In case you haven't heard it already, Arthel Lane Watson, known to millions of guitar players and roots music fans as Doc Watson, died today following a long illness.
image via rockymounttelegram.com
I won't attempt to re-write what's been written in the article linked below, nor to give "I remembers", but a few words in Doc's behalf are more than appropriate. We in today's world, thanks to perhaps over-examination by the various media, have erroneous views of both politicians and musicians.
Politicians were made necessary by our collective need for government; hence we probably place our welfare too much in their hands. We trumpet them, we idolize and damn near worship them as we project our material needs on them.
Musicians, though (again, thanks to the media), benefit from a much different form of idolizing: when we see a musician on stage, we are participating in one of several experiences with them. They may be gifting us with catharsis, i.e., their words or music or stage acts somehow manage to relieve our work or family stresses, our teen or adult or sexual angst, so that we go home in some way exorcised of those things.
Or such musicians, and here I'm thinking of the singer-songwriters, give us the sort of experience we might otherwise get from literature or art, in that they give us understanding.
Others – and these are not few – people such as Yo Yo Ma, Liona Boyd, or my friend Ken Bonfield – ask us to learn the language of tone and rhythm as a way to join them in expressing human experience in that language. Thus, all of these give us emotional, mental, and even spiritual sustenance.
Doc Watson fit none to well in any of these categories. His life of music was one in which he chronicled the American experience as it came to him from tradition and history as bluegrass bled through and became country, from other musicians playing that hard-to-categorize genre called folk,all of which taken together, assayed America as well or better than anything Mark Twain ever wrote.
We overuse the word hero today, I think, and I believe any ordinary soldier or fireman or policeman or ordinary citizen who has experienced an extraordinary moment, would agree. Doc Watson, however, is a hero in the most real sense: he has held a mirror to us of these United States, reflecting not merely our faults or our virtues, but the totality, the mind-boggling complexity of what we are. For this, we should drop to our knees for a moment and thank him.