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Monday, September 15, 2014

Why I Took Up the Banjo

Okay, I admit it. I enjoy being a bit of an odd duck. I had to. It all comes from my difficult childhood as a nerdy, skinny little kid in the local public school where they sent all the thugs and toughs deemed unworthy to attend the local church schools and the heathen children whose parents didn't go to church. The rest of us who were simply too poor went there because we had to. It was a lesson in survival skills for the meek. By embracing the identity that was forced on you by your tormentors, I learned how to deflect them. If they call you a geek, be a proud geek. This confuses most bullies and spoils their fun......except when they beat you up in frustration because their words no longer make you cry.

While we meek types may, indeed, inherit the Earth someday, it sometimes feels like we may have to pay for it in blood. I was offered the chance to play in the school band at one point, but I turned down the opportunity. In order to play a band instrument other than drums (where the thugs were well-represented), you had to stick something in your mouth and when you do that, you can't really sing along.
skinny little kid in the local public school where they sent all the thugs and toughs deemed unworthy to attend the local

I took up instrumental music in 1971 when I bought a damaged Mexican guitar for $6 and fixed the bridge. It worked beautifully and made even my pitiful efforts sound good when I could actually get the thing in tune. It took me two years to develop a good enough ear to actually hear what in tune sounded like. Till then, I tuned my guitar visually by depressing the top string on the fifth fret, plucking it and adjusting the next string down till it vibrated when I picked the string above it. I learned this technique in physics class - I was that big a nerd.

They called me two-chord Tom and used to pay me to play elsewhere. When my guitar playing finally became tolerable enough that I was allowed to play with the guys at campfire at my summer camp job, I was offered an old used cheap banjo. No longer the obnoxious amateur guitarist I had once been, I jumped at the chance to revisit my halcyon days as an out-of-tune ballad singer via the banjo.

After 40 years of banging away at it, I can play well enough that folk don't run screaming from the room, although my wife (Miss Perfect Pitch) tends to keep putting it way in the back of the closet if she finds it left unattended for more than a few minutes.

Ah, well, I can always go to the woods or sit out on the porch, a spot to which generations of itinerant banjo players have been traditionally banished. That's okay. I like the porch and the woods.

More scope for the imagination.   — © 2014 by Tom King