I assured him that it did, and he showed up some 30 minutes later with a double phonograph album with a busy black and white cover. He showed it to me and asked if I had heard it? No.
It was an album put together by a group called “The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.” The cover read “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” and promised performances by a wide range of famous musicians, including Merle Travis, Jimmy Martin, and Mother Maybelle Carter. Yep, it was Bluegrass-oriented, not the kind of music Brenda liked at all. Maybe this would pay her back for A Clockwork Orange. I was all ears. I knew the “Dirt Band” from a couple of popular hits. Some names I had heard of. For others, a profound surprise awaited me.
I heard, for the first time (I’m ashamed to say) Doc Watson and his son Merle. Oh my. Then the magic kept coming. The producers kept the mikes running during the recordings and the listener enjoyed gems of dialogue like the first meeting between Don Watson and Merle Travis. Merle played and sang “IAm A Pilgrim,” and I almost fainted. Doc and his son did “Way Downtown,” and I began to consider places where I could burn my guitars. Earle Scruggs performed and I resolved someday to learn to play the banjo. Then Roy Acuff sang. We sat and listened, as we enjoyed a beer, to the old, the new, and the curiously arranged.
We sat, not moving, for what seemed like hours and grew more mellow by the minute. The experience would change my life. I finally turned to George with something like “Whatever this is, it’s the most of it ever made.” He agreed. We reached the final ensemble production of the title song, written in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon with music by Charles H. Gabriel. The Carter Family immortalized it later and it still stands as a beacon in Bluegrass gospel circles. It had previously stirred some psychic fear in me due to a woman who used to corner me after church services and, pointing out that my parents weren’t there, hoped aloud that our family circle in Heaven would be unbroken. That all changed that night George played the album for me. It was just music, after all, and music should soothe, not cause despair.
And what did that have to do with me? Maybe it sounds trivial, but for one evening I forgot that in a few weeks I was going to have to stand in front of a church full of people and say “With this ring, I thee wed,” to an angel I had known for less than a year, who was upstairs at the moment sewing her wedding dress. Feeling more relaxed than I had in weeks, I went to bed singing to myself
“I am a pilgrim and a stranger
Traveling through this wearisome land
And I've got a home in that yonder city, good Lord
And it's not (good Lordy it's not) not made by hand.”
|Still a classic|
after all these years.