lots of guitar G-runs and mando chops, and that song was about growing old….what would you include in the song? Remember…..perky melody, disturbing lyrics.

Old age ain't no place for sissies. ~Bette Davis

Posted:  8/21/2011

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