I kind of have a thing for the banjo. It ranks right up there on my musical instrument crush list with the tamborine, harmonica, and Spanish guitar.
So I'm here to tell you today that you need to stop limiting the banjo to your Mark Twain memories of those days of yore. And I beg you to stop connecting it to the movie "Deliverance." Open your eyes to reality, my friends: The banjo is happening. It's hip, it's hep, it's now. It's beautiful.
My banjo'nesing began back when I was living in Boston. There was an older man who used to play at the Park Street T-station: a kindly Santa Claus figure sitting on an overturned milk crate on the Red Line platform. His banjo music sweetened my wait for the train ride home.
When I moved to Brooklyn last year, I took an early morning walk on my first Sunday in the new neighborhood. The streets were mostly quiet and empty - the stroller patrols weren't up and about yet. As I strolled down a few blocks to get some coffee, I passed The Gate and noticed a hipster guy in a hat, smiling and holding a banjo. (Bonus crush points for a fella possessing both a hat AND a banjo!) He settled onto the bench outside of the bar and started strumming the 5-string, and I thought "Hey, maybe me and Brooklyn are going to get along just fine."1
But lest you think the banjo's popularity is limited only to public transportation and the early morning street corner scene, let me set you straight - the banjo is fast becoming a modern-day media darling as well.
Case in point: You may not know this about my boyfriend2, but Mr. Ed Helms plays a mean banjo. For realsies. And this banjo player is now starring in a hit movie! The Hangover topped the box-office this weekend and it's playing in a theater near you. While I can't exactly endorse a movie that I have not yet seen myself (don't tell Ed!), I can certainly endorse a banjo player (God love 'em).
While we're speaking of banjos and theaters near you, a movie I can endorse is the latest from my mentor3, the irreverent and ribald Will Ferrell. Without giving too much away, let me just toss out this teaser: there is a scene in "Land of the Lost" (just go in with low expectations, you'll be fine) where Will sings a campfire song while accompanying himself on a banjo. Delightful. Unfortunately, this big-screen banjo moment is followed immediately by one of the grossest scenes in the movie. (Just close your eyes, you'll be fine.)
If I have not quite convinced you of the banjo's "it" factor thus far, let me name-drop a little further. Steve Martin. Yeah, that's right, you heard me - this wild and crazy guy, respected comedian and published author has just released a banjo cd. If Steve is on board with the banjo, who can be against it?
The banjo is here, it has arrived. So let's all pause and drink in a little banjo'y, care of Steve, Bela Fleck, et al:
1Postscript: Brooklyn and I did not, in fact, get along just fine, hence our hasty break-up eight months later. But early Sunday morning forays for coffee did remain my favorite times in the 'hood, banjo encounter or no.
2In the same way that he
3You betcha he doesn't know that he's my mentor. Yet.