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Psyche 1001 Case Study #57

Copyright 1986 by Bruce Jaeger. All rights reserved.   Published in Bluegrass Unlimited, May 1987

(NOTE TO STUDENTS: This is still another case from the notebooks of the famous Iron Range Psychiatrist, Dr. Sigurd Freudson. The patient, noted Dr. Freudson, ". . . entered the office in an obviously agitated state of mind.)

Dr. Freudson (as the patient, a short, blond-haired woman in her 30s, entered the office and looked nervously left and right, all but ignoring Dr. Freudson seated at his desk.) "Good afternoon. May 1 help you?"

Patient: Are you Dr. Freudson?

Doctor. Yes, that's right. And you are... ?

Patient: Elizabeth Johnson. My friends call me "Pixie" for short.

Doctor: Well then, I hope I may call you that, too!

Pixie: Certainly! (The patient became somewhat more at ease.)

Doctor: What brings you here to see me, Pixie?

Pixie: Well, Doctor, I've got kind of a musical problem--maybe not even of a psychological nature--and several of my musician friends have told me that you were able to help them.

Doctor. Oh, fine, fine! Now just what is the problem?

Pixie: Well, I'm a bass player in a bluegrass band . . .

Doctor: That IS a problem!

Pixie: (continuing) . . . and I can't decide whether to play acoustic or electric bass.

Doctor: I don't see what's so devastating about that.

Pixie: You don't? Well, then I'll just have to explain it to you. First of all, there's no denying that the old doghouse bass is more "traditional." That's all that the early bluegrass bands used, and it kind of adds to the band's stage appearance.

Doctor: Sounds like a good choice, then.

Pixie: But listen to this: It won't fit into about three-fourths of the cars on the market. It hogs a whole corner of the house when it isn't being played, new strings cost about what I make in three or four gigs, it never sounds good with a pickup, and it gets all smashed and banged up in the band trailer. Acoustic basses lack "punch" on our contemporary-style songs, spiders build their webs inside, they . . .

Doctor. Whoa there! Slowdown! I failed shorthand in doctor school! Why don't you tell me about the electric bass, now?

Pixie: Sure. Some people say that the electric bass looks wrong up there on stage with all the other acoustic instruments. And you have to carry around a heavy old amp. The electric bass doesn't sound quite right on traditional tunes--too much sustain, I guess, and it's kind of metallic-sounding. And some electric bass players tend to play too many notes. But, all in all, they're sure easier to own and to travel with. And there's no problem in getting them loud enough!

Doctor: I believe I see your problem, now. Each instrument has its own advantages and disadvantages, and you simply can't decide which to use. Am I right?

Pixie: That's my problem, Doctor. How can I satisfy everyone, have a good bass sound for all types of songs, and, well, "fit in?"

Doctor: Simple. Bring an upright AND the electric bass to each gig.

Pixie: Are you nuts? I'd have to buy a small panel truck!

Doctor: (Clearing throat) Of course, I offered that as only ONE solution. The REAL solution is perhaps one you haven't considered.

Pixie: What is that?

Doctor: Take up another instrument! Some might call this "running away from the problem," but in psychiatry, we prefer to call this solution "conflict avoidance therapy. "

Pixie: That's silly! I'm a bass player! The bass is my instrument!

Doctor: Is it really? Think back, now . . . Remember how you came to play the bass...

Pixie: Well, it all started when I got together with a bunch of friends to form a band . . .

Doctor. Yes, yes! Go on!

Pixie: My friend Bob played the banjo, Bill played the fiddle, Martha the guitar, and Dave played the mandolin. Bass was all that was left, and they said, well, anyone can learn to play bass, so I did!

Doctor: So you're admitting that you picked up the bass because that was all there was left, and somebody had to play it?

Pixie: Yes, I guess so. But I don't feel bad about it--I consider it a lucky accident!

Doctor: Pixie, 1 hate to break this to you, but every bluegrass bass player took up the instrument as a last resort! Go ahead Ask anyone.

Pixie: You know, Doctor, I think you're right! Donna--she plays with the Mesabi Pit Boys--she took up the bass so she could be in the band with her husband Lars and be able to see him on weekends. And Pete with the Biwabik Fruit Jar Drinkers switched to bass overnight in order to make room for their great new fiddler, Jules Saknussem. And Ruthie Peterson plays bass with the Steam Iron Rangers because no one else would! And . . .

Doctor: (Interrupting) Right! All you need to do to get rid of your "acoustic or electric" dilemma is to play another instrument!

Pixie: But what will we do for a bass player?

Doctor. Get another one!

Pixie: But where will we find one?

Doctor: Come, now! How long did it take you to learn?

Pixie: Only about a couple of da . . . Oh! I see your point! Thank you, Doctor Freudson! You've been very helpful!

Doctor: You're welcome, Pixie. Let me know how things go with your new instrument. I hope it doesn't take too long to learn!

Pixie: No problem, Doctor! I'm going to play guitar! (Patient leaves.)


(DOCTOR'S NOTE: Students should note that there is not necessarily anything wrong with running away from a problem that is insoluble, like that of acoustic bass vs. electric bass in bluegrass music. Would anyone castigate you for running away from a nest of angry hornets? Would people tell you that you should have remained in place, and calmly worked out your problem with them? Of course not! Pixie's decision to drop the bass was best for her peace of mind-and will be better for her back, as well. That is, unless she had decided to play the banjo . . .)


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