We’ve been listening to Randy Newman as of late. He’s an artist whose work has always sort of lived in the edges of my life. I’d heard of him, I’d heard strong opinions about his music, both good and bad, but I’d never really invested until recently. Jerimiah, Jackson, and I have been spending more time in Louisiana, and while it’s not necessarily by choice (Jerimiah’s job has him traveling to Baton Rouge twice a month on average, and Jackson and I tag along when we can) we’ve taken these trips as an opportunity to learn more about the bayou, the history, the people, and somewhere in there Randy Newman showed up, but it didn’t start with him.
It started with the story of Lester Maddox, the 75th governor of Georgia. A raging, racist lunatic, and his appearance on the Dick Cavett Show in 1970, and as it does, it sort of just snowballed.
“Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a tv show/ With some smart ass New York Jew/And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox/And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too…”
This is one of the first Newman songs we came across. After we watched the YouTube video of Lester Maddox and Jim Brown. Which by the way, you should totally watch if you are into this kind of thing. This kind of thing being how racism operates and has operated in our country. So yeah, you should be into this kind of thing.
Anyway, the Randy Newman album that sort of punctuated our summer is called Good Old Boys and there are a lot of good tracks on this particular album, but none of them compare to the song Louisiana 1927. The song is about the Mississippi flood from 1927 that flooded 17 million acres of land and killed 250 people in a prominent Black community. It resembled Hurricane Katrina in scope, and there is something haunting and so very sad about driving across the Claiborne Avenue Bridge in New Orleans and hearing this song. And that’s where I found myself one hot, summer afternoon and I couldn’t do anything but cry.
The song is rife with racial undertones. Matter fact, the whole album is. But it’s clear to those who listen what Randy Newman was trying to say. And it’s true. And it’s sad. And sure it makes us uncomfortable, but we have to hear it. We have to see it. We have to know how they treated, and are still treating, the Black communities in the Deep South. That was the number one takeaway I had from my travels this summer: Racism is alive and well in the Deep South. And it touches EVERY SINGLE part of a person’s life down there, whether they want to admit it or not. And for the record, I’m including Georgia in this, though Atlanta is different, it isn’t hard to see open racism here too, if you know where to look.
This summer was unusual, to say the least. And I made mad fun of Louisiana, particularly Baton Rouge, and although the city and the state deserve it, the people don’t. Not all of them. Louisiana seems a place to me that you just have to see for yourself. And no, I don’t mean getting drunk on Bourbon Street or buying a piece of art at Jackson Square. I mean the seeing the nitty-gritty of the place. Talking to the locals. Understanding how their history, their culture, their language, and their religion has been shaped, by years of torture, from Mother Nature, from their own government, and from each other.
I always run the risk of preaching on here, so I will stop. But I guess I’m starting to realize that I might have been unfair to Louisiana. I might have been unfair to the people, anyway. And without the people, what would there be?
I’m leaving one more video below. It’s the song Rednecks from the same album. **Warning: The N-Word is used freely in this song. It might be hard for some to hear. It was hard for me, but it’s necessary.** The history of this song is even more bizarre. The actual real, rednecks of Louisiana didn’t really listen to the words when this song came out, they didn’t think much on it (you know those important critical thinking skills I always talk about), and they adopted it as their “mantra” for years, without realizing that they were being made fun of and that the whole song was about the rampant racism they were creating. So, yeah… #GoLSU