A cry for understanding.*

January 23rd, 2011

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*Republished from September 2006 — on the occasion of George Allen’s announcement that he will run again for the Virginia senate.

As a blogger, I get a lot of free books and music to review. Before the whole ‘Macaca’ incident, George Allen’s manager sent me this tape and I just got around to listening to it. Let me tell you, this guy can sing.

It’s really too bad he’s getting such heat on the racism thing — because racist though he may seem, racist he cannot be. Nobody gets irony any longer — maybe they never did. The man’s a brilliant songwriter and musician. As he tells his fans, “I’m a real country music guy,” and he is. But he is so much more.

First off, he’s got a voice like aged Jack Daniels, with a dollop of tobacco juice mixed in to give it a raw edge. The album’s title song, “Hey nigger, don’t call me ‘Jew’”, acknowledges the angst he feels as a descendant of Abraham. He whips himself remorselessly. From the first words, “I am a Hebrew, but don’t call me Jew, expecially you, Niggggerrrrr!” The irony is in the racial taunt. It is George Allen calling himself names — that he is all races contained in one is clear to anyone who has a soul. It simply comes through in the music. And the part of himself he knows best is the part he calls “Niggggerrrr!” The word comes out as one long, keening note which starts low in his rich baritone and reaches well into soprano territory. I wanted to lift up my speakers and cry back into them, “Don’t tear yourself down like that. You have value. You have become a Senator. Isn’t that worth something?”

Another song: “Got a noose with your name on it, darkie.” Low, quiet, anguished strumming (yes, he plays the guitar himself) while, incredibly, he picks the melody octaves higher. (I wish this were a DVD so I could see how he does it). A long intro then the haunting words: “My people were expelled from the temple, oh so many centuries ago. The Romans reviled us. Europe reviled us. Especially Germany reviled us. So why must I take it out on you? I don’t know, but it pains me, too, darkiieeee!” We all have a part of ourselves we wish to kill off, but how many of us confront it so starkly?

Then Allen rounds off the set and goes to his roots with, “I’m surfing, Bojangles, get off the beach.” This is a lighter song. It fairly romps. You can hear the waves and the wind (I believe Allen might actually have mixed in some wind and wave sound effects, but who knows? He’s got such shit-kickin’ licks, they might actually morph into the sounds of God’s natural creations). But interleaving the thump of the waves and the plopping of the surfboard are the words, coming out almost pointillistically — “My trunks are star-spangled, the swells are right-angled, I don’t need to be Bo-jangled… if you don’t mind.” On the surface, the song is free of Judaic self-allusion, but I heard something that caused me to play the tape backwards at three times the speed. Amazing. It sounded like a trio of dolphins singing, “If I was a rich man, da da dumble dumble doodle doodle deedle deedle dee.” Again, very light. It was as the performer had accepted his Jewishness and was moving beyond.

As for “nigger”, “darkie”, “Bojangles”, “dinge”, “Sambo”, etc. They are only the necessary psychological catalysts for deeper self-exploration. Perhaps it is too late. The spinners are at work in the media: “George Allen is a racist.” Blah blah blah.

Get the tape. Listen carefully. Make up your own mind.

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