Banjo Ties

January 27, 2009

News comes that my grown son, Zachary, is learning the banjo. I knew that like me he loves the instrument’s sound — singular and echoing and mournful. Not discordant but of the earth in the way the guitar and other stringed instruments are not. I didn’t know he harbored ambition to make music.

The news made me wonder whether musical tastes are genetically linked. For two people born thirty-five years apart, we share remarkably similar likes when it comes to bands. In our personal relationship we’ve had plenty of differences over the years, but we delight in exposing each other to our individual discoveries of singers.

But what about the banjo? the instrument I half-heartedly tried to learn in junior high school while my two younger brothers and father became very good guitar players? I had to be different, further cementing my role as the family outsider. Even now I occasionally vow to try the instrument again. Maybe Zack is destined to do what I didn’t.

I picture him as Otis Taylor brushing and bruising the string, resurrecting its African roots, or Sufjan Stevens in the video below, accenting his elegiac songs with hauntingly subdued playing. Or better yet, Zack sounding his own way through the world.

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