Preston Sturges' mom on banjos
Date: Tue, 6 Feb 96 17:51:55 -0800
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: Preston Sturges' mom on banjos
Forwarded-by: Daniel.Steinberg@eng.sun.com (Daniel Steinberg)
[Note the out-of-date address for Daniel--I've been sitting on this little
gem since 1 Oct 1991... -psl]
...from the autobiography "Preston Sturges on Preston Sturges",
(c) 1990 by Anne Sturges, published by Simon & Schuster,
reproduced without permission:
Mother took a rotten little apartment for us on Twelfth Street, the only
banal apartment I have ever known her to take, and one afternoon I arrived
home with a big smile on my face and a peculiarly shaped package under my arm.
"What's that?" asked my mother looking at the package apprehensively.
Then in a pale gray voice, she added, "That wouldn't happen to be a banjo by
some remote chance, would it?"
"How did you guess?" I cried enthusiastically. "Just wait till you see it!
The pawnbroker practically gave it to me for only three dollars, including the
case, and it has real mother-of-pearl between the frets and around the
"It's a curse," said my mother, putting her hand to her forehead, "a
"A what?" I asked, thinking I had misunderstood her.
"A pollution of the blood," said my mother, "like leprosy. It has to be
from the blood, there is no other possible explanation. With the utmost care
and during your entire life, I have refrained from giving you even a hint
about this vice of your father's. I never let your Grandmother Biden or
anyone else mention it to you for fear that it might awaken a dormant strain
and encourage you to emulate him. But it has all been in vain. You may as
well know now. Your father was considered, in banjo circles, to be one of the
very best banjo players in America. Such was his talent that manufacturers
would actually send him new models for nothing, just to get his opinion and
endorsement of them.
"Your father always enjoyed playing a piece on the banjo for me, always a
long one, and at the beginning of our marriage, I could stand it. Then as
time passed, he was no longer satisfied with just plunking out a piece once,
but immediately after finishing it, he would plunk it again in several
different keys. Then i would get it with variations and countermelodies
woven in...but still the same piece. He would wind up by plunking it behind
his back in a sort of contortionist's grip. One night he actually gave the
finale while swinging by his knees from a trapeze he had strung up between
the sliding doors. If any more loathsome instrument than the five-string
banjo has ever been invented during the entire history of music, I have yet
to hear of it. I thought I had suffered from that miserable thing for the
last time in my life, but you can't get away from heredity! So tune up your
banjo, then go down to the corner and get me some poison."
© 1996 Peter Langston