THAT CONFEDERATE FLAG

confederate flag3confederate flag 1

Neil Young has won’: Wal-Mart pulling Confederate flag merchandise (including Lynyrd Skynyrd CDs?)

Back in the days of youth, in  early 1970, Neil Young sang a song called “Southern Man” on his new vinyl  album , “After the Goldrush”  which I bought. It was a song  basically castigating the rednecks in the southern American states for their attachment to some dubious racist practices. This was still early days for Civil Rights,  remember. Martin Luther King had been killed just months before , in April  1968.

Young’s  song encapsulated, in a few lines, the perceived experiences of  the black population in the south.

“Southern Man”{Neil Young}

Southern man

better keep your head

Don’t forget

what 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?

Southern man

better keep your head

Don’t forget

what your good book said

Southern change

gonna come at last

Now your crosses

are burning fast

Southern man

Lily Belle,

your hair is golden brown

I’ve seen your black man

comin’ round

Swear by God

I’m gonna cut him down!

I heard screamin’

and bullwhips cracking

How long? How long?

It was n’t long before the South rose up and  responded to this musical slight in the form of the band Lynyrd Skynrd’s “Sweet home Alabama”…..This was taken up as something of an anthem and a two-fingered salute to any interfering northerners butting in where they weren’t wanted :

“Sweet Home Alabama”

Big wheels keep on turning

Carry me home to see my kin

Singing songs about the Southland

I miss Alabama once again

And I think its a sin, yes

Well I heard mister Young sing about her

Well, I heard ole Neil put her down

Well, I hope Neil Young will remember

A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow

Sweet home Alabama

Where the skies are so blue

Sweet Home Alabama

Lord, I’m coming home to you

In Birmingham they love the gov’ nor (boo, boo, boo)

Now we all did what we could do

Now Watergate does not bother me

Does your conscience bother you?

Tell the truth

Sweet home Alabama

Where the skies are so blue

Sweet Home Alabama

Lord, I’m coming home to you

Here I come Alabama

Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers

And they’ve been known to pick a song or two

Lord they get me off so much

They pick me up when I’m feeling blue

Now how about you?

Sweet home Alabama

Where the skies are so blue

Sweet Home Alabama

Lord, I’m coming home to you

Sweet home Alabama

Oh sweet home baby

Where the skies are so blue

And the guv’nor’s true

Sweet Home Alabama

Lordy

Lord, I’m coming home to you

Yea, yea Montgomery’s got the answer

The consensus for music fans was that they were both fine songs attempting in their own way to make a commentary on a very raw and changing situation.We all knew that Montgomery,Alabama had been at the heart of the Civil Rights action  but it was also  a  fact that not everyone in the Southern States was a racist even though many hung on to some very  strange notions of equality .They were the ugly faces grimacing and kicking young negroes or marching with their white hoods in the Ku Klux Klan.

Much has been written since those times about the separation of blacks and whites …the de-humanising restaurants and water fountains, schools and buses, but there was also obviously an undercurrent against this practice , mostly driven by rock and roll and blues music  amongst the young, as referred to in the “MuscleShoals” reference  where black and white musicians played together to make some of the greatest soul music of the times. Many began to see  this music  as an entirely new shared language .It was a language that was breaking down barriers right across the world.Change comes slowly , of course . I saw the Lynyrd Skynrd band  a few times in concert before the original band was decimated in an aeroplane crash which left several of the  members dead. At the time they performed on stage before a massive Confederate flag which they were obviously very proud of.

I have to confess that as music lovers most of us would not have been aware of the racist connotations in the flag or have given it much thought at the time.We had only a vague historical notion of the history of the American Civil War, mostly garnered from cowboy films and epics like “Gone With the Wind”. I dare say we saw the background flag as a bit of flashy stage decoration.Flags can be a bit like that too.We were there  to see a fine rock band playing some good-time music. Since then  the issue of flags has gained much more infamy.

Things change…times change …and that big wheel does turn slowly, but now the Confederate Flag and all its connotations have basically been banned in America. The imagery will probably fall from the mainstream and be sold in an underground fashion much like all the other tacky bits of symbolism that are sold in outside markets and car boot sales.

It’s a fact though that a lot of people have at last realised just how emotive and disturbing a simple piece of cloth can be .

There will always be someone offended by the flying of it, for whatever historical reason.

As for a commentary in verse on the Southern American experience , nobody captured it as well as Bob Dylan did in his song

“Blind Willie McTell”…

Seen the arrow on the doorpost

Saying, “This land is condemned

All the way from New Orleans

To Jerusalem”

I traveled through East Texas

Where many martyrs fell

And I know no one can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, I heard that hoot owl singing

As they were taking down the tents

The stars above the barren trees

Were his only audience

Them charcoal gypsy maidens

Can strut their feathers well

But nobody can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

See them big plantations burning

Hear the cracking of the whips

Smell that sweet magnolia blooming

See the ghosts of slavery ships

I can hear them tribes a-moaning

Hear that undertaker’s bell

Nobody can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

There’s a woman by the river

With some fine young handsome man

He’s dressed up like a squire

Bootlegged whiskey in his hand

There’s a chain gang on the highway

I can hear them rebels yell

And I know no one can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, God is in His heaven

And we all want what’s His

But power and greed and corruptible seed

Seem to be all that there is

I’m gazing out the window

Of the St. James Hotel

And I know no one can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s