From The Side of the Road… is synecdoche really a word?

I was recently sent a press release about a song that claimed it’s the “Hotel California of bluegrass” (because you can never leave?), and it got me thinking about these kinds of comparisons: “The American Pie of Bluegrass,” “The Mick Jagger of Bluegrass,” “The Don King of Bluegrass” (for a festival promoter), etc. 

There’s no harm in this. Sometimes it helps us look at aspects of the music in a new way. Mostly it’s a non-serious kind of comparison we just find amusing. One of my favorites was used to describe East Tennessee DJ Mike Kelly, who billed himself as “The Howard Stern of Bluegrass Gospel,” thus establishing himself as the undisputed leader of the bluegrass Gospel “shock jock” market.

I also loved when, on a live album, Homer & Jethro referred to themselves as “The Everly Brothers of the Stone Age.”

Naturally, this form of comparison isn’t unique to bluegrass music or music in general. In the literary world, this is part of a broader category of figures of speech known as “synecdoche.” I don’t ever plan to use this word again (until I looked it up, I thought “Synecdoche” was a city in New York State, not far from Albany).

Nashville claims to be “The Athens of the South,” which has always led me to wonder what that makes Athens, Tennessee (“The Nashville of McMinn County”?), and where does that leave Athens, Greece? Nashville does have a replica of the Parthenon; perhaps some Greek entrepreneur could develop a whole simulated Beale Street in downtown Athens, with the goal of billing Athens as “The Memphis of Greece.” This would confuse everybody but might employ more Greek blues bands that could really use the work.

The legendary Nashville radio station WSM refers to itself as “The Air Castle of the South,” a claim no one disputes, especially since no one has any idea what an “air castle” actually is.

Maybe we should be using this descriptive device more often in our website bios and press releases, especially as we’re trying to avoid some of the overused adjectives we’ve discussed in previous columns.

It’s probably a good idea not to aim too high because it can come off as presumptuous. For that reason, you might want to avoid referring to your own band as “The Beatles of Bluegrass,” or your band’s lead singer as “The Elvis of Bluegrass” (unless he’s really got the moves and/or the jumpsuits).

However, if you’re about to release a new album that has a lot of songs on it but is lacking any ideas for cover design, you might try getting away with calling it “The White Album of Bluegrass.”

Here are a few other ideas:

If you’ve written a song that’s really long or involves a lot of death at sea, go ahead and call it “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald of Bluegrass.” If you have a song that involves fighting or avoiding a fight, call it “The Beat It of Bluegrass.”

Related to this, if you have a dancer in your band, you can try referring to him or her as “The Michael Jackson of Buckdancing.”

Do you have a short bandleader with dictator-like tendencies? “The Napoleon of Bluegrass.”

If you have a bandleader who is less short but also with dictator-like tendencies and a fondness for taking his shirt off: “The Vladimir Putin of Bluegrass.”

Does your bandleader have dictator-like tendencies (are you picking up on a theme here?) and a huge shoe collection? Try “The Imelda Marcos of Bluegrass.”

Do you have a tenor singer with a powerful voice? Consider “The Pavarotti of Bluegrass Tenor.”

If you have a guitar player who’s playing is on the notey side, you could go for a more obscure (and more Swedish) reference by calling him “The Yngwie Malmsteen of Bluegrass.”

A female vocalist with husky tone? “The Kim Carnes of Bluegrass.”

And, for a banjo player who does a bent-knee strut across the stage: “The Chuck Berry of the 5-string Banjo.” (Note: the instrument is so heavy that unless you’re Little Roy Lewis, you shouldn’t attempt stage moves of any kind with a banjo. They often lead to serious injury or death).

Does your band’s stage MC use humor that relies heavily on insulting the other band members? How about “The Don Rickles of Bluegrass”?

Finally, if your band has a mandolin player who sings tenor, plays a Lloyd Loar mandolin, and is fond of singing The Mule Skinner Blues, you should refer to him as “The Bill Monroe of Bluegrass.”