On Banjos and Radical Acceptance
My introduction to the banjo came before I was born. My father was a folksinger, and although his professional performing days were mostly over before I came along, he often sang for family and friends (or more often just to please himself). Most of his songs he accompanied with the guitar, but when it came to homeless tramping or trains he generally pulled out the banjo. There were just a few of these songs but they seemed so perfectly suited for me. The plucky tone of the banjo, along with my father’s rich baritone spoke to me of letting go of attachments and fear, of letting the wind and the rain and the rails carry me far from home. They taught me of the wistful longing of lost innocence and the sweet lullaby of a long journey, and the wonder of belonging to the wide, wild, flabbergasting world we live in.
That was a long time ago. I’ve had plenty of times in my life where I’ve done the opposite, where I tried to hide from my wild wandering self, times of fear and loneliness, denial, and clinging. I’ve fought change till my knuckles were bloody and I was exhausted. But somehow, when the time came, I’ve always heard the sound of the banjo and the train as a summons to let go and move on. I started playing the banjo at a time like that, a time where I was hanging on for dear life and at the same time afraid of where that life might take me.
In these times we’re in, with the world shut down, all of us staying at home, I have to believe that we’ll learn how to ride this train. There’s so much we have to let go of. It seems like the banjo and the vision of my life as a hobo gives me just the right stuff for this… After all in a very real way, all of us are just passing through, so we might as well enjoy a good tune while we do!
Here's a video of one of me playing one of my favorite hobo songs on my Dad's Banjo.