When Bonnie & Clyde met Lester and Earl

The New York Times had a good story on Sunday about the 40th anniversary of Bonnie and Clyde, the Arthur Penn directed movie featuring the young Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the title characters, with Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons in supporting roles.

While writer A.O. Scott ruminates on “the crucial episode in the entwined histories of Hollywood, American film criticism and postmodern popular culture” and ponders “the connoisseurship of violence,” he makes only one reference to what he refers to as “the skittering banjo music of the soundtrack.”

“Foggy Mountain Breakdown is “skittering banjo music”? Huh?

“Foggy Mountain Breakdown” was played on the soundtrack by Earl Scruggs, the banjo partner of Lester Flatt. Scruggs wrote the song in 1949, and, while he and Flatt played the piece for years, it never became a big hit. Bonnie and Clyde changed all that and introduced bluegrass music to folks, New York and otherwise, who had never heard anything like it before.

People who knew nothing about the genre would yell out “play Bonnie and Clyde!” to the extent that many bluegrass bands refused to play the song. Truth be told, it is very hard to play as well as Scruggs did.

After seeing Bonnie and Clyde outrun the cops to the tune, an entire generation of people began pressing the accelerator whenever they heard “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” or any fast banjo music.

The idle mind wonders:  how many speeding tickets did that song caused?

This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

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