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Friday, June 23, 2006
The NO HOLDS BARRED Music Column: Gretchen Wilson, India.Arie, and Musical Multi-Cultural Socio-Political Notes
I didn’t know redneck women had such abs!
Despite her satire on the women of the West Coast, Gretchen showed that she has tons of fans both men and women in the East Coast by almost selling out New York’s Radio City Music Hall last Thursday, June 15. Remember, there is still no country music AM or FM radio station in New York. CMT and GAC are available only on digital cable, so commercials on these and other TV networks, as well as Internet and print publicity did the job. Who needs FM, anyway?
The usually-observant and perceptive, for a mainstream critic, anyway, Kelefa Sanneh reviewed this concert in The New York Times.
He wrote, “the room wasn't quite full, and the crowd was more appreciative than rabid.” True, but this was also a crowd of all ages, with many of us older folks who don’t go to concerts to wiggle our asses in the faces of the people in the row behind us.
It was New York, but her awesome rendition of "Good Morning Heartache", best known for being in Billie Holiday’s repertoire, just didn’t go over as well as you might have expected. But Gretchen was more than impressed that when she sang “When I Think About Cheatin’”, she held out the mic for the crowd to sing along while she watched and listened. She was delighted that so many knew the words well enough to sing them right back, with no prompting from her. Again, who needs FM today?
But Sanneh can’t help himself by sneering that her act is “redneck role-playing.” He does, after all, have to serve the cultural prejudices of his editors and corporate masters.
So just what about her is mere role-playing and not the real deal? Sure, she comes from Illinois and not the South, but in the days of the Lincoln-Douglas debates her region of that state used to be known as “Egypt” because of its proclivity to slavery (the historical issue of the existence or non-existence of a slave system in ancient Egypt aside).
What is culturally significant is that her music reflects the pride many white working class people have for their hard-working ways, their families, and themselves. This is why he misses a key point in his commentary on her song “Politically Uncorrect”.
He wrote, “She sang a rousing version of ‘Politically Uncorrect,’ which is, perhaps fittingly, an un-protest song. (‘I'm for the Bible/ And I'm for the flag,’ she sang, as if she were expecting a fight.)” Did he not notice the smiling protester with a peace sign in the video of this song? He also left out the key lines which followed: “I’m for the working man, me and old Hag/ I’m just one of many/ Who can’t get no respect/ Politically Uncorrect.” And no respect for the working man from The New York Times, either, she might have added.
Sanneh did have a point, if obvious, about the purposefully ambiguous lyrics and Confederate flag symbolism in the stage performance of “Rebel Child”. The lyrics can be read either or both ways as referring merely to rebellious youth, Southern youth, or those caught up in pro-Confederate culture, or some combination of the above. Of course, the song’s main job is to sell albums and concert tickets, rather than educate, but it does reflect cultural and intellectual trends.
Herein lies the multi-millennia dilemma of the white working class: are your loyalty and identity primarily white, or working class? I wouldn’t particularly blame Gretchen Wilson for being vague on this, since her music is both among the most thoughtful in popular music today as well as pregnant with counter-cultural if incomplete implications.
On the one hand, she was recently quoted in an AP article as saying, “But if you're 20 pounds overweight and you're black and you wanna sing country music, then by God — beat the door down. Don't let them tell you you can't.”
She also is part of the MusikMafia, whose slogan is “Muzik Without Prejudice”, and includes Cowboy Troy, the first Black country music superstar since Charley Pride came on the scene when the Beach Boys still had number one hits.
At the same time, it was widely reported that she performed at a major Republican Party fundraiser Monday in Washington, D.C. I can’t think of a place where, as she so beautifully sings about in “Politically Uncorrect”, the working people “can’t get no respect” – “NONE,” as Hag interjects on the studio version – less than among these guys.
The report did quote her as asking, “I have a question I've been dying to ask all night--Are there any rednecks in the Republican party?” She should know the answer to that, since this was a $2500-a-plate dinner, and a sea of white-collared whitenecks in red ties must have been facing her. It’s not clear from this piece if she was simply demonstrating her distance from these rich folks, or joking. Still, the anomalies abound.
New Blog: Liberal Country Fan
I actually had a few hours free between finishing this week’s combat sports media work and jumping right into next week’s, so I came across a blog called Liberal Country Fan which discusses many of these issues.
There are numerous insightful pieces there posted by blogger Brent Hecht, a huge country music fan and, presumably, a liberal.
On the issue of what we so unscientifically call “race” and country music, he mentions an article called “The color of country?” on DenverPost.com by Ed Will. The article profiles Black country singer Rhonda Towns and discusses the obstacles she and other Black country artists have had in gaining a foothold in Nashville.
It also quotes Pamela E. Foster of Tennessee State University and the author of two books on the history of African-Americans in country music as saying, “People of African descent have been involved in country music since the inception of the music.” Now there’s a professor whose classes I would have loved to have taken.
Liberal Country Fan is a blog worth reading regularly, even if you agree only in part with its stance.
Ironically or not, the same day Gretchen Wilson was performing at Radio City, r&b singer India.Arie was in town, albeit further downtown. Her new album, “Testimony: Vol.1, Life & Relationship”, debuts next week, and can be heard for free on the VH1.com page here.
While it is likely most attention will be paid to the album’s first video, the essential “I Am Not My Hair”, another song on it is called “Summer” and features a collaboration with Gary LeVox of country music’s Rascal Flatts.
On her MySpace page, she is quoted as saying, “I love country music, she says. If someone else were to sing some of my songs, they would be country songs, with their story lines and clever wordplay. Plus, I just love great singers, and Gary is a great singer.”
So again the secret gets out: it is all really the same. “Race” is a scam, one of the worst in history. Rednecks and homeboys of the world should unite. That is American history’s most dangerous and greatest secret.