Updated: Feb 19
So, I'm on the second-to-the-last tape transcription of the 1991 David Schnaufer workshop. I had not planned to curate and share interesting bits from the week-long workshop until I was finished with all the transcribing, but the discussion I listened to last night is so timely that I just had to share it now.
The backstory: David is about to introduce the tune, Rocky Top, to his class. He tells the story of how Rocky Top (recently, i.e., 1990) figured into national discussion on censorship in the music industry, specifically in the case of 2 Live Crew, a Florida rap group. (If you don't know about 2 Live Crew's role in the controversy, here's a nice story from the Washington Post that explains the times: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/06/11/25-years-ago-2-live-crew-were-arrested-for-obscenity-heres-the-fascinating-back-story/
As I listened to the tape, his story seemed especially timely. Today, it's 32 years after David told this story, and once again Florida is front and center in the censorship/cancel culture war. Today, the war now takes place in the realm of state government vs. education and libraries: the governor and Florida state legislature are working hard to take control of decisions for what parts of American history can be taught in Florida schoolrooms from kindergarten through the university levels; what books students and others can check out from libraries, and even the language Floridians can use to describe themselves and others.
One of the many interesting aspects to this recording is that it demonstrates just how wonderful an educator David Schnaufer was: he not only taught students how to play tunes, he also always put a tune in a meaningful context, such as its origins and influences, about how the tune came about, or, in this case, the social significance of a tune. And he managed to do it without imposing his own values on others. He leaves it up to the students to draw their own conclusions about censorship and its often unintended consequences. David was so much more than a master dulcimer musician; he read widely and constantly, and had that rare gift of not only being intensely curious about everything--music, history, science, and current events--but also in his ability to tell meaningful stories to ensure learning experiences of considerable depth and breadth. It's all the more remarkable when you look at his origins. I wish very much that his parents had not passed away prematurely and had lived to enjoy how their sons blossomed (David's brother, too!)
Below is the link/excerpt from David's class, and below that is the rough draft transcription; I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Transcription of David Schnaufer addressing his class: Alright, so this is Felice and Boudleaux Bryant song and they were gonna write a Bluegrass tune. That was their whole idea; they had been writing a lot of pop-style music. And they thought well, they were on a camping trip and decided to kinda write a funny Bluegrass song. And did it ever take off. The Osborne Brothers are the people who recorded it and it’s a very rough and ragged version if you’ve ever heard that version. They still play it on the radio quite a bit, in Tennessee anyway. (S: Dolly Parton made a recording of it, too, didn’t she?) Yeah, it’s been recorded by just about everybody at one time or another, but, it’s still the Osborne Brothers that really made the definitive version I guess. And it’s really loose, I mean it’s really, really loose but
there’s some nice breaks in that are … just like we were going over the pentatonic scales, that’s what the breaks in this tune were really based on, they’re just kinda jams. This song has an interesting history … last year when … I’m trying to think of the band that was in all the censorship problems … there was a rap band from Florida (Ss: oh, yeah …2 Live Crew!) Well Rocky Top played sort of an important role in the way the courts handled that and a lot of local suits about that because if you
read all the words of Rocky Top, I mean, there’s murder, there’s making whiskey, lots of drinkin’ … yeah, because strangers that go up on Rocky Top and don’t come down, I mean that’s a .. you know … (Laughter, S: It’s the same song!)Yeah, it’s the same song, and the whole thing with 2 Live Crew came from Tipper Gore, senator Al Gore’s wife who was pushing for all the censorship and labeling for records, and from Tennessee, and finally one of the newspaper writers in Nashville says, “Look, Rocky Top has got murder, whiskey, you know, and all this stuff in it.” And it put a lot of stop to the censorship of Two Live Crew. You don’t have to listen to 2 Live Crew, but you know, music’s music, and, you know, censorship is never … it’s not going over too well in the music community. And Rocky Top, if they had gotten exactly what they wanted on the censorship, then there would be no Rocky Top. It would have been as simple as that. It woulda had to not be the state song, and you wouldn’t hear it on the Grand Ole Opry; you wouldn’t hear it at every country western show or bluegrass show, and what would young banjo players have to play? (Everyone laughs.) Cause there’s nothing like a fourteen year-old banjo player playing Rocky Top. That’s one of those things that it can go faster and faster and faster..... End of excerpt.
And so, the world, spins on, and everything old often feels new again. Or, as my grandma used to say, be careful because what goes around, comes around.