Friday, March 4, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Take Refuge

Source unknown

A five string banjo sits in one corner of my bedroom, a thin film of dust coating its heel, fret board and sandpaper-like head. The banjo was a gift to my husband, but he hasn't had time to figure out how to play it. He barely has time to fiddle with his standard six-string guitar.

I love the bright, clear, bell-like sound of the banjo.

I'd been thinking about this banjo for some time. Thinking about how lonely it looks in the corner, like it's been punished, banished to a junction of pale walls as penance. But it's shiny chrome parts and virgin strings are entirely innocent. I'm certain it's waiting for the gentle touch of nimble fingers.

Which are not mine.

But I picked it up anyway. This morning. I did. I've had a soundtrack running through my head for a while. (A soundtrack Abigail Washburn could easily compose.) This happens sometimes when I read certain stories, stories that come with a haversack of depth and emotion. Heavy luggage that can't be shed. Even if the luggage belongs to someone else, even if it's not real. It still haunts. As in the case of Tim O'Brien's stories about Vietnam.

I still remember the tears of exhausted sixth grade classmates. I remember the MIA and POW posters. I remember friends who lost loved ones in a senseless war. I see that not much has changed. Except, perhaps, for the draft.

The soundtrack is one of refuge. Refuge is what we search for. It's what O'Brien's characters long for. I often find my refuge in song and music. And for some mysterious reason the resonating soundtrack while reading Tim O'Brien was filled with folk, blues, bluegrass vibrations. So I grabbed the banjo, opened my laptop and went to eHow to figure out how to tune it. Then I learned about its chords, like G, D7 and Em, watched a video, opened up a chart and tried to roll. Don't try this without metal picks. It hurts. And I think my hands are too small and my fingers too short.

But I'm going to keep trying.

I want to make my own soundtrack. And someday maybe I can do this:

That beautiful voice belongs to Abigail Washburn. Fortunately, Ms. Washburn abandoned her plan to study law in order to develop an alternate conduit of communication. With her banjo. I won't abandon writing. But I'm going to work on that banjo.

Abigail Washburn's new album, City of Refuge, can be found here. Interestingly, the album was made by Ms. Washburn with the hope that, within it, everyone would find a sense of belonging.


  1. Oh thank you for the lovely voice. I will be checking her cds out :) As to the hands being small and fingers short... believe it or not they will stretch just keep practicing.
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  2. very nice, now if only my son would come to town and fix my favorite computer i could add it to the old library. i have a post it note on my desk with mumford written on it.

  3. Really? I love the sound of a banjo. I almost bought one for Jim for his birthday when we were in Littleton at the guitar store (thinking maybe I'd give it a try)! One was on sale. But I bought him a guitar strap instead. It's really nice. Lovin' the music!

  4. Jules- Stretch? It's going to be a stretch, alright, to get these near arthritic digits to span three frets (or even two)! I'll keep practicing, though. ;)

    BP- Hope your son shows up soon, or you're going to be collecting a lot of post notes. :)

    Lin Ann- Really. And really? Get back there and grab the banjo. We can learn together. Jim can join us, too. More banjos the merrier. ;)

  5. I find refuge in music, too. Listening, but sadly, not playing. (Why oh why did it seem such a chore to practice the piano?) But my oldest son plays the guitar beautifully. He bought a banjo, too, but has yet to learn it. He left it behind when he went off to college. Hmmmm....

  6. I feel the same way about music; it's another language, another way to speak to people. Enjoy your banjo :)

  7. I like the banjo too but I have never learned to play any kind of musical instrument.

  8. Are you kidding?? Washburn is the bee's knees, the cat's pyjama's and the claw in hammer.
    Err yeah, there really should be a warning sticker on all banjo's stating that only seasoned players with fingers like steel should attempt to pick and/or strum this product.
    Grab hold of a couple of finger picks in the meantime and play though girl. The banjo is a fine instrument!

  9. Seré- Because it WAS a chore! I topped out after 3 yrs of lessons. I still tap on my keyboard every now and then, but it's not pretty. So... pick up that lonely banjo, girl. Next time your son's home you can say "Hey, look what Mom can do!" (Like you don't already do enough.) ;)

    Joanne- I'll try. Developing callouses...

    Ellen- It's never too late!

    Dan- Seriously. Only I don't want fingers of steel! I'll get the picks. And yes, Washburn plays it old-time using the clawhammer - that's pretty cool, but it's gotta be tough on the wrist. Looks weird, too, huh? But she is quite amazing. ;)

  10. Impressive, a great approach to the subject a great selection of music, thanks, I added you to favorites,

  11. Hi Jayne!
    I love Tim O'Brien. THE THINGS WE CARRIED helped me to realize I wanted to be a writer. It should be required reading for high school students. That and IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS.

    True, nothing in war has changed since Vietnam, except the draft, and in a way that was a more honest way of waging it.

    I have a piano that is sitting untuned and unappreciated, rather like your banjo. It seems that every spare minute I have I'm obsessing over manuscript pages and my poor piano needs to be played. Music, like writing and other creative endeavors is well worth any effort expended.

    I'm glad I found your blog, and thanks for spending time at mine. It's not often anymore that one finds mention of O'Brien.

  12. To hear the soundtrack before it speaks of vision. When the pieces arrive, a build-it-yourself kit showing up in increments - you have no idea what may be next - what I know to do is pay attention. Picking up the banjo and beginning to teach yourself to play speaks of commitment to the vision.

    I was involved in the anti-war activities of 1968 and agree with Yvonne, the draft WAS a more honest way of waging these - are we still calling them actions? Those who served then and survived continue to pay a price. I hope you keep listening to the sounds that guide you.

  13. Great songs, Jayne. Thanks for sharing. Egads how I wish I'd actually learned how to play an instrument when I was a kid. I know, I know, it's never too late. But I don't think I'd ever find the time these days to foster an honest dedication. For now, I'll continue to wail on my harmonica and irritate the dog.

  14. Grandma's- Thanks for joining the conversation! The music is updated every Friday.

    Yvonne- The thing I love about Tim O'Brien are the things I loved, as a young girl, about Hemingway. Similar styles, I think. O'Brien sure knows how to get to the heart of survival. Now give that piano of yours a little TLC! And thanks for visiting and sticking around. :)

    Marylinn- The act of writing really makes me listen to the sounds, pay attention. I'm feeling that more so than ever since starting this blog and connecting with others in this fashion. It's a good thing! I'd like to see the vision through, though I've got my limitations. We'll see! ;)

    Beer- Did I mention honesty? Oh, dear. You know, the harmonica is a bonafide instrument. Takes some talent to play that thing. Think Dylan. Think Young! And you can never have too many of them. ;)

  15. Thanks for sharing Jayne. These are simply wonderful. I love the spell you weaved with your words as well - hope, renewal, empathy - it's all there.

  16. Jayne you have a really interesting library of musical and literary references.

    I hadn't heard of Abigail Washburn before so thanks for the intro.

    A beautifully put together post as ever.

  17. light208- My pleasure. And thanks for stopping by and joining the discussion! :)

    SF- Thank you. I love writing for the Frolic - music's always been a big part of my life, so I'm happy to share it here. ;)

  18. I remember when I was a kid we had an old banjo with a hole in it and only one extremely loose string. I'd play it alone in my room sometimes when I was bored singing (screaming?) the words "Old Susana" over and over again because I didn't know any of the other words. Aside from some forced piano lessons when I was about 10, that was the extent of my musical career.

  19. Christopher- That might be the perfect place for me to start... Oh don't you cry for me! (With a banjo on my knee.) One string's a challenge, but if you can sing it - well that's an instrument, too. ;)

  20. You know how I feel about banjo. Keep at it. That jangling of strings needs you.

  21. Kimberly- I'll try - but don't count on me for back-up! I'd stick with that Tony Award winner friend of yours. ;)