Tuesday, March 28, 2006

every man is evil, every man a liar

Just worked up a piece on Two Gallants, a perfectly good outfit from San Francisco doing the guitar-and-drum retro-rock thing. Fair enough, there's plenty of room for that. I kind of felt a little bad for the kid, whatever the thought process behind his forming a band with his friend in the early '00s, it must not be fun to constantly get paired up against the White Stripes, the Black Keys, Mr Airplane Man and so on just because they couldn't be bothered to hire a bass player either. I mean, he didn't say this but I take his point--no one compares every quartet to the Beatles just because they've got a similar lineup.

OK, maybe they do, but not just because of the numbers.

Anyway, there's a track on Two Gallants' new album that formed the meat of my piece, this song called "Long Summer Day." It's not a bad song, your basic slice of southern country-blues choogle, but then right there in the middle of the song--a couple of times, actually--there's that word. Nigger. It's awful just to look at, so unaccustomed are we to even seeing it in print now that it's become 'the N word' in our (mass media) lexicon. You can practically see the waves of foul feelings coming of the letters.

So naturally whatever the song was doing or trying to say instantly becomes, "Holy shit, they just said that word. Wow, I've got to think about this...oh man, they just said it again!" And these, naturally, are two white kids from SF, something that now is probably getting brought to this band's attention even more than the White Stripes thing was in 2002 when the band's first record was released.

The song's written from the point of view of a slave who's about to launch a rebellion of his own, and the band's singer was pretty forthright in saying the song was his way of acknowledging this time in history that spawned music very dear to him. AND, he countered with wondering if he was only allowed to write songs from his point of view, as a 21st century white kid in SF. Fair points, those.

But, regardless, I think the song belies an unfortunate mix of experimentation mixed with hubris. Yes, you can write from a point of view other than your own. That's why you're called a songwriter and not a diarist. And yes, avoiding the word as vigorously as we as a society have only seems to empower it in a sense. But it is an undeniably ugly word, and now that you've used it that's all we're talking about. Song? What song? Whether it's shame or self-censorship, society has placed that word firmly out of bounds. We--the city on a hill, the beacon of freedom, America--stole people from a country and enslaved them. And it was 'ok' then because of what they looked like. Reprehensible. I don't think banning this word is sweeping that time under the rug, I think it's an acknowledgement of its ugliness. Our penance for that sin is we've lost our rights to that word. So be it.

So. Good effort, Two Gallants. I'm not going to post the song right now because I really don't want them to become 'that band who said this word in their song' any more than they might already. They tried something and I don't think it worked--that doesn't mean they should be saddled with that misstep from this day foreward. If you ask and think it's warrented, I'll put it up in my next post and let you decide.

In the meantime, here's another song, seemingly from the same era Two Gallants sought to acknowledge but in what I think is a more wise manner.

"Black Soul Choir," by Sixteen Horsepower

Even removed from any acknowledgement of race, this is one passionate song. I've never seen Sixteen Horsepower, and in fact never heard much beyond this, which appeared on Jim White's "Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus" soundtrack. I imagine the lead singer practically convulsing in religious fervor in the middle of a tent revival, and I'm pretty much right there with him thanks to that insistent, almost sinister banjo and a driving martial snare. Preach it, brother. Sing it.


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