Monday, April 8, 2013

Today, we have a pop quiz about songwriting (and the complicated nature of diversity in the American South)

Let's say you, hypothetically, were a country singer.  You're a big Lynyrd Skynyrd fan, which prompts you to occasionally wear clothing emblazoned with symbols that would be called racist by some.  One day, you're buying a drink in Starbucks, when suddenly you realize that your Confederate flag shirt might just make some people a weensy bit uncomfortable.  Of course, you decide that this would make a great topic for a song.  Which of these would NOT be a good thing to include in the song you write to commemorate this fleeting moment of social awkwardness?  In order to make things a little easier, I've paraphrased each lyrical option into a more typical English sentence. 

1) To the man that waited on me at the Starbucks down on Main, I hope you understand / When I put on that t-shirt, the only thing I meant to say is I'm a Skynyrd fan.
TRANSLATION: When I get dressed, it does not occur to me that people other than myself might see my clothes.  If they do, I expect them to understand the meaning that I personally ascribe to my appearance.

2) Our generation didn't start this nation / And we're still paying for the mistakes / That a bunch of folks made long before we came / And caught between southern pride and southern blame
TRANSLATION: I feel that I am being punished for the mistakes of my ancestors, and I believe that having to pay for these mistakes by feeling slightly awkward when I wear a Confederate flag in public is excessive.

3) They called it Reconstruction, fixed the buildings
TRANSLATION: I believe that Reconstruction refers to a period of U.S. history where we focused on repairing damaged buildings.

4) Have LL Cool J appear on the song, saying things such as: If you don't judge my do-rag / I won't judge your red flag
TRANSLATION: If you're OK with me wearing an inoffensive clothing item on my head, I won't mind when you wear a controversial symbol that is considered by many to be racist. 

5) All of the above.

I feel compelled to note that I think Brad Paisley's intentions with this song were probably good(ish).  He clearly possesses enough self-awareness to recognize that there are some complicated societal issues surrounding traditional Southern symbols and that people of different races and backgrounds might not see things the same way he does, which is generally a good thing, I would think.  What is less good is that he is quite proud of himself for just recognizing this, and that he thinks that if we all just were aware of the problems, they'd just magically vanish.  In the chorus, he sings, "Our generation didn't start this nation. We're still pickin' up the pieces, walkin' on eggshells, fightin' over yesterday."   See, the problem isn't so much that we're fighting about "yesterday"; it's that "yesterday" went so terribly that it has left us with a number of issues that continue to perpetuate major societal problems "today".  The whole "aw, shucks, let's just sit down and talk it out over a beer" approach doesn't really fix everything overnight.*  So, kudos for trying, Mr. Paisley, but I have a feeling that not everyone's going to give you full credit just because your heart's in the right place.  People have already begun to indicate their disapproval.

*Paisley's song clearly advocates this specific idea: LL Cool J remarks that "I'd love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air" at one point.  In the song, sadly, the meeting for beers never happens, because the line finishes "But I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn't here".  Maybe next time, guys!

Thanks to Merrie for the link

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