Music And Change

Here is something I got from a very close friend. I think it deserves a wider audience.

By Stanley Graham

Every once in a while, if you’re lucky, you have an “Aha moment”: a revelation, an epiphany, a moment of clarity. More common, for me at least, are those “What Were They Thinking” moments, when my naïve inner self is rudely forced into auto-examination by another’s incomprehensible statements — which, in the world my parents raised me, would indicate you were not (because of a lack of rational and/or civilized thought) the kind of person with whom I should, or would be allowed to, associate. My father would proclaim: “The best way to stay out of trouble is to stay away from trouble.” The banned personae of my parents’ world, in retrospect, seem limited to criminals, bibulists, racists, and religious zealots; though, at the time, I really didn’t know a bible from a bibulist.

I was brought up in one of those GI subdivisions, where the GI Bill and the American Dream came together to build neighborhoods reflected in popular culture, such as LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and FATHER KNOWS BEST. My father was the breadwinner, my mother was the homemaker, and until I started school, three times a day we sat down in the dining room as a family – my father came home for lunch every day – and if I had been playing outside I got cleaned up and dressed in time to greet him. When we were at the dining table we ate and had family conversations; neither television nor music was allowed at mealtimes since my father thought they would be distractions from the togetherness we shared at that table. Every Sunday we went to the church which stood at the end of our street (only seven houses away) and the elementary school I went to was just three blocks farther.

One Saturday when I was six years old, we were driving to Bay Springs to visit my maternal grandmother, and we stopped at a Billups service station for gasoline. It was in the summer of 1954 and cars were rarely air-conditioned back then; I was thirsty and went to one of the water coolers that stood in front of the office. There was a line of people at one water cooler and no one at the other. I went to the cooler that was open and got some nice, cold water. When I got back to the car my father was laughing and he said: ”Bud, did you see the signs above the water coolers?” I said, “Yes sir, I did. One of the signs says ‘White,’ the other sign says ‘Colored.’ What do they mean?” He said, “I hope you never know.” I asked him why there was a line of thirsty people standing in the hot sun at one water cooler when there was no one at the other. As I remember he said, “Foolishness, just damn foolishness.” I think the reason I remember this at all is when we got to my grandmother’s home he recounted the story, at much greater length than I remembered it, with pride at my “breaking from the herd.”

Yes, I am a Southerner; in 1752 when my ancestors landed in North Carolina they turned left at the mountains and wound up in Mississippi. Most of them moved on to Texas in 1811, when one of them, on the occasion of detecting wood smoke from a neighbor’s fireplace wrote: “this land is becoming too crowded.” I come from a long line of peculiar people who happen to be Mississippians.

Stacy, a dear friend who now lives in Seattle, chided me into joining Facebook, humorously emailing me: “if you don’t get on Facebook I will never speak to you again.” In the main that leads to thanks for Stacy in getting me back in touch with quite a few friends and, in one instance, for a self-examination brought on by a now “de-friended” acquaintance from high school.

As is my want, I post songs that appeal to me on my Facebook page, because of my love for music and the memories music evokes in me as well as a desire to share those images with my friends. Quite often there are responses that remind me of things that happened as long ago as “sock-hops” and “Dee-troits” – a haircut that combined the flat-top with duck tails.

There is a strong place and time association for me with the songs of my youth and yes, Tom – even disco. Margaret and I danced at The Lamar, Main Harbor, and Adrienne’s – usually Samba, Rumba, or Fast Fox Trot, but to discotheque music and we loved having dance floors available all around the town. Ah, to be young again… or at least to have a young back!

But then, last week, a “friend” defaced my Facebook wall with what I first took to be a racist response to one of the songs I had posted. I say defaced because when I read it I was at first shocked that someone would think something like that, much less publicly write it on someone else’s wall. At any rate, here are the lyrics to the song:

By Sam Cooke
I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ever since
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

It’s been too hard living but I’m afraid to die
Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep telling me don’t hang around
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Then I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees


There been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Sam Cooke’s song was rated Number 12 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It has been covered many times. The latest cover of which I am aware was on AMERICAN IDOL by Adam Lambert. I think it a beautiful, moving song.

The response, which shocked me to my core, was:

“If this is change you can keep it I don’t want it.”

Simple (on more than one level) and harsh, yet biased.

Shock and the immediate reaction that this person was a racist led me to revisit the lyrics; I still think it a beautiful, moving song. My second reaction was this might be a conservative (with a small “c”) knee-jerk reaction to the change we have recently had in the White House, evinced after President Obama’s slogan CHANGE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN, which led me back to my first reaction. Then, after reflection and discussion, the idea was posited that this song must have some particular relevance to this person’s life and an occurrence that was distasteful to them – my first reaction is still not ruled out; the explanation now goes from racist to probably racist but definitely rude… not much of an improvement.

In the end, it led to my not-so-simple decision to de-friend an acquaintance from high school. I should probably thank them for leading me to examine the song’s lyrics, their possible motives, and the results of actions one takes – even the action of hastily consigning one’s ill considered feelings to a near unknown on Facebook. But as the old saw goes: “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.”


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