Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sweet Home Alabama ?

I'm in the deep south, at the Gulf Coast of Alabama. Lynyrd Skynyrd's well-known anthem plays juxtaposed to Neil young's protest song in my sleepy head. I loved both of these songs as a kid. I remember the Harvest album of Neil Young because mine had a scratch on it right in the middle of the Alabama song. I also had a Lynyrd Skynrd double LP, Gold and Platinum greatest hits record. The songs were not in conflict in my white, privileged world, when I first heard them. I payed little attention to the substance of the words as a youngster; they had no application for me. I was shielded from overt racial tensions when my parents sacrificed to put me and my sister in private school at the start of busing in my hometown. Still, the divide was plain. We didn't learn with children from different backgrounds, we did not worship with their families either. Everything about my world was white, upper middle class, and safe, or so I thought.
Today, I witnessed Bitter Home Alabama. I lay basking in the breeze available to all this morning, when a black couple, whose lienage may or may not be African, and for facts sake they may or may not be Americans, so I refer to them as black. To my left, underneath a University of Alabama umbrella was perched a white couple, whose lineage may or may not be English, Dutch, Swedish, or German, but for brevity's sake, I call them white: I have no time for hyphens. As the black couple strolled past me, I caught wind of the white couple's editorial on the presence of Blacks. Quite literally, too. The acrid words falling from their lips floated in my direction on the neutral breeze;

"You see more and more of them up and down the beaches these days." "Uh-huh umm,.."

I looked up and caught their chubby blanched faces only ten feet away; I wanted to acknowledge I heard their pitiful exchange. The caught woman waved in my direction as if asserting some solidarity. All I could do was stare back and ponder the irony of hundreds of white folk lying in the sunny breeze, trying to acquire the perfect tan. By this time, the black couple was twenty five yards away, no worse for the wear, because, it seemed, they'd not received the poison trickling from syrupy sweet lips.

This eavsedropping on the wind sang a sad song of the Alabama in which the white couple live and the one for which Neil Young lamented.

And on my record, Neil's Alabama goes like this:

Alabama, you got the weight on your shoulders that's breaking your back,
breaking your back,
breaking your back,
breaking your back,
breaking your back... After I could take the melancholy no more, I would walk across the room, take the stylus off the record, sigh, and start it over at Heart of Gold, knowing the back breaking would come again all too soon.

No comments: