Southern Exposure

Ruminations of a Native Son


Greater Washington. DC., United States
February 06
Compulsive writer (mostly memoirs and sociopolitical rants), musicologist, hermeticst, fiscal conservative, radical centrist, agrarian socialist; Charter member, Factualist Party; born and raised in DC, healthcare professional, retired businessman, civic and political activist on two coasts, civil rights movement veteran. An empiricist's worst nightmare, I believe in everything but I don't believe everything, including many things I believe in. Turned down by US Army in 1966 for medical reasons, thrown out of Col. Hasan's Black Man's Army in 1967 for being "too militant." Scion of a family only Tennessee Williams could have dreamed up. There's more. There's always more.


FEBRUARY 13, 2012 3:27PM

I Love Everybody

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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?"

Answer: I am a renegade.

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. 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.

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I believe this post is a rap, and you have proven yourself a rapper in spite of your protestations to the country. I confess I haven't been able to get into rap for the very reasons you describe -- haven't been able to get beyond loud and obnoxious.

While I can appreciate that the best rappers are every bit the equal of the beat poets, neither is music to my ears. Guess I worked too long in the foundry to appreciate the sound of loud machinery running in the background while someone was trying to communicate.

I once wondered if maybe that reluctance was a sign of latent racism in me -- god knows I've been exposed to plenty of it. But it was hard to make that charge stick on myself when I'm a such big fan of BB King, and I was and am a complete and total Ray Charles groupie.

Speaking of whom, it's my contention no one ever did more to bring the races together than Ray Charles, tho I think Sam Phillips deserves an honorable mention.

As for religion, I take after my namesake -- Doubting Thomas. Whatever happens hereafter is certainly beyond my pay grade to figure out. If there is a God, I think he/she/it wants us to have a little fun, make a little love and try to leave the world just a little bit better for our having been given the gift of life.

If he/she/it wants to cast me into a lake of fire for eternity for that little bit of heresy -- well, I can't say I've got much use for that sort of supposedly superior being. Oh, and sorry, but I have even less use for the people who try to sell -- and I do mean sell -- me that kind of God.
country = contrary, again my Freudian slip is showing
Last things first: I read it as "contrary." Amazing thing, this brain.

Paradoxically (since you're not a fan or rap or beat poetry and so likely not a fan of slam poetry either, which also depends on a certain degree of loud-and-obnoxious) I am honored that you see this post as a rap. I thought about it after, and I believe when I get my preach on it is probably approaching rap, and slam poetry at least. But whatever it is, thank you. Oh, and I could have provided examples of some very cerebral, almost pastoral rap. That was the 90s, though. It seems to have moved on.

I don't think the antipathy toward rap is necessarily (and in your case not even close to) evidence of racism. Racists won't like rap, but so won't a lot of people who simply, like you, have only heard the noise. If that was my only exposure I'd probably feel the same way. You mention BB King and Ray Charles, the high priests of blues and R&B respectively, and I have included in my post the only well-known example of the work of Lorraine Ellison, who could have been the Queen of Soul, had not Aretha knocked everyone out of the way. It didn't help that Lorraine got cancer and died far too young, either. But there was that moment in "Stay With Me."

Oh yeah, and Sam Phillips definitely should get at least an honorable for what he managed to do.

Ah, doubting Thomas. That has a lot of appeal, but when there's nothing to point at, when it's all amorphous and around the corner, there's no need even to doubt. It just is what it is, and whatever it is, I do believe, as you would in your questioning state, that it intends that we should have a little - or perhaps a lot of fun, make a lot of love, and, yes, leave the place better than we found it. Least we can do, no matter what we believe - or not.

As for that hellfire dude, I'm with the Gnostics on that one: He'd be the devil, not God. As for the used car salesmen who try to palm that off on people, fuck them and the horse they rode in on. It's about love or it ain't about anything.

Thanks, as always, Tom.

I've never been very good at breaking things up into "classes" or "sets"- I may not know much of anything about "taste" but I know what I like-- up until i like something else. or like it a little less.

I don't know what it is, but sometimes it's a where it is-- I never thought i'd be able to stick it out to sit in a place playing rap music, until I heard it played a few times in New Orleans. - same for Okra ( well, not PLAYED, but you know what I mean.)

I guess my attitude when asked what I like is "I don't know, what you got?. - I'll let you know if i like it."

As for the whole supreme being/religion thing? if nobody else is in charge, that means I have to be, and none of us is ready for that.
Token: So beautifully said. Where a thing is found is often the biggest determinant of how we will think of it from then on, and dammit, New Orleans will make people love most anything they find there. At least that's been my experience. Dunno what it is, but there is something in NOLA that flavors things a certain, irrestable way.

Like you, I would say, I think, I don't know art but I know what I like. I'd much rather not have it broken up into sets or neatly placed n boxes. Not a fan of pigeonholes, either.

And finally, thank you. I'm sure not ready for that either. Whatever keeps the sun coming up, I'm indebted to it.

Thanks for the lovely comments.
This is why we get along so well, AJ. I too love everything. I've gotten used to the poo-pooing of this and that and the bizarro glee people take in auto-rejecting a thing because they've heard it's beneath their righteous sensibilities. I see it so often with my daughters teenage friends, this snobbery of ignorance in which it's better to proclaim you've never seen or read or heard X than to actually take the trouble to experience something. It's disheartening.
Dubstep doesn't particularly appeal to me, but I can still find some degree of respect and pleasure in the creation of it. A friends college he son sent me the Deadmau5 cover of the Foo Fighters "Rope" some months ago. When I replied that I thought it was great he was surprised. He expected me to scream out in favor of the original and when I didn't, it led to an interesting conversation about the motives of creatitivity.
I don't think anyone sets out with the desire to create something awful and so if it's not to my fancy, I still try to respect the artist's desire to express him/herself.
Sorry about the fonky iPad typing ... Merrrr.
1_Irritated_Mother: Thanks for getting it, and yes, I guess this is one of the reasons we get along so well. I loved your example of the unexpected response (Foo Fighters/Deadmaus5 "Rope" controversy) as I've gotten the same sort of "Whaaat?" for the same reason. How funny! But you know, you really cut to the heart of the matter - in more ways than may be obvious - with your comment that "I don't think anyone sets out with the desire to create something awful...". Just as we all think we're right when we make a statement, yet may realize some other time that we feel totally different about that subject, who wants to be wrong? Who - well, except me maybe, when I'm being sarcastic or silly - wants to be wrong? Who wants to create something that's essentially wrong, bad or useless? Not many people. Not even when it's a perverse art statement such as Maplethorpe might have made. It's still, in the heart of the artist, at that moment, right and good. We may not feel it, but being aware of that very human intention to do something worthwhile, even if it offends some people, deserves a lot of respect.

Thanks for this! You really made my day.
A small correction -- or maybe not so small -- I didn't mean to leave the impression I wasn't a fan of the beats -- I particularly like Ferlinghetti. And I acknowledge the lyrical gifts of some of the rappers -- you know, the ones that don't rhyme ho and mofo seven times in one song. My gripe is that I don't find either genre necessarily musical, and most particularly when it's accompanied by noxious bass patterns repeated endlessly and loudly. Or maybe it's just that I'm getting old.

By the way, you mentioned R&B, as I understand it, that term was coined in '48 by Jerry Wexler as a way of getting around the race music stigma of blues -- didn't work. For my money, Brother Ray was beyond categorization, tho methinks soul comes closest to the mark. For me, Ray was in a place all his own, a place where music had no categories and no color.
How could I bypass a blog that said I Love Everybody.

I live in a neighbourhood that I am the minority and believe me they call me "Lisa from da hood". That's right the bootleggers on the corner nicknamed me that and everyone calls me Lisa.
So if I rap will I be biased by my neighbours because I am white?

To me there is no difference.. we are all one and the same.

BTW I did a Grammys red carpet blog for another site and I voted Deadmau5 as best dressed. To quote Pee Wee Herman, "I know what you are but what am I?"

Are you sure you're not my long-lost big brother?

And I love that tag "valentine's dad."
Love you back, AJ. Just from what I've read following you here and on FB, you have soul, no matter what the color or ethnicity.
Did you hear the one about the atheist and the fundamentalist?

Me neither.It's just the start of the joke. I can't write the whole thing.
Help me out. They go in the bar.... find out there aren't any differences etc.
Try to make it funny.
Who loves you?

I do!!!

I like rap too.

And Country.

Rock too!

And the Blues.

And some of that Jazz....
~days later~

Tom: I never thought for a moment you weren't a fan of the beats - in particular - and I do get the unmusical thing, although I don't much care for that either most of the time, but have even found unmusicality in a couple of Steely Dan's songs (right up there for me with Richard Thompson as a fave). Sometimes it's exactly what's called for - a little dissonance. May grate upon the fastidious ear, though, and I can dig that.

The R&B thing, yes, that's how that came about, and Alan Freed even would on occasion suggest we listen to "some of the rhythm and the blues." We all knew what it meant. "Soul" seemed to become attached a decade later, to a more sophisticated variety of music, or maybe it was just the production. The earliest stuff, for me, had no name, but R&B helps me mark the difference between the mid 1950s and mid '60s. We could comb the lexicon for words and terms that probably shouldn't have been invented or that were code for something because of the state of the nation back then, but whatever makes you comfortable, feel free. I'm easy. And thanks again.

Linda/Lisa: I love that story! Reminds me a great deal of how I came, all the way back in the 1950s, to be called Calhoun and later, in the 60s, the AJ was added. Talk about potentially un-PC! But that's another story (elsewhere in these virtual pages here). Turned out that's who I *am*, so it works for me. I love Lisa from da 'hood. Says a lot of good things about you, and no, I doubt very much, your having already gained more or less official acceptance as uniquely you, that anyone would be offended by your rapping. We really are all one - and if only we all could just *get* that like you do.

I love the Peewee Herman line, too. He made that work. Genius.

Great big HUGGGGG right back at'cha!

daisy jane smithie: I feel your pain! I hate that I can't make my mouth work fast and coordinated with my brain that way. It drives me nuts! But then it's kind of a gift - or something we maybe learn really early in life. I just admire people like Dino, who can speak as fast as they think, in rhyme, yet, and create something powerful.

Then there's Robert Earl Keen, and he drives me nuts too, because in a sense - with a different kind of flow - he does the same thing. He can tell stories set to music and while I am not a terrible singer, there is, again, that power to get the words to come out rapid fire (as in The Road Goes on Forever - and live, that is an astounding feat, faster, louder and more like a tidal wave than the video above). He, Joe Ely, Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, they all do some kind of magic trick with the combo of brains and musical sensibility. That they're all good friends makes it hell, almost! I mean, in a room with the bunch of them I'd feel like someone with brain damage. Hank Williams, especially as Luke the Drifter, who combined story song with spoken word, was one of a kind. They all are, though, and there are more we'll probably never get to hear except maybe on some old porch somewhere, on some summer night.

Thanks for the great comments!

CoyoteOldStyle: I'm not sure at all that I'm not! It makes me wonder, and besides, forgive me, but Papa really was a rolling stone. And speaking of dads, my eyes are going for sure, but at least that was a creative typo. I kinda like it. I'm old enough to be Valentine's dad now. ;)

Aw Lea, you did it. You found my soft string and plucked it. Thank you, darlin'. That means the world to me.

alsoknownas: No, but if you'll hum a few bars... Sorry. Seriously, I could work with that. I'm sure it would wind up having to do with some sort of grand deal involving taxing churches in exchange for some unspeakable lewdness being made not only legal but mandatory. Gimme a minute. I'll come up with something...

I love you too, Tink, but damn! You can rap even on virtual paper! No fair! Damn genius! :P

Thanks, man. Really.
Wow, it's great to hear Americans talk about their cultural identity. The PR industry has done their best to stamp out culture and replace it with an irresistible desire to consume.
As you know REK rocks. Glad your friend got that.
Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall: Amen! I think the marketing mentality has a lot to do with our collective loss of sense of self. We're sold a false identity and we wear it - and it isn't cheap!

Dorinda D., Hell yes, he rocks. I was dumbstruck that someone who'd never been exposed to "country" would confess this to me, but gratified all the same. It seems he may be a gateway drug for some people. ;)