9/27/16 Debates and Mandolins

group-4Yes, I watched the debate. I was not impressed. Hillary promises things she can’t deliver while claiming her plan will create millions of jobs without increasing the national debt by raising taxes on the wealthy. Trump promises to create millions of jobs by cutting taxes on corporations. Neither one is likely to do either one. I am not happy about our choices, but this is not the first time Americans have been faced with two dunderheads. We will survive and prosper as a nation if we can manage to pull in the same direction. I sure wish we had a bridge builder available to us. All we seem to have are divisors. E Pluribus Unum has devolved into Divide et Expugnare.

I had such a good time at the Monroe Mandolin Camp. For five days I had nothing but a diet of Bill Monroe, Bill Monroe influences, and the Bill Monroe influenced. If you are a fan of Bluegrass music and you don’t like Bill Momike-heidinroe, I can’t help but think you have missed something critically urgent.

The venue was Nashville’s beautiful Scarritt-Bennet Center, adjacent to Vanderbilt University. The stone buildings, the chapel, the dining hall, the vaulted ceilings, walnut beams and paneling were breathtaking. The food served was delicious. The worst meal I had was excellent.

I enjoyed meeting new friends, revisiting old friends, and getting to know some of the people I met last year even better. There were some who came last year who were unable to attend this year and were sorely missed (Terry Bullin, Tom Woodley, Haley Brewer . . .) but I hope they can mteachers-luthiers1ake it next year.

This year’s instructors were all superb: Adam Tanner, Richie Brown, Mark Royal, Lauren Price, David Davis, Alan O’Bryant giving banjo classes, and of course, our host instructor, Mike Compton. Watching the work of luthiers Will Kimble, Lynn Dudenbostel, and Paul Duff was a treat.

It’s those side conversations we decide to strike up where we get to know someone better, and learn who they are as a person and not as just a face or a name on a badge, that bind us as free-associated members of a unique fraternity. If we invest a little time, we discover that we have more in common with each other than the music of Bill Monroe. We may just find that we have uncovered a kindred spirit, in music, in humor, in other shared likes, and in the pleasure of each other’s company. Every time we do that, the world gets just a little bit smaller, as we soon have fri20160914_115003ends that reach into the far corners of the earth, from neighboring states, to states a whole continent away, to whole continents away. They carry home with them their memories of us, giving a little piece of us a presence in their own homes, wherever they may be. I am thankful for this.

scarritbennet2I remember so many smiling faces. About the only time there were not smiles on faces were when students were struggling to learn new licks on their mandolins. At first there were frowns of concern, grimaces of despair as they wrestled with their fingers on the fingerboard, but then smiles like sunbeams breaking through gray clouds as they worked those new licks out, and immersed themselves in the music.

The skill levels of the students went from those who had just purchased a mandolin a few weeks before to those who were journeymen and artists. No one judges your skill, or condescends. Everyone wants everyone to learn, and we can all learn, we must all learn, If we don’t learn, then we soon learn to our dismay that we have reached our final destination. While I am a veteran musician, I am certainly a learner. And though I did not take my mandolin out of its case the entire time I was there, since I was there to play rhythm guitar for all those mandolinists, I have been practicing my mandolin like a madman ever since I got back. Tonight, as I watched the debate streaming over the internet, I played Bill Monroe’s Tombstone Junction over and over. It seemed a fitting tune.

lauren5I will not take the risk of naming the musicians I enjoyed the most, for there were too many, and I might leave someone out. I particularly enjoyed seeing the progress the youngsters had made since last year’s camp. I also particularly enjoyed the conversations I had with luthiers Will Kimble and Lynn Dudenbostel. Last year Will was simply a nice guy I met. This year he became a friend I will keep for the rest of my life. There is no way to place a value on this type of experience. Our relationships with people are about the only thing we will carry with us when we leave this place. I’d be interested in acquiring a few more good ones before I go. Who wouldn’t?

20160918_080543I heard a bit of politics discussed during the camp, but it stayed pretty amicable. There were, of course, folks on all sides of the political spectrum, but we all found common ground in Bill Monroe. Bill would have liked that, that his “powerful music” was a unifier, though in the real world of Bluegrass, there is much division, even division over things that are a matter of taste, and why we let personal tastes divide us is a powerfully curious thing.

“I don’t like liver,” I once said in a conversation where liver came up.

“But you’ve never eaten my liver,” someone replied, “Smothered in gravy and onions. Delicious!”

“No, I haven’t eaten your onion gravy smothered liver,” I replied, “which I’m sure is delicious to those who like liver, but there is the underlying liver thing that will no doubt be a problem for me.”

“Not MY liver,” they insisted.

Does your liver haveliver liver in it?” I asked.

Of course,” they said, rolling their eyes at such an obvious question, but sometimes the obvious needs to be stated.

If your liver has liver in it, then I won’t like it because I don’t like liver, no matter how cleverly it is disguised. I take a bite, and as it gets larger and larger in my mouth and I try to swallow it, it just will not go down. Something inside of me rejects liver out of hand. If you took the liver out, I may like it just fine. Despite the most careful and diligent preparation, it is still liver, and I don’t like liver, except, perhaps, as catfish bait since the catfish seem to like it just fine.”

After having said that, I remember just a few paragraphs earlier that I somewhat castigated Bluegrass fans who do not like Bill Monroe. I repent of that, but will never understand it. It is not the same thing as being a country music fan and not liking Luke Bryan: For Luke Bryan is not country music. Bill Monroe, on the other hand, is Bluegrass music, though perhaps a bit too raw for some who prefer smoothly blended lightly roasted cafe au lait with lots of sugar who just can’t seem to get the significance of espresso. It all boils down to taste. In some cases, it boils down to a lack of it.

I go back to Houston on October 10. My ruxolitinib has failed me. All my symptoms have returned. I won’t enumerate them all here, but the only one that has not returned is the night sweats, and I am Ruxolitinibthankful for that. The rest of them have steadily increased until they are almost at par with their previous levels…not quite, but almost. On my last visit to Gooday, they had started to resurface, but only slightly. Nurse Sarah, the research nurse for the trial I am on, said that they could increase my dosage of the ruxolitinib. I was not ready for that then, but I sure am ready for it now. It’s not that the returned symptoms are worse than before, it’s that they returned after having been gone, which has magnified their recurrence where before no magnification was possible as I had nothing to compare. I am taking 10 milligrams of Ruxolitnib twice a day. A larger dose will mean an increased possibility of unwanted side-effects, but I am ready to return to my July and August levels of NO symptoms and feeling like my pre-leukemia self, if that is possible.

I think those cancer cells are like the cockroach that the bug spray didn’t kill. It lives to breed and its offspring and their offspring are immune to the bug spray. Whatever it is in the genetic makeup of cockroach that let it survive is the very thing that lets this genetic resistance pass on. Much like the feral hogs I love to hunt. We killed off the stupid ones years ago. Only the wary and smart ones survived to breed, though even a smart hog can make a stupid mistake from time to time, and revealing himself to me is certainly a stupid mistake for a hog to make; he will be culled form the gene pool. They get smarter and smarter, just like those malignant B cells.

I am not complaining. I am thankful. Thankful for doctors and their nurses, thankful for miracle drugs, thankful for the opportunity to serve in a clinical trial in a world class research hospital, testing the efficacy of a drug that may well be beneficial for thousands in the years to come, and thankful that they can give me a larger dose. I have tolerated the ruxolitinib well, so a larger dose is in order, I think. We’ll see what Gooday has to say about it.

IN the meantime, I will play my mandolin. After having laid off the banjo for over a year because of pain in my hands and fingers, I am getting back up to speed, finally, though the returning joint and bone pain seem determined to undo my progress. I doubt I will ever have the speed I once had, and am old enough now to think the speed I do have is plenty. I cannot play at 170 beats per minute, but I no longer want to hear very much 170 beats per minute music. A slower pace suits me just fine.

I am rambling now, but I stared out rambling. I suppose, like Robert Johnson, I got Rambling on My Mind.

Vote your conscience, even if the conscience of the candidates seems to be hard to find!

©2016 Mississippi Chris Sharp

PS: Many, many thanks to Heidi Herzog for all her hard work, coordination, and planning. She made things run smoothly, and even when they didn’t to her way of thinking, the bumps were invisible to us. Thank you, Heidi!

Thanks to Brian Reed for sharing some photos shown here, including the one of he and me, me in my Ole Miss shirt right before Ole Miss blew a 21 point lead over Alabama. (Woe! Woe! Woe!)

PPS! Thanks to Marty Lanham for his gracious hospitality. I enjoyed marty-lanham-and-my-d-18every minute of my visit with him.

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