history, historiography, politics, current events

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The South, Race, and Rock 'n' Roll

I have been listening to my iPod a lot lately. For some strange reason music helps me write and since I am in the midst of writing my graduate thesis my iPod has not left my side. Recently I have realized something that I haven't noticed in the past. During the late 1960s and early 1970s there were numerous songs recorded that dealt with the South and issues of race.

First, there is "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" by The Band. This song is about a white soldier, Virgil Caine, who served in the Confederate Army. In the song Caine claimed "Like my father before me, I will work the land, Like my brother above me, who took a rebel stand. He was just eighteen, proud and brave, But a Yankee laid him in his grave..." This song embraces the myth of the Lost Cause and makes no mention of slavery or slaves.

Then there is The Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar," which is about interracial sexual relations in the Slave South. Here is the song's opening verse: "Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields / Sold in a market down in new Orleans / Scarred old slaver knows he's doing alright/ Hear him whip the women, just around midnight / Brown sugar how come you taste so good?/ Ah, brown sugar just like a young girl should." I don't know why, but this song makes me think of Thomas Jefferson.

There is also the well known feud between Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Young's "Southern Man" was a scathing attack on the South's treatment of African Americans. This attack angered the members of Skynyrd, who responded with "Sweet Home Alabama."

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