Bluegrass,  Music

The Appalachians

I just finished watching The Appalachians on PBS. On the whole, it was good, but had a few glaring flaws namely:

  • Why was it funded by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and NASA?
  • The failure to draw the conclusion that successful unionization was the cause of the increased wages for the coal miners, hence the increased mechanization (and safety) of the mines, and also the drop in the people needed to work the mines. The producers treated these as unrelated events.
  • No music past the Carter Family, which is quite notable since there is much footage of Clarence Ashley and Doc Watson available.
  • No mention of traits that carried over from Scotland and Ireland, namely a desire to be on the far edge of society (and I’m sure many others, such as whiskey making) Instead they concentrated just on the music as the only carryover. While important, it was hardly the whole thing.
  • No mention of bluegrass music; they stop at string bands.
  • They omit the details of the modification of the banjo over time. Originally it was a four sting instrument made from gourds. It evolved into a 5 string instrument made from cats, and now leather. They present it as coming into existence fully formed as a 5 stringed instrument. It’s an interesting progression and on that stuck out by it’s absense.
  • And most importantly, they omit the importance of the cultural factors and the terrain in explaining the hardness of their lives. They wanted their independence at any cost, and living on land inhospitable to mankind was the price they paid.
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