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Thread: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

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    George Wilson GRW3's Avatar
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    Default Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    Here in the Bluegrass hinterlands, I didn't realize that there was such a controversy over Can't You Hear Me Calling. On reflection, I should have suspected it. For me it's kind of a Bluegrass root statement, an illustration of the pain and dislocation of life that leads to common themes on which we often joke. (And Johnny Cash called Love, Murder, God.)

    I think hero worship clouds some peoples eyes. Truth about humans tends to be much more of a mixed bag than bio polishers would like. Conversely the 'anti-hero' believers take too much heart in the failings of heros. People, in general, understand human failings. For many, me included, it's almost the ability to rise above their issues that makes the hero as much as the act.
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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    "Can't You Hear Me Callin'" is an excellent book, and at present the best biography of WSM's life. Smith has been accused in equal measure of both hero worship and disrespect, and I don't think he deserves either. While his admiration for WSM is self-evident in the fact that he authored the book, and for which he needn't apologize, he also does not spare his subject when appropriate. If one takes the time to read both Butch Robins' and Bob Black's books on their hitches as Bluegrass Boys, the impression one comes away with of WSM is very similar. Butch once played on stage with Monroe while he was on LSD due to a scheduling mix-up, and Bob is always very respectful of his old employer, even while describing his duties as a BGB which sometimes included unpaid farm laborer. They both saw him in every conceivable circumstance, and another unusual BGB duty was to sometimes stand guard at the tour bus door to make sure "the boss" was not disturbed while trysting with one admirer when another one might happen by. That Monroe was a stubborn, intransigent individual is a matter of record, as is his womanizing. His wife Carolyn once stabbed him in the leg with an ice pick, from which he got a good song, "Along About Daybreak" along with a scar. As to his statement about Monroe's important place in music, art and culture, Smith goes on to explain his "big" statement, and I for one agree with his assessment of WSM's stature amongst even such luminaries as Hank Williams, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, all three who were fans and admirers of his. Just because someone does not happen to be as wealthy or well-known as some other performers and composers, does not diminish their stature amongst them.
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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    I can't think of any other genre of music where this sort of stuff would even raise an eyebrow, but perhaps there are some.

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    Registered User Charley wild's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    I agree with both posts. I reviewed the book for Amazon and stated that this is great beginning. More needs to be done but the author did a great job. A biographer should be sympathic to their subject. I went on to say that I knew a banjo player who played for Bill briefly and could rattle off "Bill" stories right and left. That the author criticized Bill where it was needed didn't fall into that "telling stories" trap is to his credit. My first music hero was Gene Autry. It didn't diminish his stature with me one bit to find out that he had a drinking problem or was a womanizer. Bill's (and Gene's) historical statures are unassailable and will continue to grow. Rightfully so!

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    Registered User tree's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    I must've read Can't You Hear Me Calling about 5 years ago, near the beginning of my journey into trying to "catch up" on bluegrass. (My midlife crisis was learning how to flatpick bluegrass, and I was WAY behind. Luckily, I had enough sense to realize that it would be a longterm project, but I still felt an urgency to study the music and read all I could about it, since I got such a late start.)

    I thought it was a fascinating read, and a fair and respectful treatment of a difficult subject. I loved the book, it helped me tremendously in understanding the man, the changing times, and the music.
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    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    Bill Graham´s article touches on various topics that either offend or support your opinion.

    The article´s central theme is Bill Monroe´s womanizing and how it on the one hand offended bluegrass fans (or were they idolizers?) and loyal Monroeists that tried to defend the man´s musical personality from his private personality.

    If one looks at the "world out there" nobody could ever disagree with my statement that womanizing artists merely raises an eyebrow these days. If you look at the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, P Diddy Coombs, Pete Doherty and the list could go on and on, womanizing is almost imperative to the aspiring artist and his public standing.

    Why does it offend the bluegrass enthusiast. It does because we (I do include myself to some degree) see a purity in the music that sings of the ups and downs in life, of love, labor and death. We project our own bad in the music and in doing so we cleanse ourselves (or at least we hope to do so). We aspire to be moral beings and we try to follow a good way. Even though it is being noted with a certain contempt that people like Ricky Skaggs (Ron Block is in the same line) incorporate their opinion on faith and belief in their public act bluegrass musicians as well as bluegrass music enthusiasts are not your average streetgang-member (thoughtwise and other).

    We therefore asume that the father of bluegrass music by necessity must have lead a life pure and innocent. And while we cannot deny that each and everyone of us has personal flaws it hurts (many) to have to acknowledge a disregarded personal behaviour (womanizing) in a person (Monroe) that is cherished (and idolized) as having created a (to my mind one of the most inspiring) musical art form.

    I certainly do know little enough about Bill Monroe to weigh in my opinion in critcizing Richard Smith (Dick Smith of the Country Gentlemen fame?) or claiming that the critizism is flawed.

    I though find that there is a conclusion in the portrayal of Bill Monroe´s various wifes, girlfriends, flings etc. in "Cant You Hear Me Calling". The personalities of the ladies mentioned by name in the book all reconciled (in the end). This for me spoke of an understanding or at least acceptance of a personality as complex as Bill Monroe´s. I will not be the one who judges my fellow man here.

    With respect to the music "Can´t You Hear Me Calling" provided insight into the historical and musical background of bluegrass music. Was it deep enough. For me... no. But I might guess that it is no wonder that Tom Ewing´s Bill Monroe biography takes more than 10 years to come around. My hat is off to him to undertake this laborious task to put into writing not only a complex figure such as Bill Monroe was but the mutitude of musical ideas that bluegrass came from and to describe the development that the bluegrass genre and its father has undergone in the years up to Bill Monroe´s passing. I am waiting for the biography to come out. I dearly love the Bill Monroe Reader (Tom Ewing as editor).

    What will Bill Monroe be remembered for is what Bill Graham asked.

    - All will remember him as the father of bluegrass music (even though some may claim the advent of bluegrass with the incorporation of Earl Scruggs in the Bluegrass Boys)

    - All will remember Bill Monroe for a charismatic figure (wether you may like it or not; and this is what strikes up the controversy)

    - All will remember him as a powerfull musician. (There will allways be a controversy about his mandolin playing even though I dare anyone who critizises Monroe´s style to try to copy it first and see how far they will go)

    - Many will see him as a forerunner of the music that allmost bore his downfall, namely Rock and Roll. (all the early Rock & Rollers held Monroe in high esteem; though nowadays pop musicians may not give a dang confronted with the music they cannot and will not deny an impact)

    - A lesser number of people will be able to apreciate the true musical input that the incredible amount of original Monroe numbers have (mostly musicians and among them the mandolin players).

    If this can be common consensus I am satisfied. I don´t think it is necessary to love (bluegrass) acoustic music to idolize a person or do damn him for his personal behaviour.

    What strikes me and what deems me to be important for the future is that the/any controversy about Bill Monroe (be it academic or otherwise) will bring publicity for the musc. This then enables a further development. As the times go on and as more and more contemporaries of Bill Monroe pass on studies and research will turn more and more into speculation as it has happened with composers like Mozart etc. To research, do speculate and to discuss the man and the music will keep the genre alive.

    My personal recollection about Bill Monroe is an Opry concert in the year of 1994. I went withoug expectation to see an old man to perform his own music. Bill Monroe (and him personaly) had a stage personality and had put on a show that exceeded by far what I had seen in any public event (pop, rock, classical music, theatre) ever. When the show was over and the lights faded I noticed that someone took Bill Monroe and helped from the stage; he was that fragile (from the recently received injury I suppose). Not only have I enjoyed the show, I learned a great deal about showmanship and public adress. (And I listen to other music apart from bluegrass - enough to not get stuck in a rut)

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    Howling at the moon Wolfboy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    Quote Originally Posted by grassrootphilosopher View Post
    Richard Smith (Dick Smith of the Country Gentlemen fame?)
    Not the same Richard Smith.

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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    One needs to read Butch Robbins' book as well ..he offers some insight on the Monroe persona.

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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    I've read both book a couple of times each & enjoyed both thoroughly. In "Can't You Hear Me Callin'",you get a 'warts & all' picture of Bill Monroe,which IMHO,that's how it should be.
    If you really want to know & understand the man (as much as we can by reading !),a sanitised life story would be half the story.
    If you think that Richard D.Smith's book blows the 'gentlemanly' image of Bill Monroe away,don't ever read "Nashville Babylon" (unless you already have). That book does more than 'tarnish' a few images of Country music stars. I think the only reason that the author (Randall Reise)wasn't sued off the planet,is that all the stuff was true & well known about.
    Compared to the lifestyle of many great musicians past & present & in all genres of music,Bill Monroe's few 'dalliances' with ladies is nothing to shout about & as Grassroots... says,who are we to judge - ''let him who is without sin etc'',
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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    I thoroughly enjoyed the book when I first read it, and often reread selected chapters from time to time. I first heard and saw Monroe in the late 1960s and always remained a fan. I am never turned off by knowing the details of a musician's personal life - good or bad, I figure their actions helped shape the music they made, and should be known. I didn't know Monroe, but witnessed a couple incidents when around him that caused me to raise an eyebrow; Smith's book put what I saw in perspective. In general, I thought that Smith handled a delicate subject with kindness and the respect that Monroe deserved. Some of the stories even made me laugh. I find it more of a problem when the fans of prominent figures refuse to allow any negative comments about their hero.

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    Smile Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    I've never read the book, but enjoyed Bill Graham's article. While it's obvious that Bill Monroe was a womanizer the only question I would have to ask is this: for all of the women who permitted themselves to be used, how many others thought enough of themselves to just tell him to get lost? As my mother always said, "It takes two to tango." I guess the bottom line is that Bill Monroe should be appreciated for his bluegrass contributions. If you look at any celebrity...or any human being for that matter...there is always going to be a chink in their armor. People will always disappoint us in some way...it's just human nature.

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    Registered User Brian Ray's Avatar
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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    I'm not sure why Sting's female relations are seen as cool and Monroe's blasphemous... but whatever.

    Dick Smith's book is trash. If you like that sort of thing, great; he wrote it for you. While struggling through the book myself, it was the author, and not Monroe, who came off poorly. I remember thinking numerous times what an a-hole the author must be.

    Not shockingly then, I also disagree with Mr. Graham's assessment of the situation. If some dude you had a cup of coffee with once, started airing dirty laundry about you, how might that make you feel? If said dude did the same to someone you care about, after they'd died, how might THAT make you feel? I'm not sure what that's supposed to heal.

    And now this is how we get to celebrate Bill Monroe's birthday, seemingly every year... talking about some Dick's book. Sadness.

    Happy early birthday Mon!

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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    Quote Originally Posted by lorrainehornig View Post
    . . . If you look at any celebrity...or any human being for that matter...there is always going to be a chink in their armor. People will always disappoint us in some way...it's just human nature.
    "Human nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put here to rise above."

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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    Quote Originally Posted by dasspunk View Post
    ...Dick Smith's book is trash. If you like that sort of thing, great; he wrote it for you. While struggling through the book myself, it was the author, and not Monroe, who came off poorly. I remember thinking numerous times what an a-hole the author must be….
    Couldn't disagree more. If including details about the personal life, of the subject of a biography, makes it "trash," then most of the bios I've read have been "trash."

    While Can't You Hear Me Callin' is far from perfect, it is, IMHO, an honest attempt to present the story of a complex, flawed, wildly talented and determined musician, who made a lasting permanent impression on American music. The ups and downs of Monroe's life surely influenced his music, and by extension, the music of all who play, enjoy, or follow bluegrass music.

    No one's reading the book for prurient interest. I read it to get a broader, more detailed view of a musician whose creativity has greatly influenced my own musical life. Recognizing that it's one writer's perspective, and that any such book necessarily emphasizes some aspects, omits others, and cannot possibly be the "entire picture," I found it enjoyable, enlightening, and useful.

    We can be fans of Bill Monroe without idealizing him. It's Twitter-active teens who can't stand to hear anything bad about One Direction or Miley Cyrus. The "dirty laundry" part of Can't You Hear Me Callin' is not the raison d'etre for the book; it's not a "tell-all expose'," just an attempt to cover the entire life of an important figure. Smith's high regard for Bill Monroe is evident throughout. Monroe's life was an amazing journey; his music endures, and the fact that he wasn't a saint is not anything we should get worked up over -- again, IMHO.
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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    Quote Originally Posted by jaycat View Post
    "Human nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put here to rise above."

    --Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen.
    Ahh, yes, jaycat...how right you are. We strive...but alas, we often fail. All we can do is persevere.

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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    Quote Originally Posted by grassrootphilosopher View Post
    Why does it offend the bluegrass enthusiast. It does because we (I do include myself to some degree) see a purity in the music that sings of the ups and downs in life, of love, labor and death.
    There's another big challenge in respecting the man and the music for me personally. In many of his songs, he directly states the personal truth of these stories. He portrays himself in these songs in a very personal light as a victim and he reaffirms the truth of them. When these songs like "Little Georgia Rose" about his daughter, who he refused to recognize in most circumstances and he blamed Bessie, the girl's mother for stealing his beloved baby away. He confirms that it's a true story and then goes on to slander the girl's mother. I find that particularly difficult to swallow and while I enjoy the song and keep on thinking about adding it to my repetoir, I can't help think to myself while singing it that it's a really vile piece of history to keep repeating.

    I have similar thoughts about Sweet Sunny South. Love that song, but once I learned it was a minstrel song about missing the days of slavery, I've been a bit hesitant to recommend it at jam sessions.

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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    Quote Originally Posted by KEB View Post
    There's another big challenge in respecting the man and the music for me personally. In many of his songs, he directly states the personal truth of these stories. He portrays himself in these songs in a very personal light as a victim and he reaffirms the truth of them.
    Many maybe, but not all.

    "Mistreated you... for that I'm sorry. Come back to me is my request."

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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    You mean Bill was human!!!! Imagine that.

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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    A charismatic, famous musician philandered? Shocking.
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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post

    No one's reading the book for prurient interest.
    If they were, they'd be sorely disappointed.

    It is unbelievably mild, inoffensive stuff compared to many biographies.

    The alternative to including some "distasteful" (to some) facts is either not writing a book at all, or producing something as sterilized, anodyne and - frankly - boring and full of self-promotion as Ricky Skagg's recent tome. I know which I prefer. Nothing wrong with a "warts and all" biog - but don't just rely on one source before forming a conclusion, consult everything available and make your own mind up.
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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    Nearly three year old string here!!

    Yesterday I re-read the Bill Graham essay that this tread is addressing and wondered if anyone knows how a person might contact Mr. Graham,the author?

    If memory serves he lives in Kansas City, Mo but I am not sure of that. His name is too common to accurately search him out on line without knowing his place of residence for certain.

    My question for him pertains to where one might find copies of the "True Life Stories" he refers to in the essay. Apparently these stories were a creation of Tom Ewing and Sandy Rothman and deal with the early days of Bluegrass and Bill Monroe in particular. I'd like to find and read them.

    If anyone knows where they are published I would be interested in knowing as well!
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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    Bill Graham used to be member here. We've PM back & forth, years ago. The PMs seem to be lost, possibly after some upgrade, but no matter. I though Bill wrote for the Kansas City Star (. . that's what I are.)

    But like I said, time marches on. Probably retired. All the Best

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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    Bill Graham is alive and well. Writing and taking pics for Missouri Department of Conservation. Also wrote this column earlier this year for the Cafe.
    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/co...ed-Instruments

    I still stand by my Monroe column referenced above. Though my love of the man and his music continues to deepen with time. And the other doesn't matter much, though it's nice to have understanding.
    I still believe Richard Smith's biography of Monroe is excellent.

    Regarding the Ewing and Rothman articles referenced above, I was provided materials by them and several other people prior to writing that essay. But I no longer have at hand. I would suggest you search the net for a connection to Sandy Rothman.

    I have an all-original songs CD, West Missouri Ramble, if anyone is interested.
    Meanwhile, pick on and maybe see some of you at Winfield.

    Bill Graham

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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    Quote Originally Posted by OldSausage View Post
    I can't think of any other genre of music where this sort of stuff would even raise an eyebrow, but perhaps there are some.
    Read Art Pepper's autobio, Straight Life. Pepper was the great West Coast alto sax player. If even half the book is true, it's shocking.

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    Default Re: Curative Talk For a True Life - Discussion

    That Art Pepper biog was a formative reading experience for me as a teenager. I'll never know for sure what his writing saved me from, but I think it's a big reason I never trusted myself enough to try anything like he did. Highly recommend that book.
    Eoin



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