I have said many times, one of the appeals of bluegrass music is the stories, and there are many recurring themes, some of which I have outlined in previous columns.
One of the most touching recurring themes that have touched me over the years is the love of the home land, or the home place (sometimes referred to as the “old home place”).
In bluegrass lore, many a young man (it’s usually a young man) has been tempted to leave the cradle of his birth to explore the world. Sometimes this wanderlust is precipitated by heartache (a love lost), but often the reason for the drive to leave the old home place is not so well articulated. Regardless, the hero of the story foolishly leaves home to seek his fortune or adventure in the big wide world.
So what happens?
Invariably the protagonist of the story, regrets having left, and this regret frames the story. Sometimes the sense of loss is just for the sights, sound and smells of home, but sometimes, it extends to coming back home to finding a complete ruin where the beloved home used to be (see “Old Home Place” or “Love of the Mountains”).
This is not a new sentiment. Back in the very early 1900’s, Thomas Wolfe coined the phrase “You can’t go home again”, and the implications of this go way beyond a specific cabin or ‘home place”.
It boils down (I think) to a very human tendency to think that how things used to be are superior to how things are now. We used to make fun of our grandparents for getting caught up in the “good old days” but we are all guilty of this as we get older. The past, obscured by the rose-colored glasses of memory, become a magical time when no one locked their doors, and everyone had respect for their elders.
It’s probably true that past was simpler, but simple doesn’t necessarily mean better. The past we worship was simpler, yes, but it also included sorrows, prejudices and other bad aspects that magically disappear in the gauzy view of the past.
We all want to go home somehow, and that’s natural and makes good fodder for songs, old and new. But the “home” of years past will almost always disappoint if the goal is to realize all the memories and pleasures of years gone by. Things can’t remain the same, but that doesn’t mean the old home place can’t be the source for new – and just as wonderful — memories!