Three Vignettes on Music and Geography
Rollingstone out on Highway 61

Barack Obama: Secret Banjoist? - UPDATE!


In late July, I wrote a "fake news" item about Barack Obama trying to appeal to fans of Oldtime music.

Well ... now Barack Obama really is, in fact, trying to appeal to fans of Oldtime music (my consulting fee is in the mail, I'm quite certain).  

To wit, Ralph Stanley  best known as the elderly "Oh Death" guy on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack  has recorded a radio endorsement to run in southwestern Virginia.

The area is hotly contested in the presidential race, and was also the home of many pioneers of the style today called "Oldtime" Tommy Jarrell, Henry Whitter, The Carter Family, The Stonemans, and many, many, more.

I wrote that dorky fake news item because I kept doing double-takes at photos of Obama at a meeting of NCLR, which looks a hell of a lot like NLCR, which to Oldtime fans is as immediately recognizable as NASA or FBI. After a little slap-dash Photoshop work (above), I was in business.

Several years ago, I drove to Moorehead, Minnesota, and stayed at a Red Roof Inn just to see my first concert by Mike Seeger, cofounder of the NLCR.  At the end of the concert, Mike said he was going to go sit at the CD table and press the flesh. 

He'd just been touring with Ralph Stanley, you see, who stays at the CD table until the last dog dies and Seeger saw that Stanley sells a lot of CDs that way.  After about 50 years in show business, Mike was apparently still learning from old Ralph Stanley. 



Jerome Clark

I believe you mean Moorhead, not "Moorehead," Minnesota.

As a general principle, in my observation, bad governance generates good music, good governance the opposite. For those of us who love the rooted sounds, the Bush era has been a golden age in that regard, if the reverse in all others. I've laid in a goodly supply of fine CDs from recent years to carry me over the next eight (or more) which, whatever else may be said of them, are unlikely to be noted for their music. Or at least if a whole lot of polling data accurately predict the outcome of the election a month from now.

Though an Obama/Democratic victory/landslide is to be profoundly hoped, there is, alas, a price to be paid.

The Celestial Monochord

Thanks for the correction, Jerry. Also, thanks for pointing out to me this bit from today's NY Times:


The program opened with the validators. This is a critical part of Obama’s small-town strategy — getting respected surrogates to stand up and say that Obama is a guy you can trust.

The first person on stage was Ralph Stanley, the 81-year-old legendary bluegrass musician, who was born in nearby Stratton and makes his home in Dickenson County.

He unfolded a piece of paper and read, in a shaky voice: “I want to endorse Barack Obama as the next president of the United States. Thank you very much!” The gymnasium exploded.

(When the candidate met Stanley backstage, Obama told him that he had some of Stanley’s banjo music on his iPod. Stanley nodded appreciatively, but a few minutes later he turned to a friend and asked, “What’s an iPod?”)


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