The personal website of Chris Coyier

Give Me The Banjo

Somehow, despite being a banjo enthusiast, I’d never heard of or seen the documentary Give Me The Banjo. I fixed that last night. It was spectacularly good. Preview of it:

It’s narrated by Steve Martin.

Yes, that Steve Martin. He’s plays the banjo. I bet you knew that. It’s kind of a funny scourge on banjo players right now. You can’t tell anybody that you play the banjo without them asking you if you knew that Steve Martin plays the banjo. Yes, yes I did. Steve is a fantastic narrator for the film though.

I liked how it took them a good portion of the film to even get to an era that might be considered old time banjo. Extra ironic, now that I think about it. Most people think of Bluegrass when they think of the banjo but history will see that as a phase it went through.

Great quote by Pete Seeger:

It’s a rhythmic instrument. The banjo is a rhythmic instrument. […] This banjo can do things that the guitar can’t do. You can get these needle points of time, needle points like a star in the sky. And here’s what a banjo does with a melody. You know there’s thousands of stars out there, but you can pick out a constellation among them. So here you’re hearing a lot of notes but somehow there’s a melody to them.

The film takes it’s name from a great Mark Twain quote:

The piano may do for love-sick girls who lace themsleves to skeletons, and lunch on chalk, pickles and slate pencils. But give me the banjo. Gottschalk compared to Sam Pride or Charley Rhoades, is as a Dashaway cocktail to a hot whisky punch. When you want genuine music — music that will come right home to you like a bad quarter, suffuse your system like strychnine whisky, go right through you like Brandreth’s pills, ramify your whole constitution like the measles, and break out on your hide like the pin-feather pimples on a picked goose, — when you want all this, just smash your piano, and invoke the glory-beaming banjo!

Here’s another documentary I need to make time to watch: