26.12.11

agent provocateur banjo

130am on a boxing day night, 
in the little house on the hills: 
let's see if that banjo is any good?

minnow got this banjo from mr. p. eliotte, a singer/guitarist man from the years gone by (60s) in manchester.  they played together for years, since minnow was a wee teenager with more hankering for 'cooler' music than chets stuff. their specialty was the music of 1940s: ragtime, al bowlley, early country, pre-rock/roll. it was the music of a man who hated the drum kit and yes, the beatles (this, i can concur).  anyways, he doesnt exactly remember when he inherited this banjo, but it's been kicking around rather quietly, without strings and couple pegs which has rusted/rotted away.  it's still loose necked, though with tweaking, it was certainly playable today. as you will see.

when i decided to pick up fiddle playing, i got immensely frustrated with the bow-arm business. i never had to expose my armpits to anyone, nevermind be fixed on such position (i suppose that helps with keeping the pits dry).  my friends, colleagues, random passer-bys all said 'it does get easier,' but i know that with piano training, finger picking (for a guitar, ex) is much easier than trying to manage unruly horse hairs under some tension which makes even the most beautiful wood bend.

so? well, i tweedle with stringed instruments often without bow. just fingers.  i can do alright faking on a guitar or a bass. often i do fool around with the fiddle and a recorder, making noise with pizz, no arco. so it's been on the list of things to do, to revive the banjo- bela fleck being uber cool also helps a bit, i suppose.

we ordered the strings may be more than a half year ago.  then the pegs fell apart. we looked on the net to see what this instrument is- in hope of finding parts, yes, the pegs.  it's a  j. e. dallas, before the company was bought and went into mass production (now called jedson), which dates the instrument back in 1920s.  all original parts. so perhaps getting new pegs were going to be complicated. tonight, minnow took the operation, with some tools- including vice grip that was integral to tuning (without pegs).  it took awhile as there are not so many information on 5-string banjos.

anyhow, it was revived, and  i took it off his hand, just tuned, and after busting head on the wall for a bit, i figured out how to play: I- IV - V on g major. hell ya. great. i can pick strings. i am the genius. i went for it.  this quick success apparently brought out the previously unknown desire of minnow to jam on mandolin with the banjo (this is where it gets boisterous). so we jammed. loudly. a la americana.

yeah, like YOU can play the banjo quietly.

then came the furious knock on the door.

it was the neighbour- who, in his angry rant, apparently just had a stroke last week (we didnt know), whose wife has been ill for years (this, we did know, but it did became a constant at a point), and couldnt sleep because we are too uncivilized and too loud. he mustve really saved up, as things from two years ago have crept up on conversation (though i do have to clarify that this particular example does not involve me nor minnow, but particular offspring while he was visiting me in canada; so much we could do when we are in... another continent).  he was really angry. hailstones. plague. locusts. whichever.

and he left when he was done. how do we know? we heard the door slam.

i feel really sorry about the situation.  you see, for years that minnow/i have been here, there has been zero mention of any noise leakage from either side of the quadplex (we are number 3).  and we can hardly ever hear the old neighbour couple nor the young family the other way with a brand spanking new baby (except the occasional bathtime crying. but then you would expect it as bathroom is usually crazy resonant place). therefore we assumed that may be these houses were built properly with heavy, thick stuff.

and yeah. we forgot that the banjo was made to be bloody loud.

holiday can be a stressful thing. end of the year can be very stressful thing.  especially if one just had a stroke and one's partner is scheduled for a grave internal surgery that she is too weak for.  talking to old ladies for years at the church while i worked as an organist, i think people, after certain age, views this short period between christmas to new year's with much fear, anxiety and regrets.  in fact, i used to everything in my power to avoid people above age of 70 in church during this time, as they frequently called wrath of god upon you, while you are still in the church.  the passage of time must feel differently- elusive, incredibly expensive now, never enough, often accompanied by life things that may burden souls: sickness, aging, loss of people and just plain winter.

there's nothing to be done except to put the banjo away. at least tonight. too bad i really like the instrument. im really not trying to be an asshole but it's got such great voice.  in fact, when i laid it on the couch, it spoke with resonance.  cant ever shut a song bird up, can we- unless we gut it out.  but yeah, it's a granny banjo. it's probably older than my own granny, who was born in 1924.  what a great thing that it found its voice again- it will need adjustments, esp. with the loose neck, but it's got beautiful tone. hand made, back in different era.

and boy, did it give voice to the neighbour.

i hope he sleeps. i hope she sleeps. i wish them the very best of possible days.  however, i am going lay low for a bit. no banjo after 9pm.  that goes for you too, mandolin.  and i will find a name for this banjo. someone suggested widow-maker. i think it's slightly ill-timed...

1 comment:

  1. I think you make a really good sound on the banjo. it's a shame it had to end...!

    ReplyDelete