God damn it! I was having a good day, sort of. Last night, I didn’t sleep much. I’d fall asleep, then wake up with that feeling like I’d stuck my finger in a socket. You can trust me on this. I got zapped in electrical school enough times to remember that feeling for decades to come – and by enough times I mean once. Anyway, while I did not enjoy lying on my couch waiting for the state-wide tornado warnings to pass, I did enjoy putting in a full day at the hair salon. In December, I told Rosana how much I despised January, the gray landscape, the dreariness.
Tata: I can’t take it. I want to leave the salon looking like a tropical fish.
Rosana: Atlantic or Pacific?
Tata: Pacific. Please!
Just after noon, I was running late for my appointment and stopped at a pay phone – my cell has little cartoon x’s over its eyes – on Livingston Avenue on my way up to the salon. The pharmacy was only open for two hours and I couldn’t get there.
Tata: This is Ta. Is Paulie there?
Aaron: Paulie’s sound asleep.
Tata: Would you ask him to go to the pharmacy and pick up medicine for Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul? It has to be around 1 this afternoon.
Aaron: At 1? Might as well get him up.
I’m standing on a corner in a raincoat that looks like nothing if not an especially festive flowered lawn chair pillow. I personally look like Cher’s Avon lady, and because I know exactly where I am, I am trying to keep my eye on the foot traffic in 360 degrees of broad daylight while Aaron shuffles into the living room I used to nap in and gives his son Paulie Gonzalez a shove. I already feel guilty.
Paulie: Hello? Are you alright?
Tata: I’m fine but I mismanaged my time. Can you pick up the cat’s medicine at the pharmacist?
Paulie: I was just on my way out. Sure.
Tata: What? Okay, thanks.
I sashay into the salon feeling pretty stupid. Rosana recalls clearly what we talked about right before that terrifying debacle that was the rapid series of non-stop holidays.
Rosana: Do you know what you’d like to do?
Tata: I’m interested in suggestions.
Rosana: Well! How about this base color and this pink highlight and black around the edges? And I have ideas about the cut.
Tata: Bring it!
I knew from the moment I walked into this salon and saw my former drinking buddy that eventually saying, “Darling, what do you think?” would produce big, and today it happened. It took four and a half hours, but it happened. Tonight, my cut is beautifully Thirties-retro, which I love, Around my my scalpline, there’s a ring of black hair, and the rest is two tones of utterly unnatural red. My eyes look much greener. I look like a silent film murderess. So of course, I came home happy, turned on the laptop and the TV, where I heard that fucking commercial for KFC. I’ve written about this before under other names, at other times. Listen to me carefully:
There is no excuse for playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama in a public place. Stop it. Don’t use it. And when someone else uses it, make it financially worth their while to stop it.
Let’s look at the lyrics, shall we?
Big wheels keep on turning
Carry me home to see my kin
Singing songs about the Southland
I miss Alabamy once again
And I think its a sin, yes
Well I heard mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ol’ Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow
Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you
In Birmingham they love the gov’ nor
Now we all did what we could do
Now Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you?
Tell the truth
See, this song is so-thirty-years-ago that you sing along as it pops up in rotation on your rock station and you don’t think about it anymore, if you ever did. It’s lost all its context. Its meaning is lost on the radio-karaoke/cover-band mentality, and as anthropologists and ad men know: meaning is easily lost, replaced by a commercial message and made into kitsch.
What were our long-dead and strangely career-comatose friends from Florida talking about? Neil Young lyrics are hard to get verbatim on the web. After a few tries, I found lyrics transcribed by fans. Allowing for nuance, we get:
Southern man better keep your head
Don’t forget what your good book said
Southern change gonna come at last
Now your crosses are burning fast
I saw cotton and I saw black
Tall white mansions and little shacks.
Southern man when will you
pay them back?
I heard screamin’ and bullwhips cracking
How long? How long?
The funny thing is when I hear Mr. Van Zant sing, I hear the words: “Well I heard Mr. Young sing about us“. Maybe you hear it. Maybe you don’t. I’ve never had any doubt. This is unbelievable arrogance. This is: What the fuck does that hippie Canadian have to say about us Good Old Boys lynchin’ our niggers? And you’re singing along, with our catchy song.
And to what governor does the song refer? George Wallace. Later in his career, after the song, Governor Wallace changed his mind about race issues, but not that much. One of the single most nauseating images I’ve ever seen was a photograph of Tammy Wynette singing Stand By Your Man to the wheelchair-bound Wallace. Also, my conscience may prick at me now and then, but in an age when my government is the greatest threat to my freedom and the people of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans will be abandoned yet again when they’re kicked out of their hotels soon, Watergate as an insult to us Northerners looks like the arrow on the “I’m with stupid” t-shirt is pointed straight up.
Jesus Christ! KFC: no matter who your demographic might be, stop using commercials with African-American actors, selling heart-cloggingly bad fucking fried chicken to African-Americans, using as your anthem a song that is basically a want ad for a lynch mob. And don’t get me started about that Reese Witherspoon movie, because the whole premise was in such poor taste I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the posters in a mall, and being in a mall didn’t put me in a great mood to begin with.
There’s no excuse for this. No words can make this right, and yet this campaign goes on and on. Every time I see and/or hear one of these commercials it wrecks my mood for a while. I can’t believe someone hasn’t cleaned KFC’s clock over this.
Shit. I was having a pretty good day.
P.S. Via Professor Kim: We can’t ignore it and say it’s ancient history.