The Mob and the Banjo Player

 

The banjo player is, of course, Winston Marshall, recently of the hit band Mumford & Sons. The mob is the usual band of angry twits, the censorious harpies of Twitter and Antifa who can’t stand the thought that someone, somewhere, isn’t prostrating himself before the pile of dung that is their hateful and dishonest political ideology.

I don’t care for banjo music, and I’m at best lukewarm about Mumford & Sons. They have a few songs I like, but they’re too folksy for my tastes and so rarely come up in my playlists. Since I’m not particularly interested in music I didn’t realize that the band had become big: I stumbled across them a decade ago, thought they were a little boutique group with a few hits, and never had reason to revise my view until friends, big fans of the group, assured me that they’d achieved mega-band status. Who knew?

Of course, I’d never heard of Winston Marshall until the story broke that he was being targeted by the clinically intolerant for his positive comment about Andy Ngo’s book Unmasked, which can be found at Amazon here and at Barnes & Noble here. Mr. Ngo has had the temerity to express criticism of the masked thugs of Antifa, and so has earned the ire of the neo-fascist left, and a severe beating, for his troubles.

Mr. Marshall further sinned against woke hyper-orthodoxy by having his picture taken with devil incarnate Jordan Peterson, for which he was duly drawn and quartered in the public square.

The backlash against this criminally free-thinking banjo player was such that the other members of Mumford & Sons, along with their families, were caught in the cross-fire, as the angry mob, armed with tweets and nasty social media comments and, who knows, maybe phone calls and excoriating faxes, expressed its righteous outrage that an [expletive] artist would think unapproved thoughts.

The story gets a little vague and muddled after that. Winston apologized publicly for the pain he’d inadvertently brought the band. He admitted that maybe he hadn’t thoroughly researched the situation, and so might have made a mistake. He offered to step back from the band for a while, and claims that the band expressed their continuing support for him. But, after a lot of self-examination, he decided that his apology was itself a betrayal of the truth, in that it could be seen as an implicit defense of Antifa and its supporters. He felt he couldn’t live with that betrayal, but also felt that he couldn’t inflict pain on his band, so he quit the band and wrote this essay in Medium to absolve himself of the guilt, not of his original comments, but of an apology that betrayed his own views.

While I’m troubled by this story, I respect that decision. His love for his band is obviously deep and sincere, and, informed by his Christian faith and his own sense of personal integrity, he chose to put the band’s wellbeing first and so made the only decision he could make that was consistent with his values. It must have been an extraordinarily difficult decision, and I wish others would exhibit that willingness to sacrifice for what they believe is the truth, rather than throw out a hasty apology and lie low in hopes the braying mob will forget them.

What troubles me is that Mumford & Sons let him leave. I feel about them now the way I would feel about a band that let a black bandmember be shouted off the stage because of his skin color, and then went on to play their gig without him. If a band of their stature won’t stand up for a man they know intimately and with whom they’ve played for more than a decade, with a guy who comes across in this Bari Weiss podcast interview as a thoroughly decent and good-hearted fellow, then they don’t deserve the graciousness he’s showing them.

That’s the first and last time I’ll speak in defense of a banjo player.

The progressive mob is intolerant and toxic, and it hides under the rotting log that is Twitter. Fight it.

PS: And I’d like to once again compliment Bari Weiss for the quality of her interviewing. She is not a conservative, yet had the guts to ask, in a positive and supportive way, if Winston’s faith was a factor in his decision to take an action she obviously respects. That impressed me.

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  1. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Fascism is bad. Ergo,  Anti-Fascists are good. Ergo, Andy Ngo is bad, and pro-fascist. Ergo,  endorsement of Ngo is pro-fascist. Ergo,  Marshall is a fascist. Ergo, having him continue his career unmolested normalizes Nazis. Bonus points: Weiss is  . . . Juden, nein? So of course the Nazi finds a sympathetic ear in the Zionist-Fascist Colonialist Complex. 

    I can only assume you have written this post unmindful of these facts, and hereby offer the opportunity to revisit and revise your comments for the record. You can do so here, in this room, the one with the drain in the middle of the floor and a faint red stain on the wall. 

    • #1
  2. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    I apologize for this post. I didn’t consider the hurt I would cause, my shameful ignorance of the larger issues involved, the privilege of my whiteness, the burden my six children have imposed on a screaming planet, or the testosterone-fueled hate that has blinded me to my own guilt as a patriarchal oppressor.


    There. Are we all good now?

     

    • #2
  3. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

     

    • #3
  4. thelonious Member
    thelonious
    @thelonious

    Love the banjo player. Hate the banjo.

    • #4
  5. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    I apologize for this post. I didn’t consider the hurt I would cause, my shameful ignorance of the larger issues involved, the privilege of my whiteness, the burden my six children have imposed on a screaming planet, or the testosterone-fueled hate that has blinded me to my own guilt as a patriarchal oppressor.


    There. Are we all good now?

    As far as I’m concerned, we’re good — though I’m not sure that the burden your six children have imposed on the planet can ever be completely expunged, though with day and night prayer to Mother Gaia your guilt might be eased. 

     

     

    • #5
  6. Freeven Inactive
    Freeven
    @Freeven

    Henry Racette: What troubles me is that Mumford & Sons let him leave.

    I’ve only listened to a bit of the Bari Weiss interview, but it seems that the band asked him to stay and that he chose to leave anyway. Do I have that wrong?

    • #6
  7. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    I am happy that you have procreated Henry Racette. 

    • #7
  8. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    Wonderfully written, Henry!

    There’s a joke:

    What’s the least heard sentence in the English language?

    “Bring the limo around for the banjo player”

    Not really that funny, but it makes its point. Well now, in 2021, a banjo player is important. Who knew?

    I can play the banjo, and enjoy it on the rare occasions I get my hands on one. The poor banjo is much maligned. It’s stereotyped with hillbilly music, it has its strengths and weaknesses. As someone who plays violin – probably the most amazing musical instrument that’s ever been invented, and I could defend that statement if challenged, every instrument has its weakness but then you wouldn’t get those different and distinctive sounds.

    My limited knowledge of the banjo is that it came from Africa to America and adopted by country folk, the perennially maligned hillbillies, to play their music which was largely derivative of Irish dance music. We forget that, up until about 100 years ago, all music was live, and people rarely ‘listened’ to music, they danced to it. Simple folk, mostly men, lacking entertainments, would spend hours in the shed or wherever after a long hard day’s work playing and practicing for their own diversion.

    In Ireland still, there are very talented fiddle, flute and yes, banjo players who play at a professional level but aren’t especially impressed with themselves. The ‘Irish’ banjo has four stings and is generally tuned in fifths. It’s great fun to play. Its weakness is it has no sustain. The note played fades out almost immediately. There’s no ability to have a note swell into a crescendo or fade out slowly. The violin can do almost anything, which is why it’s so prevalent in classical music.

    What defines a ‘banjo’ is the bridge mounted directly on what is basically a drum head, giving the sound of each note a punch – a very sharp attack and no sustain, giving each note a strong staccato effect. This can be achieved on a guitar but not as well by picking hard and immediately muting the string, but it can’t be done as easily or as fast, too much precision and work is required. This kind of punchy sound on each note lends itself to fast rhythmic tunes or passages that gets toes tapping and people dancing.

    There are Asian instruments that use this principle as well. 

    Like any instrument, there are hundreds of players who could step into Winston Marshall’s place and no one would notice a drop-off in quality of playing, but there’s a lot more that goes into being a band member, touring and other on and off-stage requirements, not least of which is coming up with the band and having undergone all the hard times and struggles together. The new guy will never really fit in and that’s even if the band makes a concerted effort to include him (or her?).

     

     

    • #8
  9. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Freeven (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: What troubles me is that Mumford & Sons let him leave.

    I’ve only listened to a bit of the Bari Weiss interview, but it seems that the band asked him to stay and that he chose to leave anyway. Do I have that wrong?

    I don’t think we’ll ever know what the band actually communicated to Mr. Marshall. He is working very hard to express his love and support for the band; it seems a little over the top, to me, the degree to which he regrets the harm his frankly innocuous comment caused them. I get the impression that he’s a deep feeler but perhaps not a deep thinker. I could be wrong, of course.

    But I’ve gone looking for a statement from the band supporting Winston, and haven’t found it. I’ve seen nothing along the lines of “we have the greatest respect for our fellow band member, think he’s being unfairly pilloried by a rabid mob, and would rather he stayed and played with us than left over such a trifle.”

    Instead, we have one guy making a great personal sacrifice to protect his mates from a wholly unjust and frankly preposterous bunch of intolerant bullies, and no one — no one that I’ve found, anyway — speaking up in his defense. If his bandmates are out there truly speaking up on his behalf and I’m missing it, I’ll take back my criticism. But I’m not hearing it.

    • #9
  10. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Franco (View Comment):

    What defines a ‘banjo’ is the bridge mounted directly on what is basically a drum head, giving the sound of each note a punch – a very sharp attack and no sustain, giving each note a strong staccato effect. This can be achieved on a guitar but not as well by picking hard and immediately muting the string, but it can’t be done as easily or as fast, too much precision and work is required. This kind of punchy sound on each note lends itself to fast rhythmic tunes or passages that gets toes tapping and people dancing.

    There are Asian instruments that use this principle as well. 

    Very informative comment. Thank you.

    The balalika has similar sound characteristics, no?  Would it work to play traditional balalika-style on a banjo, or vice versa?  

    • #10
  11. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    The balalika has similar sound characteristics, no?  Would it work to play traditional balalika-style on a banjo, or vice versa?  

    My understanding of the balalaika is more like the mandolin and bouzouki family in sound production. They are all stringed, fretted instruments and it would certainly work, just sounding a little different. 

    • #11
  12. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    If his bandmates are out there truly speaking up on his behalf and I’m missing it, I’ll take back my criticism. But I’m not hearing it.

    Who knows? Their management might just be telling them to lay low until this thing blows over. It’s big business and a lot of people are depending on the continued success of the band.

    I think the big mistake was apologizing. It’s counterintuitive, but I think we are seeing that apologizing makes it all worse.

    • #12
  13. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Franco (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    If his bandmates are out there truly speaking up on his behalf and I’m missing it, I’ll take back my criticism. But I’m not hearing it.

    Who knows? Their management might just be telling them to lay low until this thing blows over. It’s big business and a lot of people are depending on the continued success of the band.

    I think the big mistake was apologizing. It’s counterintuitive, but I think we are seeing that apologizing makes it all worse.

    When they ask for an apology, it’s like when the sharks ask you to please throw some blood in the water. 

    • #13
  14. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Franco (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    The balalika has similar sound characteristics, no? Would it work to play traditional balalika-style on a banjo, or vice versa?

    My understanding of the balalaika is more like the mandolin and bouzouki family in sound production. They are all stringed, fretted instruments and it would certainly work, just sounding a little different.

    Russian movies have led me to a lot of balalika music on the internet, but your comment sent me to wikipedia which helped me understand that the rapid strumming that is so often done in traditional folk music is because of the short sustain of the instrument.  So that made me wonder if the banjo could be made to sound Russian, too.

    • #14
  15. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Franco (View Comment):

    I can play the banjo, and enjoy it on the rare occasions I get my hands on one. The poor banjo is much maligned. It’s stereotyped with hillbilly music, it has its strengths and weaknesses. As someone who plays violin – probably the most amazing musical instrument that’s ever been invented, and I could defend that statement if challenged, every instrument has its weakness but then you wouldn’t get those different and distinctive sounds.

    My limited knowledge of the banjo is that it came from Africa to America and adopted by country folk, the perennially maligned hillbillies, to play their music which was largely derivative of Irish dance music. We forget that, up until about 100 years ago, all music was live, and people rarely ‘listened’ to music, they danced to it. Simple folk, mostly men, lacking entertainments, would spend hours in the shed or wherever after a long hard day’s work playing and practicing for their own diversion.

    In Ireland still, there are very talented fiddle, flute and yes, banjo players who play at a professional level but aren’t especially impressed with themselves. The ‘Irish’ banjo has four stings and is generally tuned in fifths. It’s great fun to play. Its weakness is it has no sustain. The note played fades out almost immediately. There’s no ability to have a note swell into a crescendo or fade out slowly. The violin can do almost anything, which is why it’s so prevalent in classical music.

    What defines a ‘banjo’ is the bridge mounted directly on what is basically a drum head, giving the sound of each note a punch – a very sharp attack and no sustain, giving each note a strong staccato effect. This can be achieved on a guitar but not as well by picking hard and immediately muting the string, but it can’t be done as easily or as fast, too much precision and work is required. This kind of punchy sound on each note lends itself to fast rhythmic tunes or passages that gets toes tapping and people dancing.

    There are Asian instruments that use this principle as well.

    Like any instrument, there are hundreds of players who could step into Winston Marshall’s place and no one would notice a drop-off in quality of playing, but there’s a lot more that goes into being a band member, touring and other on and off-stage requirements, not least of which is coming up with the band and having undergone all the hard times and struggles together. The new guy will never really fit in and that’s even if the band makes a concerted effort to include him (or her?). 

    Wow! Really well-written and full of depth. 

    • #15
  16. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    Franco (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    The balalika has similar sound characteristics, no? Would it work to play traditional balalika-style on a banjo, or vice versa?

    My understanding of the balalaika is more like the mandolin and bouzouki family in sound production. They are all stringed, fretted instruments and it would certainly work, just sounding a little different.

    You can get something of a banjo ring from a mandolin by playing chords with open strings, as opposed to the “Monroe” or chop chords typically used to get a percussion sound in Bluegrass music. 

    • #16
  17. Freeven Inactive
    Freeven
    @Freeven

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Freeven (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: What troubles me is that Mumford & Sons let him leave.

    I’ve only listened to a bit of the Bari Weiss interview, but it seems that the band asked him to stay and that he chose to leave anyway. Do I have that wrong?

    I don’t think we’ll ever know what the band actually communicated to Mr. Marshall. He is working very hard to express his love and support for the band; it seems a little over the top, to me, the degree to which he regrets the harm his frankly innocuous comment caused them. I get the impression that he’s a deep feeler but perhaps not a deep thinker. I could be wrong, of course.

    He strikes me as both a deep feeler and a deep thinker, and a humble man. I picked up on what you are talking about with the “over the top” characterization.  I think he regrets how his opinions have impacted the band and is trying to insulate them as much as possible. “Innocuous comments” are in the eye of the beholder, of course, and simply stating that they are innocuous doesn’t make them so. The band suffers regardless.

    But I’ve gone looking for a statement from the band supporting Winston, and haven’t found it. I’ve seen nothing along the lines of “we have the greatest respect for our fellow band member, think he’s being unfairly pilloried by a rabid mob, and would rather he stayed and played with us than left over such a trifle.”

    I think you ask too much. These are his comments and opinions, not theirs. It doesn’t seem that they are particularly political, and we don’t even know whether they agree with him. That they asked him to stay, knowing the collateral damage they’d have taken personally and professionally, strikes me as plenty admirable.

    All that aside, I was really only commenting on whether it was accurate to say “they let him leave” when it seems they actually asked him to stay.

    • #17
  18. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Freeven (View Comment):
    All that aside, I was really only commenting on whether it was accurate to say “they let him leave” when it seems they actually asked him to stay.

    I understand your perspective, and it’s possible I’m mistaken, but I think the band owed him more than that. I think they should have stood with him, and I don’t think they did. They aren’t a little startup; they’re big enough to speak out against the mob and stand in solidarity with one of their own, and I think they should have done so.

    • #18
  19. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Freeven (View Comment):
    All that aside, I was really only commenting on whether it was accurate to say “they let him leave” when it seems they actually asked him to stay.

    I understand your perspective, and it’s possible I’m mistaken, but I think the band owed him more than that. I think they should have stood with him, and I don’t think they did. They aren’t a little startup; they’re big enough to speak out against the mob and stand in solidarity with one of their own, and I think they should have done so.

    Because of their wide appeal, they could have modelled unity for a couple of generations of cowards. No idea if that will ever happen. 

    • #19
  20. Freeven Inactive
    Freeven
    @Freeven

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Freeven (View Comment):
    All that aside, I was really only commenting on whether it was accurate to say “they let him leave” when it seems they actually asked him to stay.

    I understand your perspective, and it’s possible I’m mistaken, but I think the band owed him more than that. I think they should have stood with him, and I don’t think they did. They aren’t a little startup; they’re big enough to speak out against the mob and stand in solidarity with one of their own, and I think they should have done so.

    Not to beat a dead horse, but it’s not a perspective. They either asked him to stay or not. Whether the band should have done more is another point. I’ll leave it there.

    • #20
  21. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    I apologize for this post. I didn’t consider the hurt I would cause, my shameful ignorance of the larger issues involved, the privilege of my whiteness, the burden my six children have imposed on a screaming planet, or the testosterone-fueled hate that has blinded me to my own guilt as a patriarchal oppressor.


    There. Are we all good now?

     

    You’re getting there, Henry, but you still have to try a little harder. (Hint: Not quite the right depth of abjectness.)

    • #21
  22. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Freeven (View Comment):
    Not to beat a dead horse, but it’s not a perspective. They either asked him to stay or not. Whether the band should have done more is another point. I’ll leave it there.

    No, that’s okay, this horse is worth beating. We all have to think about how we should deal with intolerance, and talking about it helps.

    The perspective has to do with whether you and I believe that the band’s “asking him to stay” was sincere, or if it was one of those necessary bits of face-saving that people sometimes engage in when they don’t want to be monstrously insensitive. I think that, if the band actually wanted him to stay, they would have communicated that to the mob. They didn’t; they’ve been strangely and, I think, inexcusably silent. That’s the difference in perspective to which I allude: I think the band stood by while he threw himself under the bus on their behalf.

    Try to find a statement from them. I’ve looked and found nothing, not on their website, not on their Facebook or Twitter feeds. That seems disloyal to me.

    • #22
  23. Dotorimuk Coolidge
    Dotorimuk
    @Dotorimuk

    If I come out as a guy who loves banjos, will someone help me design my pride flag?

    • #23
  24. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    Dotorimuk (View Comment):

    If I come out as a guy who loves banjos, will someone help me design my pride flag?

    Sure, but good luck getting along in polite company 🙄

    • #24
  25. Columbo Member
    Columbo
    @Columbo

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    I apologize for this post. I didn’t consider the hurt I would cause, my shameful ignorance of the larger issues involved, the privilege of my whiteness, the burden my six children have imposed on a screaming planet, or the testosterone-fueled hate that has blinded me to my own guilt as a patriarchal oppressor.


    There. Are we all good now?

    As far as I’m concerned, we’re good — though I’m not sure that the burden your six children have imposed on the planet can ever be completely expunged, though with day and night prayer to Mother Gaia your guilt might be eased.

    No …. I think full expungement requires a sizeable contribution to Al Gore’s carbon-neutral hedge fund. Or something.

    • #25
  26. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    I recommend seeking out videos from yesterday of the Antifa insurrection :) at the spa where a woman contended a person with a penis exposed [insert personal pronoun] to her in the ladies’ locker area.

    This led to actual protests in the woman’s favor, including by so-called street preachers.  The videos make it clear the “ant-fascist” fascists committed numerous violent batteries on the unarmed.

    It’s simply incredible that they aren’t universally condemned.  Those defending them have sold their souls.

    • #26
  27. Dominique Prynne Member
    Dominique Prynne
    @DominiquePrynne

    Oops…meant my comment for another post!!! My bad!

    But…if you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have fiddler in the band!!! Not a banjo player….that is required in Arkansas!

    • #27