Hand washing tips for bluegrassers

This might be a good time for a disclaimer: Though it isn’t labeled this way, this weekly thing I write here is meant to be a humor column. I’m occasionally troubled by responses I get, both positive and negative: “How could you suggest that bands hire people based on the previous member’s jacket size?! That has NOTHING to do with their musical ability. That’s SHAMEFUL!!!!” or “Thank you for the valuable insight. I appreciate your informative articles.” I’m seriously concerned about that second reader’s well-being, if he or she is still alive at all.

Let me also add, then, that any lighter look at aspects of the Covid-19 scare is just that: a lighter look. I’m concerned, as we all are, and want to remind all Bluegrass Today readers who are well and able-bodied to be thinking of and looking out for all those who aren’t. Those are the people who are at serious risk right now, and those are the people we are rightly taking precautions for. It’s a great time to be thinking beyond your own needs and inconvenience as so many are admirably doing right now.

This is a situation that has already had a big impact on bluegrass music: shows are cancelled for the next couple of months at least, just as festival season is cranking up. Professional bluegrass musicians, who are often living gig-to-gig, are suffering a painful blow, because this comes right on top of the leanest part of the year. If your paycheck is unaffected right now, think of ways you can be supportive of those who are making the music you love.

Next week, after I go through my first full week of gig-less isolation myself, I’ll share a few thoughts about how best to cope with that unusual situation. Anyone who takes any of that advice literally will do so at his or her peril.

This week I just wanted to offer a couple of hand-washing tips. Since hand sanitizer is still largely unavailable except on the black market through a guy who goes by the name of “The Finger,” we are having to wash our hands a lot. My band and I just concluded our last two shows until sometime in May if we’re lucky, and at the end of the weekend, everyone’s hands were looking red and chapped. We may soon have to go to “The Finger” for hand lotion, too.

There is so much medical misinformation out there right now, it’s best to believe nothing except what comes directly from the CDC web site. No, drinking bleach will not cure Coronavirus (though it will make your insides nice and white); and no, Corona beer is not dangerous to drink.  Also, licking the inside of a banjo resonator and then shouting “Red Smiley Red Smiley Red Smiley!” will also not cure or prevent anything, even if it’s kind of fun.

What is generally accepted fact, though, is that soap and hot water are quite effective at cleaning viruses off your hands. You need to do it thoroughly and well, however. The recommendation I keep hearing is that you should sing Happy Birthday twice through to make sure you’re washing your hands long enough. Singing happy birthday to Don Stover seems to make this more effective for some reason.

The problem is it’s easy to get sick of Happy Birthday. Generally, even on my own birthday, I’m pretty good with just once around, then skipping right to cake-cutting. The fact is, the song was chosen somewhat arbitrarily, but also because everybody knows the song, with the possible exception of people born on February 29th, or people who have declined all birthday party invitations throughout their entire lives. If I sang happy birthday twice every time I washed my hands during this Covid-19 pandemic, I would quickly have strong incentive to avoid washing my hands, and that’s not a good thing.

What’s more important is that we find a way to measure about 20 seconds while washing. We, as bluegrass fans, have lots alternatives to Happy Birthday which would work just as well. We need look no further than the Bill Monroe catalog:

Try singing the first verse plus yodel of Monroe’s arrangement of the Mule Skinner Blues. Make sure to keep the spaces; for example, give “morning” that full four beats. And don’t rush the song, otherwise you’ll only be washing your hands about 15 seconds, but at a nice medium tempo, verse plus yodel one time through should do it. If you tell me you can’t yodel, I would simply reply that I just washed my hands in the men’s room at Dulles airport the other day, and believe me, a lot of people can’t sing happy birthday either. That’s not the point.

Another Bill Monroe choice: one verse of Little Cabin Home on the Hill. Again, don’t rush it as so often happens in jam sessions. Feel it. Savor it. This might be a good time to go back and listen to the Bill Monroe original with Lester Flatt singing. That verse is exactly 20 seconds long.

For those inclined that way, you can also sing the chorus of Wagon Wheel twice (or maybe just once because it already feels like twice) but this is only recommended when in complete self-isolation, and then there’s less need for hand-washing anyway.