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Tag Archives: Bluegrass

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At the end of O Brother, Where Art Thou? the beloved protagonists are faced with quite a dilemma: let the lawman get to hangin’ or take a quick bum rush for a hopefully painless suicide-by-cop. You never expect what’s coming.

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You’re goddamn right, a flood right out of nowhere! Not the kind that ruins cities and drowns old women but the kind that rescues a lovable group of good-natured convicts from certain death! It’s also the kind of flood that was built right here in America by God-fearing Americans. Yep, that’s right…this flood was brought to you by the electric hands of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

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Let me step back here for a minute. You see, back during the 30’s when this movie takes place we in America had this thing called a Depression. That means nobody had  good-paying job with which to raise a family. Many men, like Ulysses, Delmar, and Pete, turned to crime just to make ends meet. And then there were those who joined government-sponsored work programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps, Works Progress Administration, and Tennessee Valley Authority–or TVA for short.

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The role of the TVA was to develop the rural areas of Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, North Carolina, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Georgia. This was a good thing for most of men from this area, as they were either flat broke or skimming by on profits from a measly moonshine operation. Of course, this is a blatantly stereotypical generalization of a proud and diverse people. However, it is also true.

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Moonshine still in Knox County, Tennessee. Photographed by TVA in 1936 as part of its Fort Loudoun Dam surveys. See, I told you so.

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In any case, almost all of the hydroelectric dams that are still operating in the area were built or planned during the period of the late 30’s by the TVA. This construction program, which was government-funded, was a big reason that thousands Appalachian people didn’t starve during those trying times. It also still powers the Daytona 500 into the living rooms and outhouses of millions of hillbillies.

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Boy, oh boy, it's a boy.

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Today Americans are faced with a similar situation of those folks in the Great Depression. We have millions of able-bodied men and women who are receiving unemployment support from the federal and state governments. Without this help many would be forced out onto the streets, where they very well might end up like Ulysses, Delmar, and Pete–hunting for a hidden treasure that simply doesn’t exist.

But the big difference today is that these men and women on unemployment aren’t expected to offer anything in return. They don’t build dams, don’t blaze concrete trails through inhospitable lands, and last time I went camping I didn’t see anybody planting trees.

I’m all for helping people get on their feet during times of need. It’s an American responsibility to take care of other tax-paying, anthem singing ‘Mericans. But I also feel that the folks on unemployment should give something back to the community that’s paying their mortgage.

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So down what avenues of the public sector can we send these brave men and women. Let’s not set them to building environmentally harmful hydroelectric dams. It seems there are plenty of roads already built throughout this Great Nation, many of which I haven’t even driven on. And last time I went camping it seemed there were just about the amount of trees, give or take.

Here’s what I propose: enlist these fine people as a sort of police for modern social tact. We’ll call them the Silicone Valley Authority, simply because it works for the intents and purposes of this blog. Here’s a list of the SVA’s 10 most pressing duties.

Duty 1) Patrol vigilantly for people listening to standup comedy on their iPod. Arrest at sight.

Seriously, I hate the way you laugh.

Duty 2) Prevent everyone from posting cool videos on Facebook before I do.

At least give me a chance, jerk.

Duty 3) Discourage, violently, all German tourists from flaunting their good times on our weak American dollar.

Hey Hans, those glasses don’t look smart at all.

4) Commandeer and destroy any iPad that is operated by a user who is in motion under his or her own power.

If you don’t get off the sidewalk I will smack that thing right out of your hand.

5) Ban Twitter

I’m not going to lie, I still don’t get it.

6) Execute a successful viral marketing campaign to make old flip phones cool again.

My cell is so vintage.

7) End self-satisfying, rambling blog posts that have absolutely nothing to do with the post’s original subject matter.

Fine, be that way.

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I have to say that I love bluegrass.  The whirwind of banjo, guitar, and maybe a XXX moonshine jug thrown in there somewhere always feels like the song’s about to run off the rails but somehow just keeps pluggin away into backwoods party mode.  It tickles just the right spot in my tum tum and summons the most hilllbilly YEEHAW! imaginable–scaring the cats every time.  Which is exactly why it’s such a bummer that bluegrass has never taken off as much as it should have in Cincy.  You’d think that Cincinnati would be the perfect place for bluegrass music to flourish seeing how it’s on the corner of Ohio, Indiana, and The Home of Bluegrass: Kentucky.  However, this woefully isn’t the case.

We do have a spattering of bluegrass every now then,  though mostly entwined rather curiously with dreadlocks and patchwork pants.  This city is infected by two dominating tribes: transplanted Applachian hillbillies attempting to cover their redneck pasts, a la Ben Folds,  and an alarmingly large number of GO CUBBIES FANS that are about as bland as vanilla flavored wallpaper.  Both, teamed together in some unholy white person’s culture-smashing union, turn the sensical into the nonsensical.  We  fail miserably at realizing our geographic potential and continue to imbibe all of the half-authentic, corny-ass country music and butt rock we can handle.  Heaven help us.

Anyway, Side F continues on with the The Folk Box’s tradition of reaching deep down into the microgenres of Folk and pulling out the gooey goodies–this time ripping out the Blues from the heart of a Louisianna mudpuppy.  It starts out with a harmonica being thrown, no coughed, no hum-cough-uppercuted directly into your right temple.  I watched a show on PBS this week about the Jazz movement in Paris in the 1920s titled “Harlem In Montmartre” (which was surprisingly sponsored in part by a large donation from Hugh Hefner) that gave an anecdote about a US Army marching band comprised of black soldiers who played an expo of some sort in Paris after WWI.  Apparently the conductor of the French marching band demanded to see their instruments because the black musicians made sounds the French thought impossible.  It was as if they were making their instruments sing instead of playing within the confines of notes or scale or pitch .  Their trumpets, clarinets, and maybe even their tubas were talking to the Parisians.  I kind of feel that this is what the show was describing with Sonny Terry’s demonic harmonica possession entitled Lost John. It’s just bonkers.  The most bonkers, dirty-ass joke you ever heard.  Also, don’t miss Leadbelly’s Black Snake Moan. He might be playing a smooshed bloodhound instead of a guitar–I haven’t been able to confirm yea or nay yet though.

Don’t forget to check out Disc 1 Disc 2 and Disc 4

Side E: Country Music – From Ballads to Bluegrass

1. Willy Clancy – Sligo Reel and Mountain Road

2. Eric Weissberg – Old Joe Clark

3. Clarence Ashley – Coo-Coo Bird

4. Tom Paley – Shady Grove

5. Eric Weissberg and Marshall Brickman – Flop-Eared Mule

6. Jean Ritchie – Nottamun Town

7. Doc Watson and others – Amazing grace

8. Doc Watson and others- Cripple Creek

9. The Dillards – Pretty Polly

10. George Pegram and Walter Parham – Yellow Rose of Texas

11. Green Corn  – Dián and the Greenbrian Boys

12. The Dillards – Old Man at the Mill

Side F: Nothing But The Blues

1. Sonny Terry – Lost John

2. Big Bill Broonzy – I Wonder When I’ll Get To Be Called A Man

3. Leadbelly – Black  Snake Moan

4. Blind Lemon Jefferson – See That My Grave Is Kept Clean

5. Hally Wood – House of the Rising Sun

6. Mark Spoelstra – France Blues

7. New Lost City Ramblers – Carter Blues

8. Dave Ray – Slappin’ On My Black Cat Bone

9. Dave Van Ronk – Don’t Leave Me Here

10. Josh White – Southern Exposure