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Lay for the Day
16th September

1946: the birth of bluegrass. The first fully formed pieces of a fresh type of country music were recorded on this day by Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, with recent recruit Earl Scruggs on banjo, and guitarist and songwriter Lester Flatt singing lead.
Bluegrass was to country somewhat as bebop was to jazz – a startling new high-speed breed with a stress on fleet improvising virtuosity – and both genres grew up pretty much simultaneously, developing through the early Forties and bursting into flower immediately after the end of the Second World War. For bebop the equivalent to this 1946 Monroe session was one on 26th November 1945 at which the “Charlie Parker Ree-Boppers” recorded, among other numbers, ‘Now's the Time’, ‘Billie’s Bounce’ and ‘Koko’.
Poem and image are from The Improvised Version, Vol. 1.

 

Bebop & Bluegrass


Bebop was sitting with his hook thrown in
to the River Mercurius,
fishing for his father’s gold ring.

Bluegrass came down to the opposite bank,
leading his horses to water.
Over the current his voice rang:

”Hey bro, how’s fishing?” From Bebop no word
of reply, so up with a stone
comes Bluegrass to make him attend.

Intent on the bob of his float, Bebop
took note of nothing, suddenly,
else in that silver-framed moment.

But under the stone that was meant to toss
to splash in the brook, look, the ring
winking like the sun at daybreak.

Meanwhile Bebop’s float had swerved and vanished
and the big back broke the water
of a birdfish long as your arm,

when gold in the fingers of Bluegrass flashed.
Bebop said “Ho!”, dropping his rod,
and the birdfish sped off upstream.

Bluegrass, hearing the line whizz, whining off
the reel, glanced up as the rod, dragged
down, disappeared underwater;

saw a yardlong birdfish leap with it clamped
and snap it clean in two between
chain-cutter jaws. Open-mouthed he

stared – forgetful he fumbled the ring which,
falling, caught the fish’s gold eye,
who spat out the hook and took it.

Bluegrass instantly snatched him by the tail
and him and Bebop, rapidly
wading over, heaved him high till

the ring dropped from his lips into Bebop’s
hand. He got his father’s gold band
and Bluegrass barbecued birdfish.

Then they both got down beneath the blue moon
to the didgeridoos and spoons
and the banjos and valve trombones.


John Gibbens
from The Improvised Version, Vol. 1
 

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar