There are some who believe, mistakenly I think, that bluegrass music hasn’t received its due recognition in the mass marketplace because the song lyrics no longer speak to the condition of the average listener in 2018. Others believe its mass popularity is hampered by the fact that not enough people like it.
Leaving aside the argument that the average listener in 2018 is so bombarded by media of all kinds, it’s a wonder that anything but a song about Google searches (Little Google Search on the Hill?) speaks to his or her condition, I believe that bluegrass songs may just need some minor updating rather than sweeping changes.
Some would question how relevant cabin songs or murder ballads are for potential fans today, to which I would answer that they’re plenty relevant. At least two members of my extended family are living in cabins right now. True, only one of them is on a hill or in the mountains, and one of them is more of a cabin-esque ranch home with a three-car garage, but still. They certainly relate to cabin songs. And as for murder, I don’t think I need to tell you that we still have plenty of that today. Maybe we have fewer people throwing girls into the river after stabbing them and poisoning them, but to make up for it, we’re killing a lot more people at once.
I think we would go a long way towards having bluegrass artists sharing the stage with Katy Perry if we would simply update people’s names in bluegrass and traditional songs. Taking a quick look through the catalog of bluegrass standards, I see a lot of women named “Polly,” “Lulu,” “Maggie,” “Corey,” and “Rose Conley” (the one murdered using multiple methods mentioned above).
Taking a look through the list of most popular names given to baby girls so far this year, those names don’t even crack the top 50. We do, however, have plenty of girls named “Savannah,” “Brooklyn,” and other cities with ocean access, like “Portland” or “West Palm Beach.” There’s not a “Bessie” in sight.
I’d like to suggest some lyric changes for some bluegrass standards that might make them just a little more accessible in this era of the selfie and the tweet:
Oh yonder stands little Kaylee, with a dram glass in her hand . . . (to be honest, I have a hard time picturing Kaylee holding a dram glass, so maybe we should substitute “iPhone” or “latte” while we’re at it).
Riley, little Riley come and go along with me . . .
. . . For I did murder that dear little girl whose name was Peyton Grace
Went out last night for to make my round, met little Zoe and I shot her down . . . (although, if I’m honest, “Sadie” did make one top 100 girl’s names list I saw, but it was down in the 90s)
In the silent hour of midnight
In the silence calm and deep
Lying on her mother’s bosom
Little Harper fell asleep
Wake up wake up darling Skyler, why do you sleep so sound? (Skyler had been Snapchatting way too late the night before)
Next week: My Little Furnished Loft on the Hill and McMansions For Me — updating dwelling places in bluegrass music.