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.