Another album that mattered to me… or two.

When I was thirteen or fourteen, there was a record I started hearing everywhere. I didn’t know where these guys came from, or much about the contemporaries or influences, but the songs just imprinted themselves on my brain and didn’t let go. I wore out a cassette of this album, and was pleased to see that these hook-laden tunes caught up in a large way. The album?

Green Day’s “Dookie”.

About two years later, I bought another album on an impulse buy. Again, I didn’t know much about the artists’ contemporaries or influences, but the songs again grabbed ahold and refused to let go. The playing was impeccable and fast and frenzied. This time, however, absolutely nobody in any kind of proxymity to my age, ever listened.The album?

The Best of the Best of the Stanley Brothers.

What did this say about me? Well, probably that I was (and yet am) a very, very sick person. But mostly, it said what I’ve tried to explain a thousand times since– that punkpop and bluegrass are absolutely two sides of the very same coin. Much of what makes one work makes the other work– the music is fast and intense, songs fly by in two maybe two and a half minutes. The chords are simplistic and generally major, and are played with breakneck speed and intensity. The subject matter is sometimes eerily similar (death, alcohol, the devil) and sometimes eerily different (amphetamine abuse, sex, and masochism versus old standard hymns). The self-depreciation of “Basket Case” really isn’t that different from “If I Lose”. The self-loathing of “Longview” and “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow” are from the same neighborhood, if not the same block. 

When I heard Green Day, it felt like an album I’d already heard somewhere. When I heard the Stanley Brothers, it felt like somebody speaking in a language that I had been born around, and then taken away from, never to even heard of it again. High and lonesome, if you could quantify it, is as doubtlessly in my bloodstream as hemoglobin or iron. It made a great deal of sense to me to learn that the Stanleys haled from a tiny town about 30 minutes from the one where I was born and lived until just before high school.

I was very interested to learn that Ralph Stanley, all 80-some odd years old of his hillbilly genius, recently recorded a series of radio ads for Barack Obama. I might say I was even surprised to see a notoriously old, rural and white endorse an obviously young, urban and African-American candidate. But if I’d thought about it, I’d have understood. Green Day has made its political vent well known (See “American Idiot” for one scathing indictment of the Bush world). Even if Billie Joe Armstrong and Ralph Stanley wouldn’t seem to agree on much, there is a commonality there. A few more blasted, speedy power chords and banjo breaks and a few good Democrats might just unite them together and start the party. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

Joe

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2 Responses to “Another album that mattered to me… or two.”

  1. Ricky Says:

    Can you imagine what the Stanley Brothers could’ve done with When I Come Around? I can’t either, but I’m sure it would be fan-freakin’-tastic.

    I remember back in 1994 I visited my friend Pete at his apartment in Bloomington, Indiana. One of Pete’s roommates got his BMG shipment that weekend (remember BMG? 6 CDs for 1 cent and several migraine headaches that would come later) … anyway, his friend had Dookie in there and kept running around the apartment saying “Yes!”. He was fired up, and in retrospect I guess the album was sort of worth his enthusiasm.

  2. barboo77 Says:

    Ahhh, Dookie. So many high school memories tied to those songs. Great album!!

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