Stephen Loos has sent through a story for us on Bill Graham’s review of Richard D. Smith’s biography of Bill Monroe – Can’t You Hear Me Calling? on the Mandolin Cafe.
Having read Richard D. Smith’s biography of Bill Monroe several years ago, it was with great interest that I recently read Bill Graham’s review of the book on the website Mandolin Cafe. At the time I read Smith’s biography entitled Can’t You Hear Me Calling I had limited knowledge of bluegrass and where it had come from, and the book provided important insights into the man behind the music.
I was a little surprised to learn from Graham’s article that the biography is in fact loathed by some bluegrass fans, especially the perceived emphasis on Monroe’s relationships with various women later in his life. Smith also highlights Monroe’s temper, stubborn nature and long-held grudges.Â After reading the book I passed off Monroe’s misdemeanours as typical of many highly creative people, be they musicians, artists or writers, particularly those that need to travel away from their family for extended periods.Â After all, many people, not just artists, are obsessed with their work and everything else in their life suffers because of it.
I wonder how Monroe might have been treated by today’s media given their obsession with the personal lives of successful people. I think at one point in Can’t You Hear Me Calling, Smith makes the point that women were Monroe’s one vice – he didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink alcohol or take other drugs, and he didn’t gamble.Â While I do my best not to judge others particularly those I’ve never met, in my mind Monroe was probably a lot better person than many other famous people.
It did strike me as ironic that Monroe could have been philandering around one moment and then a few minutes later he might be singing gospel songs on stage. Perhaps the criticism of Smith’s book comes from those bluegrass fans that have deeply held Christian convictions and revere Monroe as an evangelist and a musician. The book clearly puts Monroe’s personal flaws into the public domain and the fact that Monroe has a tarnished reputation might diminish the religious message of his gospel music. Coming from a more secular society, most Australians would find this point of view a little hard to comprehend.
Monroe’s background and personal life helped shaped the music he created, so it is important for people interested in bluegrass to understand the man. I agree with Bill Graham that Richard D. Smith does this honestly and with respect.Â Â There is no doubt that Monroe’s music and the many Bluegrass Boys that were trained under his wing had a major impact on audiences and musicians within the US and other countries, and this continues today as more and more people discover bluegrass music all over the world.
I’d highly recommend the book Can’t You Hear Me Calling to anyone wanting a deeper understanding of bluegrass music, and the short review by Graham is also insightful – Stephen Loss