Let’s be honest: Country songs aren’t exactly written with repeated playings at Mensa meetings in mind. With a few very notable exceptions, country music “artists” tend to eschew analogy and subtext in favor of just coming out and saying whatever the hell it is they’re trying to get across. When the guy who won this year’s Academy of Country Music award for Entertainer of the Year sings “Rain Is a Good Thing,” he’s not talking about a metaphoric rain that will wash away his pain so that a bright new day can dawn; he’s talking about rain. Rain that makes corn, which makes whiskey, which makes his baby feel frisky. And that’s, you know, a good thing. There’s not much depth to country music, and when a Hail Mary pass at profundity is attempted, it usually winds up sounding like the kind of thing you’d imagine coming from a frat boy who’s had too much to drink and is suddenly unleashing some of the sad poetry he secretly writes on you at 3am.
Which brings us to the new song by Brad Paisley. It’s called Accidental Racist and it’s about — get ready for the surprising wordplay — accidentally being viewed as a racist. In the song, Paisley laments how hard it for him these days as a white man who loves the South and is proud of it and of his Southern heritage. See, Paisley wants to be able to wear his confederate flag t-shirt, but he wants to make sure people know that by doing it he’s just saying, “Hey, I’m a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan.” (For the record, I’d be less embarrassed to say that I flaunt the stars-and-bars because I think black people should be kept as property than to admit that I like Lynyrd Skynyrd, but whatever.) He also says that he feels caught between “Southern pride and Southern blame,” cranking the melodramatic self-pity to unimaginable levels and creating what I can’t deny might be the very first emo country song.
In keeping with country music tradition I’ll dispense with the irony and sarcasm that risks going over people’s heads and just flat out say it: Accidental Racist is an unimaginably awful song, the kind of thing that’s so batshit insane that as you’re hearing it, you can’t believe you’re actually hearing it. And that’s before LL Cool J inexplicably comes in to provide an ebony-and-ivory-style counterbalance of racial misunderstanding by bemoaning the fact that white people apparently think he’s a hood because he wears gold chains. The point, I guess, is that everybody’s to blame and everybody needs to just put their prejudices and stereotypes away in the name of creating a better America, or at least one where white people can be free from the persecution that’s apparently dogged them for centuries. Can’t we all just get along, y’all?
I’m all about bucking political correctness, but to put the comically ridiculous conceit of white oppression to a crappy, “Freedom Costs a Buck-Oh-Five”-style country melody and try to sell it as a sober meditation on racism and a plea for social harmony is cynical at best, offensive at worst. Yeah, I know it sucks that Paisley and his fans can’t plaster the backs of their pick-ups with “The South’s Gonna Rise Again” bumper stickers without at least a couple of people thinking they’re redneck assholes, but trust me, it beats being on the other side of the history they’re claiming to honor. You know, being the people who were bought and sold at auction and who were regularly beaten whenever they stepped out of line. I’d try to wrap my head around why LL Cool J would have anything at all to do with such a mind-boggling endeavor, but I guess it’s important to note that this is LL Cool J we’re talking about — he’s not exactly known for being discerning when it comes to picking projects.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m pretty sure that Brad Paisley’s heart was in the right place with this. I think he probably really does believe he’s extending a “cotton branch” from the tradition-steeped South to the 21st century in the name of building bridges of racial understanding. But comparing white Southern pride with a love for the New York Yankees — claiming that they’re alike in passion and are equally benign — makes you either woefully misguided or monumentally fucking stupid. And if I’m wrong and Paisley’s in fact doing nothing more than tawdrily pandering to an audience that’s constantly looking for cultural absolution for sins it doesn’t really believe it committed in the first place, then Accidental Racist is even more repugnant than it seems to be at first blush.
As it stands, the song is a lunkheaded defense of the better parts of Southern history that masquerades as a halfhearted apology for the worse.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.