Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Superman Don't Need No Crown Anyhow

Adrian has had two ruptured eardrums, one on each side.

Once, a rather nasty infection and two airplane rides taking us from Germany to Tennessee combined to release the pressure while we were watching Scarface with Al Pacino in a movie theater. If the content on the film was not bad enough, the resulting ruptured eardrum and ER visit and hospital stay over Christmas certainly was.

The second rupture occurred while he was playing his usual lunchtime faculty and staff basketball game at the University of South Alabama. One of the other players smacked him upside the head and cupped his palm in such a way that the air contained in the cupped hand was forced into the ear and popped the little eardrum.

He doesn't hear well now, as you might imagine. Most folks don't know, because he can't wear hearing aids in church since he plays drums and he can't stand to hear the wind whistle on the golf course and...well, you get the idea that he doesn't wear them much. Not that hearing aids would cure all of his hearing difficulties. Way before his eadrum first ruptured, he was known for a certain hearing difficulty that has been a source of much mirth in the Huddleston household.

Adrian, aside from being a great athlete and good drummer and a very nice guy, is pretty musical, in general. He played several brass instruments in band. He can sit down at a piano and pick around a bit and play the song he just heard. No lessons, he can't play, but he has an ear for music. Well.....except for the words.

Everyone gets some words in a common song wrong sometimes. Practically everyone in the known world got Hotel California by the Eagles wrong. No matter what you thought, it is ..."warm smell of colitas rising up through the air." And there is a whole subculture of misunderstood hymns. Gladly the crosseyed bear. Bringing in the sheets. There are a million of them.

But Adrian has a knack for the best misundertstood lyrics ever.

"She's a brick house, she's my tomahto just lettin' it all hang out."

Theme song from Welcome Back, Kotter: "Welcome back, your dreams where you check it out"
And two things from Elton John's Tiny Dancer that I just can't recall now, but were knee slappers. There have been many more. I should be writing these things down.

The latest is "Superman don't need no crown anyhow" from Sweet Home Alabama.

Now, that last one, that is special.

Of course, the lyrics are:

"Well I heard Mr. Young sing about her
Well, I heard old Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don't need him around anyhow"

It's a response by Lynyrd Skynyrd to Neil Young's song Southern Man.

Southern man better keep your head
Don't forgetwhat your good book said
Southern change gonna come at last
Now your crosses are burning fast
Southern man
I saw cotton and I saw black
Tall white mansions and little shacks.
Southern man
when will you pay them back?
I heard screamin'and bullwhips cracking
How long? How long?

Of course, that's a little tit for tat kind of thing between white guys, one seeming to condemn all southerners for slavery and calling them to task for it and the other taking great offense at the thought that southerners are the only folks to discriminate and cause social injustice. You! You! Who, me? What about you?

I am southern woman who does love her part of the country. Having grown up in it since 1959, in rural West Tennessee, watching the way folks interacted, I know all the paradoxes. Sunday School teaches me that "red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in his sight." The same church, voted one night in my presence to, "if any black family showed up on the doorstep, looking for a service, direct them to the First Baptist Church" which was steps away and all black. I've seen a woman put her arm around a black friend and laugh like crazy with her at some funny story. I've heard the same woman, when talking about a white man who married a black woman and lost his TV job in Memphis, say, "He thought he could get away with that."

I gotta tell you, I have the heebee jeebees when I hear the Neil Young song on the radio. "Don't they have discrimination in Canada that he needs to address?" I am likely to think. I am also uncomfortable that I am uncomfortable hearing it. So mostly, I try to speak out for injustice and against racism and genocide and sexual harassment and the like and not dwell on Neil Young or his right to take the South to task.

It's not even that I can't watch a movie or hear a song that indicts my people. I love "To Kill a Mockingbird," "A Time to Kill," and "Mississippi Burning." I watch them and cry and take the lesson well.

But if I have to pick a favorite song that cuts right to the heart of the racist history of the South, I have to go with one that I listen to an average of once a week. My copy is by Cassandra Wilson, but it was made famous by Billie Holliday. Lewis Allen (a pseudonym for Abel Meeropol) wrote the lyric as a poem.

Strange Fruit
Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

The thrust of the song is to show us the victims of the horror of lynching rather than focusing on the ones who are doing injustice. It draws the minds eye to a scene so horrific that no reasonable person could come away unaffected. How can anyone, I wonder, listen to this song and not feel the absolute horror of it? I must have listened to it a thousand times and it still does the same thing to me every time. I could never come away from that song without identifying with the mothers of the men hanging from that tree.

How could anyone misunderstand that lyric?

All of this calls to mind the way that some people use parts of the Bible and other holy books to say or support their positions in direct opposition to the positions of others. History tells us this Bible preached from pulpits all over the country during the 1800s. Some voices said the book tells us we are all brothers and all valuable in God's sight. Some voices said that slaves should obey their masters, so slavery was God-approved.

And I am sure every person who picked up the Bible on a Sunday and quoted scripture thought they were speaking for the intentions of God. They still do it, only now the likely targets are homosexuals.

You know, I'm not sure we even need the Bible. I am most grievously convicted that all men and women are of worth and equal to any other of us every time I hear Strange Fruit, or see the picture that inspired the poem or read the words. I just feel in my soul what is the right thing to do. Don't you? If there is any doubt, pray to God...

...and don't be afraid to ask.


SpookyRach said...

I'd never heard this song...thank you.

Real Live Preacher said...

Nicely done! Wow. And I love Adrian's lyrics. Knowing him makes it better, of course.

Oh and welcome to the High Calling network. Marcus Goodyear and I are in the process of sorting out the rather large number of people who want to be involved. Should have everyone categorized and listed at the high Calling site soon.