No, really, I do. Even people I hate. And every thing, too. As Brother Dave Gardner once said, "I even love hate. The other day I grabbed me a handful of it and I said 'I got'cha!' But the damndest thing happened: It died in my hand."
A funny thing happened on Facebook recently - twice. I got that old, weird feeling, for just a moment, that reminded me I'm culturally more Black and more Southern (two strikes) than people generally realize, and I remembered why I've always been something of a misfit. I also, for a moment, got that old feeling that comes over me when I hear someone carelessly use "redneck" or "those people" unselfconsciously. That set me off on another tangent: "Are you a believer or an atheist?"
You ever notice how people, on their various on-line profiles, dutifully fill in the blanks, for the most part, with their preferred labels? Like: Music: "pretty much any kind...except rap...or country...or jazz...or...." Could you be less specific? Or: Spirituality: "Atheist and proud of it," or worse, "Christian" (yes, you could be lots less specific) or "Spiritual but not religious" (totally non-specific, but leaving the door open just in case).
The first thing that happened on Facebook, a couple days ago, was that a dear friend told me she'd (one imagines secretly) been listening to Robert Earl Keen of Youtube, and while never having liked "country," she had now seen the light, that there is, somewhere down there, over and to one side of the crap one hears on country pop radio (where rock and roll went to die), some real depth and musicanship.
I was gratified. This almost never happens, that people go poking around and find something of value and tell me about it.
Then, during the Grammy show last night, a different friend remarked: "I'm still trying to get past a rapper as host...guess I'm hopelessly backwardly white, but I never managed to develop a taste for hip-hop."
You know that feeling when the elevator pauses between floors? Yeah, that one. Not anger, not offense, just a "Huh?" moment. LL Cool J (born James Todd Smith), was the MC for the night, and I think he did an admirable job. LL started his entertainment career as a rapper (as did Ice T, Will Smith, Mos Def and Ice Cube to name a few outstanding examples of rappers-turned-actors) and currently appears on NCIS. He (and the others I mentioned above) are also of above-average sophistication. It happens. Go figure.
My "Tilt!" feeling was caused more by the problem of a rapper (is he not also an actor? A man? A person?) hosting the show, and why this even warranted a remark. It wasn't the falure to have developed "a taste for rap," which is for most people an acquired taste, and for those who reject it out of hand, something they've never actually tasted at all, just maybe got some on them at a stoplight, courtesy of some infuriatingly loud, obscene, broken-speaker, 1000 watt, in-your-face noisemaker on wheels.
That's not rap. That's not Public Enemy. That's Public Nuisance (and suddenly I think I have a name for a new rap group, if I can recruit some young men interested in the gig).
There is also that "whiteness" factor. See, I grew up around black people, I live in a county that is majority black, I was raised by a couple of free-thinking white parents who were always a little off the beaten trail, so when I took a Facebook "What ethnicity are you?" quiz, I scored 98% black, giving all absolutely straight answers. When I took a "Which dead rock star are you?" I came up not, as some might think, Nick Drake, but Tupac Shakur. Swear to god. I have no idea how or why. Extremely honored, but slightly perplexed. I mean, I cannot rap worth a damn (though my UK-living, cello playing, masters degree-in-linguistics daughter can). But I do know of a few white rappers who get my respect, including Eminem and, more locally, Dino, with whose grandma I attended high school. His grandma, a lovely and sensitive person, couldn't be more proud. Here's an example, before I take this ramble to a whole other place:
Yes, I do like that. A lot. I like Dino, too. I adore his grandma.
Then there was that country moment of illumination. Here's how that came about. This is the other operative cultural part of me, and I should mention here that the South as we know it would not exist - culturally or otherwise, for better or worse, were it not for the dominance of black culture on us. But here. Let Robert Earl Keen explain that part:I recently watched him and his band do that in far more convincing fashion. It is difficult to describe that kind of moment, which is why live music is not cheap.
So people frequently will offer qualifiers like "...everything but rap" or "...everything but country" or, and here I just have to sigh heavily, "...everything but jazz." For that I will not even offer an example, because the spectrum is too broad, too rich, to be captured by a single song.
Oh, and "...everything except classical." Just wait til my soundtrack for the last remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much shows up with its mashup of hardcore rap and Tchaikovski's Violin Concerto, Opus 35. Don't hold your breath, of course. This could take a while.
Then comes the spirituality false dichotomy, which is very little different, near as I can tell, from the musical ones. You're either a mindless believer or a heartless atheist. In either case there are those otherwise wonderful people who will try and convert you. We all know how relentless the evangelical Christian can be: "I'll pray for you." Gee. Uh...okay, just not out loud, right here, okay? Or the militant neoatheist: "You can't fix stupid, but you sure can make fun of it." But sir, madam, wait! What do I believe that you find stupid? Surely you've confused me with Pat Robertson. Wait...you mean there's no room for the notion, just a mere notion of a living cosmos of which we are a part? Quantum physics? No? Too busy making fun of people who pray to that "Man upstairs"? Well there are times, I tell ya, when I want to do that too, and I have stooped to it a time or two, but this notion that anyone who believes what cannot be explained scientifically poses a threat to the good order of the universe...uh, wait a minute. What good order? Oh, it's not that so much as religion! You don't believe in religion! But religion isn't what some refer to as "God"! Religion is an organizational and control device created by humans. Religion can be quite stupid sometimes, and rarely reaches the level of dissoi logoi. I couldn't agree more for the most part. But that's my problem. I don't have to live with that. I did once upon a time, and I learned it, and it has proved useful in helping me understand where other people are coming from, that religious influence. That's why I know something about it. I can take it apart only if I know what it is. I can recognize the more baneful forms as opposed to the generally kindly-disposed ones. I don't have to dismiss entire segments of humanity simply because they were born to this particular milieu.
Be it music, rap, country, opera, jazz, or belief - in some amorphous notion of a First Cause, how can you dismiss what you do not even know? And once you know it there is a risk you may find you love some part of it. Trust me, if that happens you'll be okay.
Am I an atheist? No. Not yet anyway. Am I a Christian? well I guess my names still on the rolls of my original church, though that means nothing to me and probably a good deal to them. But no, not anymore. What do I believe? Hell, you got a few hours to warm up first?
I have some dear, wonderful friends who profess atheism. I'm not sure they're really qualified, since they're only rejecting what they were taught from early childhood and found it wanting. That hardly covers the entire spectrum of possibility, but I respect their feelings and I love them for even thinking about it. They afford me the same respect and even love.
I do believe in love.
I also believe in soul. Not "a" soul necessarily, though probably something along those lines. I'm not done thinking that one through yet. But I do believe there is some order to the universe. I believe is logic, I believe in thinking, I believe in Socratic dialogue, I believe in dissoi logoi, I believe in historicity, I most firmly believe in Newton's laws, and when I toss a rock into the air and it does not come down, I will start to believe more in the CIA, though not any anthropomorphic God trying to teach me some sort of crazy lesson. But I DO believe that rock will come back down every time, that the sun will rise in the morning - and in the east, and I do believe in Dino the rapper, I believe in music, I believe I am, and, as a Scottish Rite Freemason I believe in speculation as to what might be, just beyond the horizon. I believe in symbols, logic, language, love, and euraka! moments. I believe in Mahalia Jackson. I believe.
I don't know much, but I do believe much. I believe this song not only IS soul, but has a soul:
Confused? Good. Just remember I love you.