Dogs, Giraffes and Why Barney Had It Right

The national outpouring of gratitude and mourning over the death of Andy Griffith goes on.  It has spawned a jillion tribute video clips on YouTube and endless comments below each one about the comfort and familiarity each one brings.  So here’s one of my favorites.

What are we going to do with all these dogs?

I have been plowing through James Davison Hunter’s book, To Save the World, which isn’t about Andy Griffith, but about culture and faith.  It is nearly 400 pages, and reads like a scholar summing up his work to me.  Mostly it is about the misguided foray of the church into politics over the past few generations—but also a recognition of the reduction of everything in our culture right now to national politics.  Davison laments this, for cultures hold together by so much more than elections and news cycles.

He argues that we misunderstand the deepest work before us—to move the culture toward the divine vision of a kingdom that comes not through weapons, kings and coercion but through the power of persuasive love in human lives, ethos and story.  It is a vision large enough, rightly conceived, to make a place for those who disagree with us without the need to punish, coerce and control them.  This life we talk about begins with a man named Jesus and the character and depth that resonates out of stories and teachings that keep stirring up our thinking 20 centuries later.

Those stories in the Bible, like all stories worth reading, and like good acting, convey something that leaps from the core of the speaker and connects to us, resonates deep inside and keeps speaking long after we read it or see it.  There is nothing like a life lived with its energies concentrated to something good and meaningful.

One of the tenets of Christianity is that we gain life by resignation from the egocentric self.  In other words, while an “ego” is a normal part of human life, an egocentric life, obsessed with its own security, safety and control, can be quite destructive to the person and the people around them.  This lives out large in the Stalins and Hitlers of history, but also in everyday life.

Hunter, To Change the World

David Mace, the found of marriage enrichment, said at the end of his life that after all those years of talking about communication, money and sex with couples that success in marriage came down to one key—the ability to deal creatively and redemptively with one’s own anger.  After 33 years as a professional minister, counseling, listening to troubled people, and coaching young newlyweds-to-be I believe he was right.

There is one key about the anger we have—the capacity to step back away from ourselves and take ourselves with less than ultimate seriousness.  “Getting my way” is second to “getting it right,” don’t you think?  But the egocentric self says, “It has to be my way or all is lost!”  And you know what comes next.

I am watching “Andy Griffith” reruns with my wife in the evenings.  Since they are recorded you can watch one n about 18 minutes when you take out the commercials.  So when the news looks repetitive (as in EVERY night) or so dreary, or when we just don’t want to watch one of our history or biography programs, we pull up an Andy Griffith from the DVR and soothe ourselves.

This week, we watched one of our favorite episodes, “Dogs, Dogs, Dogs.”  It was written by Everett Greenbaum and James Fritzell, who wrote many of the great “Mash” episodes and for many great comedy shows (a great blog about them here by Ken Levine CLICK

Opie finds a stray little dog, who disappears and comes back with some doggie friends.  Andy and Barney are expecting an inspector from the state, so they have to get the dogs out of sight.  They try sending them home with Otis Campbell, the town drunk, but they come back with more.  Finally Barney drives them out into the country and dumps the dogs in a field to run and play.  Opie becomes anxious when a thunderstorm begins, worried about their safety.  Barney tries to explain that they will be okay, and in the course of his explanation hits of my favorite lines of all time.  Dogs are not like giraffes, Barney says. They take care of their own, and they are low to the ground.  Not giraffes.   “Boy, giraffes are selfish.  Just running around, looking out for #1 and getting struck by lightning.”

A marriage, a neighborhood, a church or synagogue, a club or a nation can only abide a certain quota of giraffes.  Now dogs?  More the merrier.  I’d say Barney was exactly right.

Andy Griffith’s Kinder, Gentler Community

I’ll admit it—I long for Mayberry and simpler living. 

Maybe it never existed, but something in us says, “It ought to.”

Andy Griffith died today on the Outer Banks of his native North Carolina where he lived.  A few years ago, I took my senior adults to the Outer Banks, and, other than seeing the place where “Nights of Rodanthe” was filmed and hearing about how one native got to be examined by Richard Gere as a bit part, the biggest thrill was hearing that Andy

Andy Taylor (Griffith) with Deputy Barney Fife (the legendary Don Knotts)

lived there still.  “You can still see him in the grocery store and he is an active part of the community,” she said solemnly.

We were the Baptist version of medieval pilgrims tracing the steps of a saint.  Andy Griffith, though Moravian, taught more Baptists their character virtues than almost anyone I knew.

Being a native of North Carolina, I fastened onto the Andy Griffith Show at an early age.  I was in elementary school when the show was on the air.  Andy, Aunt Bee, Otis Campbell, Thelma Lou and Helen, Goober, Gomer, Opie and Barney Fife were childhood friends.  I know a lot of the bits by part—I’ve watched and re-watched the reruns my whole adult life.  “Why do you watch the same shows over and over?” my wife asks.  But even she will watch “Aunt Bee the Warden” (she has a secret desire to imprison lazy men and beat them with a broom) and “Class Reunion,” and “Mr. McBeevy,” and all the others over and over.

It has been analyzed to death, of course.  From its lack of diversity to its nostalgia overdoses, the show has taken its share of hits.  And we all keep watching.  Having lived in small towns, of course, I can say “The Andy Griffith Show” was half of the equation—the ideal, good half.  Andy did capture the foibles, silliness and pettiness, but missing was meanness, racism and evil. Continue reading “Andy Griffith’s Kinder, Gentler Community”

Doug, Doc and Earl…Bluegrass Breakdown and Cry

The Darling Boys are no more

This has been one of the unkindest of years in acoustic music.  First, Earl Scruggs, the Founding Father of bluegrass banjo, passed away (read my post on Earl’s death here CLICK)  back in March.  Then a few weeks ago, Doug Dillard, a rollicking banjo player who blazed a trail with the banjo across genres in the 1970s when he left the Dillards to join Gene Clark of the Byrds to form Dillard and Clark.

Of course, you’d know old Doug for another reason, if you ever watched the Andy Griffith Show.  He was the poker-faced Darlin’ Brother in the family band that descended like an affectionate blight on Andy and Mayberry every

The Darling Family, “that one makes me cry, Paw”

now and then, always intermixing their superstition and hijinx drama with some red-hot bluegrass while Paw (Denver Pyle) came along on the jug.

In fact, the Darlin’ Family were a rising bluegrass band discovered by Andy Griffith’s producer  in a nightclub in Los Angeles.  At the core were two brothers, Rodney and Doug Dillard, on guitar and banjo, and joined by Mitch Jayne and Dean Webb on bass and mandolin.  They hailed from Missouri and had been performing on the folk revival scene when Andy found them.  They moved to LA to have greater freedom to experiment with their music and its traditions.

The first bluegrass song I played was probably “Orange Blossom Special” with my Dad and Uncle Paul Furr on the fiddle on Uncle Paul’s porch.  Uncle Paul exposed me to my first outhouse, although it was a little upscale, known as a “two-holer.”  The second song I met growing up was “Bowed My Head and Cried Holy,” brought to me by my friend Paul in high school, while we were playing together.  I loved it right away and got the vinyl album.  In our current band, we learned Dillard’s version of this very old tune early on and still do it.  “Bowed My Head” was an old time tune that Bill Monroe and others did in an old time style, but Dillard and Clark did it with drums, pedal steel and Byron Berline on the fiddle.  It had an energy that would influence many others.  The New York Times says,

Known simply as Dillard and Clark, their group, with Mr. Dillard playing guitar and fiddle as well as banjo, recorded two albums for A&M before disbanding. The albums did not sell well but have come to be regarded as among the earliest stirrings of the West Coast country-rock movement and an important influence on the Eagles and other bands. (Bernie Leadon, a charter member of the Eagles, had also worked with Dillard and Clark.)

Doug Dillard’s playing has shown up in all our lives somewhere.  According to Billboard magazine’s tribute article,  “the brothers still worked together in front of the camera from time to time, being part of Harry Dean Stanton’s band in the Bette Midler film The Rose.”  The Dillards toured with many performers over the years– Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Carl Perkins, even Elton John.  They left a huge influence on what would become “newgrass” and crossover music in groups like the Eagles and many others.

Doug could make a banjo sing.  I read that when he first got his banjo he got his Dad to drive him to Nashville to Earl Scruggs’ house

Bluegrass banjo pioneer Earl Scruggs answered a knock at the door of his Nashville home in 1953 to find an eager-

Dillard and Clark, whose songs “Polly” and “Through the Morning, Through the Night” were covered by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant on their hit CD a few years back, “Raising Sand”

looking banjo enthusiast on the porch asking Scruggs to put a set of his special tuner keys on the young man’s instrument. “He was so gracious,” Rodney Dillard said of the reception his older brother, banjo player Doug Dillard, received that day from the father of the bluegrass banjo. “He sold him the tuners, then sat down at his kitchen table and installed them on the spot.”  (LA Times—read the story)

The fine compilation of their hits is on a single CD called THERE IS A TIME: 1963-1970.  It contains all the great Darling Family songs from the show, but also a lot of the songs the Dillards did, from folk to country, old time and blended styles.  You can hear Doug Dillard’s melodic licks leap from the strings.

Anyway, I especially remember another song the Dillards did that is one of our mainstays, “There is a Time.”  (Listen)  It is a sad, mournful, truth-telling tune about how love is weathered down and dies in time.  Charlene sang it on the Griffith show and it was one of the most haunting tunes I ever heard.  Andy says at the end, “Well, that’s about the purtiest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Doug Dillard, Banjo player, also graduated with a degree in accounting.

One thing is different about Doug from his Andy Griffith character, who was always poker-faccd.  If you ever watch a video of Doug Dillard, he’s always smiling onstage.

Some years ago, Rodney was invited to do the song with the Dillards on the next generation of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken Volume III.”  Rodney wrote a fourth verse to add to the original three that seems somehow fitting.  Originally written with Mitch Jayne, who has since passed away, he sang it in a video that I leave with you as he mentions the loss of Jayne and, perhaps, fitting to hear as we think about his brother’s passing.  The new lyric says, hopefully

   Time is like a river flowing

            with no regrets as it moves on

            Around each bend a shining morning

            and all the friends we thought were gone

Rest in peace, I say once more, to another banjo legend.  Thank you, Doug Dillard.  The Darling Boys are no more.

Tomorrow, I’ll remember Doc Watson.  Two legends deserve their own mentions.