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National Editorials & Columns

Playing the banjo: Music to my ears

It has officially been six months since many of you set a New Year’s resolution, either through the exercise of free will or through the sheer force of another. You probably made the declaration to family, friends and even co-workers, perhaps seeking attention or praise. But a half-year removed most of you have probably fallen victim to your vice of choice or thrown said resolution to the wayside.

Now all of the family, friends and even co-workers you stated your resolution to now view you as a feeble-minded fool who lacks the stick-to-itiveness to stand by your decisions. A lot of you probably vowed to quit smoking cigarettes, stop drinking beer on the weekdays, swearing off fast food or calling it cold turkey on the caffeine and coffee.

Not me. I’m still doing all of those things.

Making resolutions never made sense to me anyway. Look at me! Do you think I need help with setting myself up for failure? No, no, no, I have that covered. But late last year I awoke from a lucid fever nightmare in a cold sweat and proclaimed into the darkness these very words: “I will learn how to play the banjo.”

Then I threw up on the floor.

A few days later when the fever left I scraped up 150 bucks and went out and bought a hand-me-down banjo. That was the easy part. My resolution should have been, “I will buy a banjo.” Buying an instrument (or looking at one in befuddled and hopeless amazement) is not nearly as difficult as learning how to play an instrument. Let me tell y’all, I am the Earl Scruggs of looking at my banjo.

In theory, I thought the transition from playing the guitar for the past 20 years to picking and grinning with a new stringed instrument would be a piece of cake. But just like the ancient Chinese proverb proclaims, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

Hard work, hours of dedicated perseverance and tedious practicing?

Like most people who aren’t immediately good at something, I detest all of those ideals.

But I decided to learn to play the banjo because — and this is a hilarious story — I sustained an incredibly egregious hand wound when I was younger. My right, dominant hand became caught, clawed and mauled by a rabid meat cuber. What’s a meat cuber? The short answer is something you never want to get your hand caught in.

As funny as all of this sounds, I am, literally, lucky to be typing this sentence right now with the use of a right hand that’s firmly attached to my body. However, the aspect of having a prosthetic hook for a right hand is not without its own charms.

I never play my banjo within earshot or eyeshot of the general public unless it’s my wife, Christine, and only her because she took a vow to put up with me for the rest of her natural life. That’s because my capabilities at actually playing the banjo are vastly outweighed by how annoying a person learning a banjo can be. I mean, let’s face it the banjo gets about as much love as bagpipes do.

Banjo hatred seems to span the species barrier, too — my four felines are terrified of the doggone thing. I usually only exclusively play my banjo around my kitties as I sing twangy, impromptu kitty songs to them that I make up on the spot. Most of the time my four cats scatter in four different directions. When they do I stalk them around house as I play banjo-related chase music.

One time my poor banjo rested unattended on the couch and I witnessed one of my kitties, Thumper, walk right up to it and attack it in a fury of furry paw strikes.

So it seems that nobody is thrilled with my banjo except me. But I really have to hand it to myself because I made a resolution and I continue to stick with it.

So steer clear, ladies and gentlemen, for I have a banjo and I’m clearly not afraid to use it.

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