A Banjo, a Ballad, and a Bathroom

Lee Foote
3 min readApr 5

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Acoustic anticipation

A column of 75 British soldiers marching in cadence started a resonant wave that caused the bridge they were crossing in Manchester, England to collapse. Hereafter, marching troops got issued the command “Route Step!” that means break timing. Learning of this early catastrophe, our 8-person Boy Scout Platoon chose route step as we crossed an Interstate overpass –yeah, illusions of grandeur. Still this leads to the question of “Why march in time instead of just walk normally?”

Here is the genius of group behavior- I will get to the banjo in the bathroom later, stay with me- It seems that like bird flocks, fish in a school, or British soldiers in a phalanx, our solo selves act differently than we do when we identify as a larger group entity. The combination of physical activity toward a common goal (sports, war, music, dancing, motorcycling) builds a new and unique mental entity with strong tendrils of belonging and loyalty attached.

You may have have witnessed the infectious group-mentality at Mardi Gras, in a rock-throwing street protest, in a sports arena or through a televised government insurrection. Perjoratively, it is sometimes called the “mob mentality”. One would be hard pressed to find any individual willing to act out that way when alone, much less be able to assemble a few thousand of such individuals without a shared purpose. Yet, there you have it, through sharing a goal, the group assumes different rules and a willingness to suspend personal responsibility.

In military conflicts, a soldier’s willingness to elevate group welfare above their own survival instinct is what society calls heroism and valor. There is also a wonderful emergent property when groups act in positive loving ways. Woodstock music festival comes to mind as do square dances, peace marches, church choirs and (with a little chemical help ) raves . People love to build temporary collectives where the whole is greater than the sum of the individuals. It is the very definition of “getting outside of oneself” and !Kung trance dances, cross-country running, Harley group rides, and wee-hours jam sessions BRING the dopamine in liter jugs.

This raining down of a greater good from unity is the phenomenon I use to explain last week’s impromptu music session. Music can certainly get players into a stream of altered consciousness where the harmonies, traded riffs, and cooperation commandeer one’s sense of time through flow experiences. How often we look up only to see the clock has leapt from 7:00 PM to Midnight in a flash. Musicians build a temporary coalition that feeds the soul like a drug and it lures them back for hit after hit of endorphins.

Drug addicts every one of ‘em

Last Monday, we were playing bluegrass music in a large public group that slowly grew to a too-large circle of pickers, thus, six of us hived off to work up some obscure songs in a smaller group, but where to go? Our favorite hobo didn’t hesitate — acoustically, spatially and privacy-wise, he chose the men’s washroom. OK, in we went. Not to be left out, our lady LC donned a temporary “man tag” because we needed her harmony and solid rhythm guitar.

Now this is urban Vancouver where gender distinctions matter less than most places and thus, the reverberating stream of music didn’t thwart bathroom use. In fact, songs with titles like Over the Waterfall, Gold Rush, and It rains everywhere I go may have enhanced the urinal rate of flow. The acoustics were almost as much fun as singing in the shower. We sang the piss out of ‘em!

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Lee Foote

Southerner by birth, Northerner by choice, Casual person by nature.