Bert Bertholf boogies up to The Bookworm
Vail, CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: Stephen Bedford is store manager of The Bookworm.
Hey pardners, gather ’round and listen up because the best dadgum country music historian this side of the Ozarks is coming to The Bookworm in Edwards on Saturday morning.
Yep, that’s right, Bret Bertholf is coming to town and he’s bringing his guitar to take you on a six-string journey through the life and times of country music, as told in his book “The Long Gone Lonesome History of Country Music.”
Country slang, twang and parlance aside, this Saturday’s installment of The Bookworm’s visiting author series promises to be hootin’, hollarin’ good time. Better yet, its free.
What Bertholf has created in his lavishly illustrated book is nothing short of a hilarious, rollicking look at the music he loves and the characters and events that helped shape it. From the genre’s humble roots in a barn in any countryside outpost to the wild times of Hank Williams and right up through its modern incarnations such as Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson; Bertholf’s book will give any kid a chuckle but it’s adults that may be laughing last and hardest.
“If it makes people laugh, and they want to give it to friends then I’m really happy,” Bertholf, 41, said. “There wasn’t so much intent to keep the book interesting for adults as there was an intent to keep it interesting to me. I was hoping it would be funny, and kids and adults both would laugh.”
Though he banged his head to the guitar onslaughts of Van Halen and AC/DC in the 1970s and 1980s, Bertholf was weaned on country, bluegrass and Dixie music courtesy of his grandfather. What resulted was a passion for one of America ‘s most original and enduring music styles.
That passion translated to “The Long Gone Lonesome History of Country Music,” which includes, among other things, a two-page yodeling guide, a glossary of country terms, a hilarious ode to Williams, and a cast of rockabilly stars such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly riding motorcycles on a flame-paved highway.
Bertholf, a graduate of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, also illustrated the book, making big-headed caricatures of idols such as Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline. He is also a singer/songwriter for Halden Wofford and The Hi-Beams, an acclaimed country-western outfit that recently performed on the syndicated Prairie Home Companion radio show.
Bertholf, though, will be the first to admit that country music has its dark, ominous side. This dichotomy of Dixie music was not lost on Bertholf as he translated it into a children’s format.
“I think it’s important not to say that all these guys were super sweet, nice people,” Bertholf said. “It’s a book for kids and it’s not appropriate to get into scandals, and believe me there are a ton of them. It’s part of what makes the music fun.
“I don’t think it does kids any favors to keep the darkness of the world entirely out their realm of experience. A lot of Disney movies were incredibly dark and scary for kids, but they are classic and they have a lot to say to us when we were that age.”
The genesis of Bertholf’s book is a folk tale unto itself. Formerly the children’s event coordinator for the Tattered Cover in Denver, Bertholf’s love of music, talent as an illustrator, and fan of young adult literature converged into a tome that was four years in the making before hitting shelves earlier this year. Bertholf described the process as “quick as plate-tectonics.”
Initially a straightforward picture book, Bertholf and his editor, Jennifer, saw it could be much more.
“The idea to make the book more of a social and cultural history was my editor’s,” Bertholf said. “She’s [Jennifer] wonderful and smarter than I am and figured that most kids won’t know Bill Monroe from Garth Brooks, so we’d show a few particular figures while slipping a whole bunch of names and faces in where they might become more curious.”
Bertholf promises an event for all ages ” junior, ma, pa, granddad and grandma. There will be yodeling instruction, guitar strumming, and you may even get your own country nickname. For example, this writer’s country handle is Knuckles Loudbottom, and who wouldn’t want a name like that?