FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How I Got Over Last Week

Amy Ray sings “Become You,” the title track of the Indigo Girls’ new album, while fingering a 500 year old wound. “I heard you sing a rebel song, sing it loud and all alone,” she begins. “…I see you walking in the glare down the county road we share. Our southern blood, my heresy, damn that ol’ confederacy.”

When Ray sings that verse, I see my friend and CounterPunch contributor Kevin Gray on the statehouse lawn in South Carolina, with a Confederate flag in one hand, a Nazi flag in the other, both in flames. She couldn’t come closer to that spirit if she’d lit the match. “The center holds, so they say.” “It never held too well for me,” responds her Indigo partner, Emily Sellers, her voice muted as a conscience. Then Ray summons her nerve and explains: “The center held the bonded slave for the sake of industry. The center held the bloody hand of the executioner man.”

When Ray sings that line, I see the face of my brother Byron Parker, executed by the state of Georgia last December. And I see the faces of the SNCC Freedom Singers, who always, it seemed, looked up for the light while their voices blended.

At the end Ray makes a declaration, “It took a long time to become the thing I am to you. And you won’t tear it apart without a fight, without a heart,” and then for the last line, no anger, no exultation, no freedom, just pain: “It took a long time to become you, become you.”

When Ray sings that, I see my father’s face. Yet “Become You” isn’t a song about being trapped so much as it’s a song about freedom. It can’t be a freedom song in the great tradition of “We Shall Overcome.” You need a movement for that. But it’s a brilliant attempt to testify about what the civil rights movement left undone. It is, as Craig Werner, author of the great Change Is Gonna Come: Music, Race and the Soul of America, recognized as soon as he heard it, the great record about the South that Tom Petty and Michael Stipe have groped to make for years, and it’s that not only because it’s so beautiful but because it hits the issue head on.

Just as I discovered “Become You,” the news came that Dorothy Love Coates, leader of the Gospel Harmonettes, had died in Birmingham, Alabama, the hometown she never left except for extended journeys on the gospel highway. Dot’s brilliant songs–“That’s Enough,” “The Separation Line,” “No Hiding Place,” “The Hymn” and above all, “Strange Man,” her rendition of Jesus as fully human miracle–portray a religion that carries you through all life’s tribulations and promises a salvation identical with justice. In short, they define the social gospel. It’ll take more than “Become You” to replace them, but it’s a great start.

Dot sings her songs in a uniquely powerful voice, using a preacher’s cadence that makes all the old stories come alive and brings new ones into focus. Just before we learned that she’d passed, Daniel Wolff, author of The Memphis Blues Again, and I were talking about “The Hymn,” from the VeeJay album below, where Dot sermonizes on topics including the assassination of JFK and the bombing murders of four little girls in 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. She has no answers except “In God’s own time and in God’s own way he’s gonna make everything all right.” But then she turns to a song, a very very old one. “It’s getting late, late in the evening,” she sings, in a voice meant as a reminder. At the end, she sings still another tune. “I got my cross on my shoulder, Lord, comin’ on home, comin’ on home.”

I don’t know how many roads home there may be. Dot’s has unquestionably led her where she wanted to be. Amy Ray’s very different route has just taken a leap. Both of them have blessed us by letting us share their route. They leave me feeling that to honor them we need to ask ourselves one question, albeit the fiercest of all: “Are you coming along?”

DeskScan
(what’s playing in my office):

1. The Soul of the Gospel Harmonettes / Peace in the Valley, Dorothy Love Coates and the Gospel Harmonettes (VeeJay/Collectables)

2. The Best of Dorothy Love Coates and the Original Gospel Harmonettes (Specialty/Fantasy)

3. Become You, Indigo Girls (Epic)

4. The Gospel Sound (Columbia, includes “Strange Man”)

5. 1000 Kisses, Patty Griffin

6. By the Hand of the Father, Alejandro Escovedo (Texas Music Group advance)

7. Truth, The Jeff Beck Group (Epic)

8. The Best of Both Worlds, R. Kelly & Jay-Z (Jive/Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)

9. Stop Breakin’ Down, Baby Boy Warren (Official)

10. Global, Carl Cox (FFRR/Warner)

 

Dave Marsh coedits Rock and Rap Confidential. He can be reached at: marsh6@optonline.net

Dave Marsh’s Previous DeskScan Top 10 Lists:

April 9, 2002

April 2, 2002

March 25, 2002

March 18, 2002

March 11, 2002

More articles by:

Dave Marsh edits Rock & Rap Confidential, one of CounterPunch’s favorite newsletters, now available for free by emailing: rockrap@aol.com. Dave blogs at http://davemarsh.us/

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail