* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your number one source for excrutiating detail about the current state of bluegrass music. After you've finished reading this week's bit of hilarity from Michael Fowler, see our blogroll on the right for a link to buy Michael's book, God Made the Animals.

Come To Bluegrass This Year

By:
mfowl4916@gmail.com

Everyone agrees that pop music is horrible, but no one does anything about it. There is no way to guarantee that Lady Gaga or Adam Levine will not offend our tympanums again, not with their contracts. But there is a simple solution. Drop all your preconceptions about hillbilly music, lose your pretentious rock sensibilities, and come on over to bluegrass.

It’s still summer, or warm enough that there are no blizzards or nor’easters on the horizon, and there are outdoor bluegrass festivals going on in every state, and have been since spring. There’s probably one not more than an hour or two from you, down a peaceful country lane lined with outhouses on skids that you’ll need your GPS to locate, if not a savvy mule. There you’ll find the sun is shining, the river is sweet, the grass is green if not blue, and the beat flat out rocks. Really, it does. Maybe not like AC/DC, but at least harder than Maroon 5 and “Bad Romance.”

Learning to enjoy bluegrass is easy, because there are essentially only two adjustments the listener must make. The first is to the instrumentation, particularly the banjo. Bluegrass novices, rockers and folk music lovers alike, have told me that they could listen to this music, in theory, but there’s something about the banjo they can’t go. They fear the pure twang of the instrument. I understand their apprehension.

There’s something about the cold, metallic notes that spring out of a banjo, amplified by a drumhead-like skin, that makes the uninitiated listener cringe as if the short hairs on his neck were being plucked out with ice-cold tweezers. Plus, those icy notes invariably conjure up the inbred mute in Deliverance, or the Clampetts gathered around the cement pond. They’re embarrassing, for heaven’s sake.

If it turns out you can’t do the banjo, you may comfort yourself with the fact that lots of bluegrass doesn’t contain a note of it. Keep telling yourself that and you won’t despair at the very outset.

By comparison to the banjo, the other bluegrass instruments are a piece of cake. These are usually a six-string acoustic guitar, a warm and roomy stand-up bass, also a fiddle, which is what mountain folk call a violin, and a mandolin. Nothing odd or offensive there, except one does wonder how a delicate medieval instrument like the Neapolitan mandolin can sound so good in the hands of rural Kentuckians and Virginians. You’d have thought they’d be handier with a jaw harp or a tin whistle. Who knew?

The other challenge for bluegrass novitiates is the singing. The best and most famous bluegrass singers have voices that are unlikely to front any other vocal format, even country. They are simply too downhome and honest, too evocative of coal mining and moonshining and backwater rapids. But they can be got used to.

The trick is to start with a band whose singer doesn’t sound like he or she is one big nose stuffed with coal dust. The angel-voiced Alison Krauss comes to mind, and her bandmate Dan Tyminski, who did the singing for George Clooney in the popular bluegrass-infused film O Brother Where Art Thou.

Tyminski has a fine, accurate baritone that makes a virtue of his southern inflections, while Alison has all but lost any regional accent (she’s from North Carolina) and easily performs mainstream stuff, sometimes with the British subject Robert Plant, who can also be got used to with patience. Start with these folks and then progress to the more rarified artists. Or stay and listen only to Alison Krauss and her topnotch band Union Station. It doesn’t get any better.

If you move on, though, take it in easy stages. Just because you can listen to Alison Krauss and George Clooney (Dan Tyminski), doesn’t mean you are ready for bluegrass stalwarts Ralph Stanley and Jimmy Martin, let alone those unique stylists who define the bluegrass sound for many, such as Screamin’ Del McCoury and Hazel Dickens. No, don’t ever think that after hearing angelic Alison warble “Down to the River to Pray” you can just run off and enjoy Screamin’ Del’s rendition of “High on a Mountaintop,” which parts the very clouds with sonic intensity, or the mournful Hazel Dickens wheezing out “Black Lung,” a tune that fills the air with carcinogenic dust. That’s not going to happen.

To be honest, I myself can’t listen to Jimmy Martin or Ms. Dickens for a note. Jimmy sounds like the irate cook at Jimmy’s Truck Stop in Corbin, Kentucky, who has been told his food must pass a health board inspection every year and starts keening like a wounded coyote. And Dickens is simply too authentic, having so much homespun veracity that I can’t stand the idea of her breathing. She sounds like a scorned woman in Chesapeake, West Virginia, standing on top of a hill dressed in black rags and wailing down into the Kanawha River Valley despite her advanced tuberculosis.

The late Ralph Stanley, though, is the great harmonizer in folk and country music. He can, or could, sing with anyone, and achieved fame back in the 1950s harmonizing with his brother Carter. After Carter passed on he performed duets with everyone from Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakum, the aforementioned Alison Krauss, to even Bob Dylan. He was that well regarded, and that good. He really was, even though solo he sounded like a coal-mining foreman whose voice can still puncture your eardrums after traveling through miles of twisting anthracite tunnels.

If you happen to become a fan of Ralph’s recordings, and again I recommend the ones where he harmonizes with all sorts of swell people on great and familiar songs, not all of them religious, you should take it as a sign. You may now move on to Screamin’ Del McCoury, whose followers are often hard-core in their devotion.

McCoury, who plays guitar and sings with a crack band largely composed of his sons, as did Ralph Stanley (that is, each played with his own sons, not the other man’s), has dozens of recordings out, and can still be found at many of those summer bluegrass festivals I mentioned. Known for his “high lonesome” tenor that can shear sheep, bake biscuits and dig coal all by itself, Screamin’ Del’s not my cup of grits, but I can listen to him now and then without shuddering. Not too much shuddering, anyway, and I always recover.

Let’s say that by some miracle you don’t shudder at Screamin’ Del, and you actually become a fan of the bluegrass genre, that you’re so fortunate. Next you’ll want this music served up live and outdoors, where the ambience of lawn chairs, portable toilets, and amateur pickers is so relaxed that even the bandana-sporting motorcycle gangs and their tattooed mamas are friendly. Plus, you can test your survival skills by lasting an entire weekend on soup beans and well water that you pump yourself, with an actual handle.

You may well become like the one-armed girl in a bikini I saw at a festival in Ohio, standing in a grassy field and smiling in the warm sunshine as she waved her sole arm to the beat. She had exited the rock arena and come to where the music is still good. She was having a blast.

 

 

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your one safe harbor in a world full of frauds and sociopaths. Say hello to first-time contributor Charles Stayton, who gives more than a few reasons to say goodbye to Airbnb.

Overheard On Airbnb Messenger

By:
charles.stayton@gmail.com

Cole Thurston: Airbnb app; Wednesday, 7.12, 2:15 PM

Hi Gus and Joy. We loved our stay last weekend! We were thinking…would you guys consider permanently renting the space we stayed in? My partner and I think it may be a good fit for both couples, if you guys are interested in more cash…and maybe someone to help look after the place.

 

Joy Hanseen: Airbnb app; Thursday, 7.13, 8:15 AM

Hi Cole and Marissa. We appreciate the offer, but we are really just looking for the flexibility that Airbnb provides. We’re not exactly landlord material at this point in our retirement πŸ™‚

 

Cole Thurston: Airbnb app; Thursday, 7.13, 11:47 AM

Hey Joy! Totally. Understood. We weren’t thinking landlords per se, though. Honestly, we feel like the energy between the four of us is more mellow and deep than that. We loved your vibe and it made us realize that we’re done with roommates. We want something more. Something more…grown up. Like where we can have Sunday suppers together and look after each other’s pets like in Gilmore Girls. We would help with any chores you want and pitch in to make your retirement amazing! You wouldn’t have to pay us an allowance, of course… πŸ™‚

 

Cole Thurston: Airbnb app; Saturday, 7.15, 1:18 PM

Hi again! Not sure if you got my last message, but I hope y’all are having a rad weekend! Sorry if we came on a little strong before. It’s just that we really felt at home with you guys! We want you to know that we are excellent at social media and vegan cooking (provided we get ingredients from an appropriate meal service — Purple Carrot is perfect!). We could keep you wholesomely fed and relevant on the β€˜gram! We’d also love to take on the responsibility of keeping you guys active! We love hiking, picnics, 80’s parties, walking tours [but only if they aren’t too boring and end with shots:)], road trips to see the fall leaves change colors, and adult summer camps, just to name a few…

 

Cole Thurston: Airbnb app; Monday, 7.17, 1:40 AM

Hi Joy. I just want you to know that we’re still cool. I saw the glowing review of “Ashley” and “Dan” that you posted and I get it — you need to keep business fresh while you line everything up for our rental. No rush on my end. I mean, the sooner the better since Marissa and I jumped in with both feet and broke our lease…but no presh. The couchsurfing thing is chill and it actually helps the hustle since we’re more mobile. It’s also nice because we can strip down and only keep the essentials. We accumulate so much stuff, right? You gotta watch this documentary on- oh shoot, I’m rambling. Sorry! Cheers!

 

Cole Thurston: Airbnb app; Monday, 7.24, 6:05 AM

I couldn’t stop thinking about that review, so I reached out to Ashley and Dan. Marissa and I met up with them and I have to tell you — I don’t get it. I bet Dan told you that dumb story about his frat bros and the pedicab driver in Cabo, didn’t he? That seemed like his go to for the “now-the-smalltalk-is-over” part of the couples hang. You know that story isn’t true, right? First off, there’s no way his whale patterned clothes-wearing ass left the resort area. Second, a basic geo-tag hack shows that he has never been near downtown Cabo, or, in his words, “Spanish colonial-ville, but, like, kind of shitty.” I’m trying to stay positive, but I really can’t wrap my brain around the glowing review. Ashley — I can see you liking Ashley. Everybody loves Ash Cash. But, Dan? Really?

 

Airbnb corporate: email; Friday, 7.28, 8:37 AM

Dear Cole: your account has been suspended due to a pending investigation. If you have any questions, please direct them to our legal team. Thank you for your cooperation.

 

Cole Thurston: handwritten letter; Friday, 7.28

You went to Airbnb? I thought you were one of those moms that kids could talk to, even about hard stuff. I thought you wanted me to be honest with you…

 

Cole Thurston: handwritten letter; Saturday, 8.5

I know I’m breaking the law by writing you guys, but I don’t care. Isn’t the law just a tool for the oppressors anyway? I went by your house today and the trash cans are gone. Are you selling the house? Our house? The house of my imagined childhood? The house where our little alternative family came together over that kitten jigsaw puzzle and top-shelf riesling?

 

Cole Thurston: handwritten letter; 8.24

Marissa left me and it seems like I’m going to jail. The only redeeming thing about Michael (my public defender) is that he smells like old-timey aftershave, cigarettes, and sweat just like Gus. Well, it goes without saying that he’s also a hugger, which gets him some points too. But, honestly, he’s pretty useless when it comes to defending me against the restraining order charges. I know you guys aren’t going to visit, but I hope this letter finds you. I just want to say I’m sorry if I let you down. I still think about you guys all the time.

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we like to think of ourselves as a sort of literary YMCA. And also a source of political wisdom that can save our nation, if only our nation will listen to Bruce Harris.

Filling U.S. Cabinet Positions With The Village People

By:
marxman@comcast.net

Here’s some advice for the next president of the United States. With all of the publicity, angst, and rancor surrounding a president’s selection of cabinet members, wouldn’t it be refreshing if the cabinet selection process went smoothly across both sides of the aisle? It’s more than possible. Mr. or Ms. Next President, it’s best to keep things simple, at least for the following six cabinet posts (in no particular order). Who to nominate? The Village People. No controversy. These nominees would sail through the senate confirmation hearings.

Motorcycle Cop – Attorney General

One would have to search far and wide to find a tougher, meaner, more no-nonsense lawman than the motorcycle cop. We’ve got one, so why not appoint him Attorney General of the United States? The country’s top law enforcement officer shouldn’t be a politician. It should be someone with law enforcement experience. Is this a difficult concept to grasp? Hell, this Village People’s cop makes former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio look like and act like Mr. Rogers.

Native American – Interior Secretary

He’s an all-American hombre with street cred. Responsible for the management and conservation of most federal land and natural resources, and the administration of programs relating to Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, among others. Who better to understand the problems and issues of Native Americans than a Native American? He, more than anyone, could bring calm to the contentious Dakota Access Pipeline. This isn’t rocket science. In addition, he can weigh in as a subject matter expert on the Washington Redskins logo controversy.

Cowboy – Secretary of Homeland Security

Singing cowboys are nothing new. Gene Autry and Roy Rogers come to mind. But, none put the fear of God in a potential illegal alien more than the Village People’s Cowboy. When is the last time you had a good look at him? I rest my case. Anyone even remotely thinking about crossing our borders (northern or southern) without proper documentation had better think twice. This is one cowboy who isn’t afraid to empty a couple of six-shooters in order to maintain our homeland security. Imagine the following exchange during his senate confirmation hearing:

Senator from Texas: Son, is that a Stetson?

Cowboy: Yessir!

Senator from Texas: (smiling) No further questions.

Biker – Secretary of Transportation

Talk about a Macho, Macho Man. God only knows how many miles of America’s highways and byways this leather-clad, born to be wild, mustachioed dude has driven. Ask yourself, is there anyone more qualified (other than several thousand long-distance truckers) for the position?

Navy Guy – Secretary of Veterans Affairs

First things first: “In the Navy” replaces “The Star Spangled Banner” as our national anthem. Once that is law, anything else he accomplishes is gravy. It’s no secret that the United States is in dire need of Veterans Administration reform. They wanted him, they wanted him, they wanted him as a new recruit back in the day. Now, we want him, we want him, we want him in the cabinet.

Construction Worker – Secretary of Labor

He is perfect for the job. And he looks the part. Hardhat, jeans, sturdy work boots, and a shirt unbuttoned down to the navel. Elvis would be proud! This guy could single-handedly restore our crumbling infrastructure. Just give him a jackhammer and a pickaxe and away he’ll go. Bridges, roads, airports are all within his sweet spot. And, as an added bonus, he’ll simultaneously work the jackhammer and mime the letters to “YMCA” above his head. I’ll wager the current secretary of labor can’t do that.

It’s so easy. Six key cabinet positions amicably filled. It takes a village, people.

 

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* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we support the yearnings of all huddled masses to be free -- especially those huddled masses of young women like Ginny Hogan.

Why I’ll Never Be Financially Dependent On My Boyfriend, At Least As Long As My Parents Send Me $4,000/Month

By:
ginny5hogan@gmail.com

As a strong, independent woman, I vow to never become financially dependent on my boyfriend because it would give him too much power in the relationship. We are two adults, and it’s important that he sees me as an equal. Even though he’s offered to pay more of the rent than I do, I decline every time because I’m a feminist. It can be hard to turn down an offer like that, which is why I have my parents send me $4,000 a month.

My friend Stacy recently went to Cabo with her boyfriend, and he paid for the flights and hotel room. I would never want to be on a vacation like that with my boyfriend — what if he thought that I owed him sex or something because he got the hotel room? I need to be clear about my own independence, and so I’d never want him to pay for an expensive trip that we took together. Last month, when we went to Paris, even though my boyfriend offered to pay, I just asked my dad to buy me a ticket with his Delta miles. I think that sent a signal loud and clear to my boyfriend that I don’t depend on him at all and that we are equals. Then my parents sent me $800 for the hotel room, but my boyfriend’s company paid for it, so I just pocketed the $800. Because I’m a smart businesswoman. I only wonder if more women were as entrepreneurial as I am, maybe they wouldn’t need help from their boyfriends all the time.

A lot of my friends have a really hard time with taxes, and so they get their boyfriends to do their taxes for them. My one friend even needed her boyfriend to lend her $300 for her taxes, and she didn’t pay him back until the next Tuesday. Can you imagine that? Owing someone money for eight days? It sounds like a nightmare to me — you are basically their slave. I wouldn’t want my boyfriend thinking he has control over me by doing my taxes, so I got my parents’ accountant to do it for me. In fact, because I don’t technically “work” (the government’s definition of “work” is so narrow — I contribute greatly to society via my 19-28 expository tweets per day), I got a lot of money back in taxes. This was great — $6,000 to supplement the $4,000 my parents send me each month. It made me feel like a strong, independent woman, and I’m glad I didn’t have my boyfriend ruin that feeling for me.

Like most extremely attractive couples, my boyfriend and I exercise together frequently. However, unlike a lot of these couples, I don’t let my boyfriend pay for my gym membership or give me his guest passes at Barry’s Bootcamp. Because that would be wrong — if I did that, I’d owe him my body. Like, he’d be the reason why I’m so sexy, and it’s important that everyone knows that I’M the reason I’m so sexy. To be as independent and strong as possible, I just use my mom’s Equinox membership. Of course, this means she can’t use it herself or the people at the gym would notice, but it’s ok, because she got herself a membership to YogaSculpt. My mom prefers yoga classes anyway because she needs to be told what to do and she can’t think for herself at all — I blame this on the fact that my dad has been financially supporting her for her whole life. I don’t want to fall into this trap, so I never let my boyfriend pay for anything, and it works out, since my parents send me so much money.

Even when we go out to dinner, I don’t like to let him pay because it throws off the power dynamic in the relationship. Food is an important source of sustenance, and if he’s the one providing food, he’s the more powerful person. Last week, we went to the opening of a vegan sushi place in SoHo. It was definitely more money than I had in my bank account, especially because I ordered four $18 cocktails, but fortunately I just used the credit card my parents gave me for emergencies so that my boyfriend didn’t have to pay for me. And they completely understood — maintaining a healthy relationship IS an emergency.

I don’t want to be excessively judgey — I just feel so sorry for some women out there who are forced to depend on their boyfriends for money. I don’t know how a man could ever respect someone who he had to provide for. I don’t have to worry about that; all the men I meet respect me so much because they know I’ll never ask them for anything. Because my parents support me in my need to be a financially independent woman.

 

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