Tuesday, March 02, 2010

One Little Word in Bluegrass Unlimited Brings Out the Amateur Censors

One sentence in the September 2009 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited (my favorite magazine) has created a small firestorm of criticism from a few people who took offense at the style in which the article was written.

The article in question is a feature on Charlie Sizemore written by Chris Stuart. Mr. Stuart decided to use a direct, and very emotional, quote from Charlie in the first paragraph of his piece. Charlie, speaking of the time in the seventies when he was the lead singer for Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys (as a teenager, no less) had this to say about how upset he was about one of his appearances with the band, "Ralph, I'm sorry. I can't sing for shit." The point of Charlie's story is that Ralph Stanley's sympathetic response was perfect and that it might very well have saved his career in bluegrass music.

One little word, and not a particularly offensive one, in my opinion, resulted in letters and emails to the editor of Bluegrass Unlimited threatening to cancel subscriptions to the magazine. You know the drill - nothing new here except for how little it took to cause some folks to demand their own version of censorship, the rest of the readership be damned.

Daniel Swanson, via email said, "I got as far as the first paragraph before being floored. Needless to say, I quickly moved on to the next article. I have decided two things: I won't read any more articles by the foul-mouthed Chris Stuart and if you don't clean up your formerly fine magazine in the future, I'll have no choice but to cancel my subscription." - a silly, but very direct and aggressive response.

Jim Griffith of Ashland, Kentucky said, "I was very surprised that you printed the language used in the article about Charlie Sizemore...This type of language will cheapen your magazine if continued. I hope you will leave this type of language out in the future, as I would like to enjoy your magazine for many more years." - a silly, but more passive-aggressive approach than the one quoted above.

These were the only comments to the article published in the January issue of Bluegrass Unlimited - two over-the-top reactions to what is in reality a fairly innocent little word, a word that, in this case, perfectly describes the emotion being felt by Charlie Sizemore when he approached Ralph Stanley all those years ago. Chris Stuart even had the nerve to use the word "hell" a couple times in the article but I doubt that our two wannabe censors read far enough into the article to find them.

I was happy to see in the magazine's March issue that Ron Thomason, Robert Grosz and Dale Martin have written letters in defense of Chris Stuart's judgment to use the quote exactly as he heard it from Charlie Sizemore's mouth. Well done, guys.

Bluegrass music is as real as any music being made these days. Good songs are about emotion, be the emotions joy or despair, and, as a fan of the genre, I would be shocked if my favorite singers and songwriters did not honestly feel what they write and sing about. I want to hear real songs from real people, not censored claptrap from a bunch of phonies.

I cannot imagine a better introduction to the Charlie Sizemore piece than the one Chris Stuart chose for it and I find myself dumbfounded by the reaction of those who believe that any word in that article is offensive or out of place. Their desire to play the role of censor is what I find offensive, not the words "shit" or "hell." Come on, people.


  1. That kind of narrow-minded priggishness makes me fume, too. I'm not surprised, though. It's sad.

  2. Anyone that knows Charlie Sizemore, knows he is an extremely funny man with a very dry sense of humor. Even reading the sentence in question makes me laugh because it is "so Charlie." These narrow-minded BU readers need to get a life. You hear 1000x worse than that by turning on the TV every day.

  3. I never fail to be amused by these censor people and the things over which people choose to become enraged. I love bluegrass music, but I think (especially in southeast Texas where I live) many listeners are Bible-belt, no-foul-language Protestants who are very strict about these sorts of things. I know some of those types. I had a Protestant friend in middle school who burned all her country music tapes because the counselor at summer camp told her they were "devil" music. Oh repression, you do make for some amusement.

    I can understand your anger. Unfortunately, I've lived where I live too long to be surprised.

    Great blog.

  4. Bybee, as much as anything else, it's the particular word that offended them that bugs me. Some people surely need a lesson in when is the proper time to pick their fight. These guys must freak out about everything in the 21st century if that word bothers them. Sad folks, for sure.

  5. I agree, Anonymous. Either these guys never turn on the radio or television, never go to a movie...or they just like to see their names in print no matter how silly it makes them look. Political correctness and word-police drive me nuts.

  6. Picky, I have been around folks like those you describe. It always amuses me to find that "closed minds" are so empty. They refuse to let anything in they don't pre-approve, so they are destined to rank high among the uninformed and unsophisticated amongst us.

    Thanks for your kind words about the blog.