Blogging, Banjos, and False Modesty. And Amish pants.

Okay, okay, I’m going to have to come clean: I’m actually very proud of my banjo playing. Blogging is a lightweight medium, and heaping false modesty on its slender shoulders makes a train wreck: “Ooh, did I mention? I play the banjo a little; I’m very self-conscious about it HERE’S A VIDEO OF ME PLAYING THE BANJO, INTERNET.”

Now, it’s true that I’m not very good, and that I do feel guilty when I go to Maine and my family of Accredited Folkies (Uncle 1 Uncle 3; Uncle 2, sadly, passed away, but he mastered both the flatpick guitar and the acoustic-coupler modem, and I miss him very, very much) break out the instruments and start playing, and I can only whack out the same song that was the only song that I could play the last time I saw them two years ago. But I’m damn proud of that song, and I like to think that I’ve extracted a lot of value from it. In fact, in 1994, the Earlham College catalog had one picture listed in its single “Social Activities” two-page spread: me, sitting on a bench with no shoes and cutoff camoflauge shorts, playing that song for my friend Amy Workman, who was a summertime backwoods ranger in Olympia State Park. I had my hair back in a ponytail made from a hose clamp, and Amy was standing on the pedals of her artfully-duct-taped montain bike, so all in all it was a pretty faithful representation of the Earlham college social life. In its brevity not least.

So, I should come clean: I love playing that song, and I am not in the least self-conscious playing it. I love the fact that my banjo is a SPECIAL banjo, a NOT-THE-REGULAR-KIND banjo, a kind of banjo that requires SPECIAL KNOWLEDGE to play. This affords the opportunity for stories like the one in yesterday’s post, which I am now cringing in remorse as I read: “oh, you see, I happened to find a dying strain of appalachian music, and…” Bullshit. I learned some clawhammer with malice aforethought, because it’s cooler. This is the same reason that I wear Amish broadfall pants from Goods in Lancaster County on a daily basis: they are hard to find, require special knowledge, and therefore are hip. Paul Fussell has my number here; he says that the impulse toward archaism as a differentiator is an indicator of social consciousness in the upper-middle class. Ahem.

Okay, I feel better admitting what was probably obvious in the first place: that blog post yesterday was the equivalent of the guys who hang out in the Eastern philosophy section of the 64th-street Barnes and Noble, collaring the college students who wander through the stacks, then finding ways to mention that they just got back from Tibet. I’ve already admitted that a big attraction of reading Seneca on lunch hour is getting seen with it in the elevator, so I guess I’m done with the penitence now. Attention, please! I plan on driving Lydia to the park in the sidecar of my archaic motorcycle, with my archaic banjo on my back, wearing my archaic pants, and I will think that I am the COOLEST DAD EVER. Hopefully, I will be able to fess up to this when I blog about it.

I still really need to learn more songs, though — Cripple Creek is only about twenty seconds long, like most folk ditties, and I’m going to have to learn more stuff in order to preserve everyone’s sanity. LBY’s enthusiasm really does assuage my self-consciousness when I’m on uncertain territory, and her bouncing-up-and-down enthusiasm in indescribably wonderful. So: onward into the songs I only half-remember, and can hit only a quarter of the notes. I want to finally feel like I deserve the banjo I was given!

Followup: pros and cons of Amish Broadfall pants:

  • Pro: Amish broadfall pants have a skinny pocket sewn on to the side of the right thigh that’s meant to carry a folding ruler at the wearers’ fingertips, which makes it an excellent cellphone pocket. You can reach your phone even if you’ve got many layers of jackets on, and it doesn’t bang around in your pocket.
  • Pro: The suspenders make them great for motorcycle riding, since they don’t crawl down your butt when you’re leaned over for a long time.
  • Con: Funny looks going through metal detectors, since Broadfall pants are studded with metal buttons. Of course, on Amtrak, there’s a service bulletin to ticket agents that you don’t have to show ID to purchase tickets if you’re “wearing the distinctive garb of the Amish and Mennonite religious communities”, so I suppose that could be seen as a pro in certain circumstances, if you were also willing to grow a beard and wear a straw hat.
  • Con: If you forget to button your fly after going to the men’s room, you won’t just get funny looks: you’ll get arrested.

2 responses to “Blogging, Banjos, and False Modesty. And Amish pants.”

  1. Your honesty is well appreciated! I think we need a picture of said pants to really understand what we are talking about here. I’m really starting to feel sorry for Lydia in her teenage years.


  2. There are few things more painful than parental embarassment, it’s true. My dad used to threaten me that he’d “put on his dog suit and roll around on the floor” in order to get me to behave in public. Once, in a moment of dizzying horror, my parents got down on one knee and serenaded me with “Ajax, the White Tornado” in the Exton Mall, causing my ten-year-old self to shrink to the size of a molecule. So, yes: Lydia will think I’m the Coolest Dad Ever, until the inevitable moment when She. Really. Does. Not. And I think you’re right: I’m going to get it much worse than others. I won’t just have to drop her off one block from McDonald’s, I’m going to have to get some kind of Embarassing Dad Restraining Order filed against me.
    I wonder if the EDRO applies if I’m wearing the dog suit?


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