So I said to Alison…

Chris JonesI addressed the issue of name-dropping early on in the life of this column. Bela said he was pretty happy with it, so I felt no need to follow up. Dan and Suzanne had also given it their stamp of approval (as you may recall, Dan was executive director of the IBMA at the time). When you have people like that in your court, why mess with success?

Still, after getting some fresh input at the IBMA World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, I felt I could offer suggestions for some name-dropping fine tuning.

First, let’s bring it back to the basics and remember what the purpose of name-dropping really is. It’s designed to make you seem more important. That name of someone you consider to be famous or successful is merely a tool to use in the cause of inflating your own stature.

This means you need to establish not only your intimate knowledge of that person, you need to establish his or her intimate knowledge of you.

You’ll notice in the first paragraph, I took care of part A of that equation: I used the name “Bela”, and fortunately, his name is distinctive enough that it’s unnecessary to add the awkward “you know . . . Fleck” (having to clarify by adding the last name is sometimes necessary, especially with names like “John,” “Jason,” or “Alison,” but it can have the same effect as repeating the punch line of a joke because you’re worried no one got it the first time).

I also dropped Dan Hays’ name, and added an additional zinger you might want to add to your name-dropping toolbox: I dropped his wife Suzanne’s name too. The addition of a spouse, member of the family, or even a beloved pet adds impact to your story because it demonstrates that you’re not only on a first name basis with Important Person X, you’re close enough that you’re chummy with members of his or her family. This implies that you’ve probably spent family and/or leisure time together. Perhaps you’ve even all gone on camping trips in the Smokies.

What I failed to do in that first paragraph was drive home how close they are to me. There are different ways to do this, but giving yourself a nickname that seems like one only your closest friends would use, and attributing it to Important Person X is a good start. Something like this could have made my opening statement stronger: “Bela said ‘CJ, you nailed it!’ so I felt no need to follow up.”

Not only does that establish Bela’s closeness to me because he used the “CJ” abbreviation, I now have Bela giving me a big compliment. This is now more about me and my importance than it is about Bela. By the way, in real life, only Rob (you know . . . Ford) calls me “CJ.”

Once you’ve graduated to a more advanced level in this self-important science, it’s time to start thinking about doing a better job of targeting your name-dropping to the audience you’re trying to impress. Below are some specific types of targets for you and some names that would work very effectively in impressing them. In my examples, I’ll try to adhere to the “it’s all about me” principle we’ve been discussing:

  • A traditional bluegrass fan (younger): Junior Sisk. The drop: “Junior told me he loves my new guitar.”
  • A traditional bluegrass fan (older): Carter Stanley. The drop: “Carter sat there for a solid hour and listened to my songs.” (I’ll admit this is pretty over-the-top, but the great advantage of dropping the name of Important Person X, Deceased, is that he’s not around to refute your story.
  • Progressive bluegrass fan (younger): Chris Pandolfi. The drop: “So I was backstage at Merlefest and Panda ran right up to me and said ‘hey (insert “in” nickname here), I didn’t know you were going to be here!” (note: “so I was backstage at Important Event X .  . .” is a good way to begin any advanced name-dropping story.)
  • Progressive bluegrass fan (older): “Have you guys seen Sam and Lynn? They asked me to meet them backstage. There was something they really wanted me to see.” (This refers to Sam and Lynn Bush, and remember that it should be they who want to meet you.)

For the highly advanced, you can try the name-dropping head fake. Just when it seems that you’re dropping one name, add a twist and let them know you’re dropping a different one. This works particularly well when trying to impress the bluegrass historian type. The drop and fake: “I remember the first time I got to meet Lester . . .you know, Woodie, he told me he’d show me the break he played on The Fields Have Turned Brown.

Or, to demonstrate that you’re not a name-dropper to be trifled with, try mixing up your bluegrass heavyweights with celebrities from other walks of life. Take it as a personal challenge to work these names into the same sentence:

Larry Sparks and Derek Jeter

Rhonda Vincent and Matt Lauer

Tim O’Brien and Felipe IV, King of Spain

Please remember to name-drop responsibly. Be looking for new Rosetta Stone-style name-dropping educational software hitting the market soon.

As a matter of fact, Rosetta and I were just discussing that, and . . .