Monday, July 21, 2014

Bury Me With A Banjo (And Other Things That Matter)

People who love music in the way that they can't separate it from the rest of life have certain bands and songs that define their existence in a way - if not their existence, at least their way of relating to the world. People with that kind of deep love of music can't separate songs from moments and people and eras of their life in a way that is more emotional and unbreakable than people who just enjoy music. (Not that there's anything wrong with just enjoying music. I mean, it is certainly probably more sane and less painful.)

For me, that band is The Avett Brothers. So much so that I can't really talk about them here or with very many people. I will just say that the first time I heard them play was in a tiny place down near where they are from and I had no idea who they were, but I knew my life would never be the same. And it hasn't been. And that was a whole lot of years before their fame and massive success, which they so richly deserve.

There are a handful of non-Avett songs that I feel similarly deep feelings about - the kind of feelings only a rabid music lover will understand. The only emotional comparison I can make is to the passion of book lovers, but I'm sure there are other examples. Those examples would just be foreign to me. One of those songs is Wagon Wheel. Wagon Wheel was first released (in its completion) on Old Crow Medicine Show's EP Troubles Up And Down The Road (2002, I think) and then on O.C.M.S. in 2004. I love that song. LOVE. It has deep personal significance to me.

First, one of my two best friends in the world is the reason I love Old Crow at all. OCMS and The Avett Brothers are basically the soundtrack of our friendship. Hell, they are the soundtrack of the better part of our last decade.

Second, it is the first lick I learned on banjo. I learned it (with help) before I even left the shop.

Third, I have the lyrics tattooed on my body - the line 'My baby plays the guitar, I pick a banjo now' is etched on my shoulder near the wing of a large sparrow. The opposite side of her carries the Emily Dickinson line, 'Hope is the thing with feathers.'

Fourth, though we have others, Wagon Wheel is, above all, the single song that defines my relationship with my husband. I had those lyrics on my person before we ever met. It is a true line for us. It seems to be a sort of fate.

I said all that in a sort of defensiveness, I suppose. It is a hard thing to love someone's else's art deeply. On the one hand, you want everyone you know to understand why it is so perfect. Or why its imperfections make it perfect. Why it MATTERS in the big sense of the word. On the other hand, when that thing becomes popular, you get defensive of it. You don't want it to be ruined by people for whom it is simply a flash in the pan, however appealing a flash it might be.

Wagon Wheel is not a Darius Rucker song. He was still Hootie when Ketch took that song from Dylan and finished it. And I don't care how many people cover it or try to make it sound like pop music or love it and then get sick of it, I will be humming that song when they carry me to my grave. Hopefully they bury me with a banjo.


  1. I totally agree about Wagon Wheel not being Darius. Also, loved this post!

  2. Well, this explains why your version is my very favorite. When I hum it to myself, it's the Rowdy Folk version I'm hearing in my head.