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Friday, August 18, 2017

Southern Man and Northern Man: Ronnie and Neil, The Un-Civil Wars & Rebels with Causes

Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ronnie Van Zant wearing a Neil Young "Tonight's The Night" T-shirt
Oakland Coliseum Stadium, July 2, 1977

Photographer: Michael Zagaris on Wolfgang's Vault

As today's un-Civil Wars continue to heat up and totally eclipse what really matters, all sorts of scapegoats are being dragged out of closets in futile attempts to distract, distort, entrain and inflame.

Everyone -- it seems -- has an opinion. Everyone is an expert. Everyone has the right solution.

So along comes the following article The Problem with Southern Rock by Barney Hoskyns, author of Hotel California: Singer-Songwriters & Cocaine Cowboys in the L.A. Canyons.
The hideous events unfolding in the U.S. over the past week prompted me to dig out this Guardian piece from April 2012. Titled Titled “Southern rock’s passion and romance is marred by racism and bigotry”, the article served as a preview to James Maycock’s BBC4 southern-rock doc Sweet Home Alabama. Here’s praying a few more southern rockers (and country singers, for that matter) stick their heads over the parapet and condemn Trump’s revolting collusion with racists and neo-Nazi supremacists. Even if Alabama is their sweet white homeland.

Was Skynyrd’s anthem of the same name a song of defiant pride cocking a snook at Neil Young’s ‘Southern Man’ (not to mention his ‘Alabama’) or was it something much worse – a strutting defence of old Confederate values, complete with egregious tip of the Stetson to segregationist governor George Wallace? ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ was and is a stonking song but Ronnie Van Zant wanted it both ways: to be both a bourbon-chugging rock rebel and the Yankee-baiting bigot that Young was decrying.

“Those of us who have characterized [Van Zant] as a misunderstood liberal,” wrote Mark Kemp – one of Maycock’s interviewees – in his excellent Dixie Lullaby: A Story of Music, Race, and New Beginnings in a New South (2004), “have done so only to placate our own irrational feelings of shame for responding to the passion in his music.”

“To the young white Southerner, black music always appealed more than white pop music,” Walden, who died in 2006, told me. “Certainly the Beach Boys’ surfing stuff never would have hacked it in the South. It was too white and it just wasn’t relevant. The waves weren’t too high down here.”

Sweet Home Alabama doesn’t shirk the regrettable fact that Southern Rock was born partly of the deepening racial divide that opened up after the 1968 assassination – in Memphis, of all the musical places – of Martin Luther King. “By the end of the decade, a lot of the results of the civil rights era had served to urbanise black music,” Walden said in my 1985 interview with him. “A lot of the people we had considered friends were suddenly calling us blue-eyed devils.”

Following Duane Allman’s stinging slide-guitar cameos on landmark tracks by Clarence Carter and Wilson Pickett, the racial cross-pollination of the southern soul era in Alabama hotspot Muscle Shoals (namechecked in Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home’) came to a shuddering halt. Black music got blacker while white southern rock went back to its first principles of melding country music with rhythm ‘n’ blues.

“In a sense the evolution of Southern rock was a reactionary attempt to return rock ‘n’ roll to its native soil,” suggested the Texan writer Joe Nick Patoski. “After the decline of interest in rockabilly, white rock in the South had taken a back seat to country & western and soul.”
The theory that music has been used to further divide the races is not a unique idea -- one which even Bob Dylan affirms is the reality. Rock ‘n’ roll was racially integrated in the 1950's until becoming commercially segregated in the 1960's into white (British Invasion Beatles and Rolling Stones) and black (soul, James Brown) music.

Rock ’n’ Roll: "The black element was turned into soul music and the white element was turned into English pop."
AARP - February/March 2015

For our longtime, regular readers, you know that the subject of Ronnie VanZant and Neil Young is quite dear to us. We have delved into the subject ad infinitum so many, many , many times before.

So, long time Thrasher's Wheat readers, please bear with us about one little factoid that our less frequent readers may not know about us.

"Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
a southern man don't need him around anyhow"

Growing up in the American South in the 1970's as a Neil Young fan wasn't exactly easy. It seems as if all of our life that whenever the subject of musical tastes came up and we revealed our appreciation of Young's music, almost invariably it was met with those lines above from Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" -- or worse, as in, the punches came fast and hard, lying on our back in the school yard, just to be blunt about it.

You see, Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" is more than just an anthem for many -- it serves as a statement for a way of life that is intensely protected such that when threatened -- it can produce some very uncomfortable results.

"Sweet Home Alabama", written by Lynyrd Skynyrd partially in response to Young's "Alabama" and "Southern Man" contains the apocryphal line: "I hope Neil Young will remember, a Southern man don't need him around anyhow". In his recent book Waging Heavy Peace, Young writes of his "Alabama" lyrics:
"I don't like my words when I listen to it today. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue."
It would seem that hardly a day goes past, where we come across a blog post, Facebook status update or tweet, that attempts the "Neil Young putdown" without seeming comprehension of the context or the true story of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young.

For us, understanding the fascinating backstory of Ronnie and Neil and laying to rest the "Feud Myth" has proved to be quite challenging in these polarized times. But to know the full story is to know the true meaning of "Powderfinger". To know what is the color when black is burned. To know a trip isn't a fall.

Sweet Home Everywhere:
The Life and Times of an Unlikely Rock and Roll Anthem

by Jonathan Bernstein
(Please note that instead of the stars and bars, the stars have been replaced by hearts, ok?)

Which brings us to the actual news that Lynyrd Skynrd have taken a stand and denounced the Confederate flag. In the CNN clip from 2012, Gary Rossington, says that the band, recognizing the stars-and-bars flag's offensive and racist undertones, will cease using it as a stage decoration at concerts supporting its new album "Last of a Dyin' Breed."

So what could be the possible problem with what seems to be enlightened 21st century thinking? Well, it turns out that this decision has angered their fan base. Really. From Lynyrd Skynrd denounces Confederate flag, angering some fans - by August Brown:
"Through the years, people like the KKK and skinheads kinda kidnapped the Dixie or Southern flag from its tradition and the heritage of the soldiers, that's what it was about," Rossington said. "We didn't want that to go to our fans or show the image like we agreed with any of the race stuff or any of the bad things." This apparently didn't sit well with some of the band's fans back in Dixie, who have taken to the comments section with pained vitriol. "Good luck with your next release 'Sweet home Massachusetts.' I am sure it will climb the charts with a bullet in Yankee-land," said one. "This isn't the real Lynyrd Skynyrd anyway. They should have taken a name like 'Obama's Politically Correct Sell Your Soul Make Believe Impostors' or something," opined another.
Somewhere, Ronnie is still having a good laugh at Alabama officials and Neil Young bashers. Such is the duality of the southern thing.

MCA Records 45RPM Single  
Is "Sweet Home Alabama" Really Sweet?
And the negative reaction to the announcement continued in the article's comments:
G. D. Smith: It's a shame that instead of hiding the battle flag out of political correctness, they didn't attempt to help educate the public about the rich history and heritage of the South. The last time I saw a story about the KKK, they were flying the Stars & Stripes. Yet in almost every picture you showed of LS in concert, they had Old Glory out there on stage. Does that mean they're now KKK members? Of course not. But by ignoring and denying the flag that is part of their history, they are leaving a large segment of their fan base behind as well. It's a shame that money is now more important than honor and heritage.
L R Stover: So y'all admit during the interview that the Confederate Flag represents history, heritage and the Confederate soldier, then you stop flying it because some misinformed people equate the flag with racism instead of continuing to educate people on our Southern symbol? Quoting Johnny Van Zant, "We speak for our fans, we speak for ourselves." Well, you just lost a significant portion of your fans so continue to speak for yourself. Good luck with you next release.."Sweet home Massachusetts." I am sure it will climb the charts with a bullet in yankee-land.
Paul Cox: It's hilarious to me that old school Lynyrd Skynyrd fans conveniently gloss over the fact that the original band was actually left-leaning (they campaigned hard for Carter in 1976, wrote a pro-gun control song called "Saturday Night Special"). It's only after the replacements came in that they started spoonfeeding their conservative fanbase exactly what they wanted. The confederate flag may mean heritage to some people, but I grew up in Alabama and I know what it really means. It means that there was a point in history that states were willing to go to war with the union over the right to own human beings.
“Star-Spangled Banner” 
 Jimi Hendrix - Woodstock, 1969 
Jimi Hendrix was the ultimate cross over artist spanning the races with his incendiary groundbreaking music, changing rock ’n’ roll forever and making way for what was to come in the 1970's with the Allman Brothers and other southern rock bands. And on and on... Civil wars ... been there, done that. Civil Rights ... Civil Disobedience ... Civilization ... Southern Men and Northern Men ... and all the good women too -- we need them around anyhow, more than ever.

Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ronnie VanZant Wearing Neil Young T-shirt 
Oakland Coliseum, July 2, 1977 
More on the true story of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young.

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At 8/18/2017 09:44:00 AM, Blogger joe lookout said...

Total confusion, disillusion, old things we know well.....

At 8/18/2017 11:21:00 AM, Blogger NYBD11-12 said...

RE: Southern rock
The penultimate southern rock band was The Allman Brothers Band. Not only was the band integrated (yay Jaimoe!), but a major part of their repertoire was songs by Elmore James, Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, and more. The ABB exposed white southerners to black blues in a way that the Yardbirds, Zep, et al never could or did. As Muddy once sang: "The blues had a baby, and they called it rock n roll."

As to Sweet Home Alabama, Ronnie seems to be channeling/reflecting the feelings of Alabamans, not necessarily reflecting his own views.

As a previous commentator noted, they sang "Saturday Night Special." The key verse and chorus:

Hand guns are made for killin'
They ain't no good for nothin' else
And if you like to drink your whiskey
You might even shoot yourself
So why don't we dump 'em people
To the bottom of the sea
Before some ol' fool come around here
Wanna shoot either you or me

Mr. Saturday night special
You got a barrel that's blue and cold
You ain't good for nothin'
But put a man six feet in a hole

At 8/18/2017 12:39:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@Unknown - good point on The Allman Brothers Band.

Duane Allman’s slide-guitar with Wilson Pickett and drummer Jaimoe Johanson touring with Otis Redding was hugely influential on southern rock, no doubt.

Duane ‘Free Bird’, RIP.

At 8/18/2017 12:59:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ joe - deja vu, eh? That's kind of the point here.

We're in a loop that keeps repeating. Break the cycle. Rise above the divide & rule.

There is no black. There is no white. Only the color of Hue-manity.


At 8/18/2017 01:45:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

To quote Frank Zappa: " I know I'm not black, but there's a lot of times I wish I could say I'm not white".

At 8/18/2017 04:33:00 PM, Blogger joe lookout said...

Everywhere the dictatorship fell the dictactor statues were destroyed ( I clearly remember the one of Saddam....)

Here in Europe, nowadays, we have to face the Jihad terrorism and IMHO is way high more dangerous than the statues of the Southern Generals. But...... I think people, as usual, unfortunately focus on symbols rather than real substance......


At 8/18/2017 07:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8/19/2017 08:06:00 AM, Blogger Thos said...

Joe lookout, I'm not sure I agree with you. As utterly shit and appalling as extreme Islamic terrorism is, the chances of it actually killing or maiming you are actually very small, although clearly every step should be taken to prevent it happening at all. Kudos to our security agencies for stopping so many attacks before they happen, if only they could stop them all.

However, while the argument over 'statues' seems insignificant, the argument is really about what is in peoples' hearts: the figures depicted in these monuments fought FOR slavery and racism. Black people (along with immigrants from elsewhere in the world) in America are significantly more likely to face racial prejudice, to be incarcerated for a disproportionately long time, to be killed by a police officer (even if unarmed), to face poverty, to not finish their education, and so on; unfortunately there is still a long way to go before all Americans get an equal/fair start in life.

It strikes me that honouring someone whose entire values were based around disempowering and enslaving people of a different race, in a world where there is already so much discrimination, is tantamount to supporting their values.

I've heard the arguments about erasing or rewriting history, but I think they're invalid - no one is suggesting these figures didn't exist (just as no one would argue saddam Hussain didn't exist) but, as happened with the ex-president of Iraq, statues should be removed to not celebrate their legacy.

Arguably the same is true of the confederate flag. Once it was the flag of the south, but it became the symbol of a warring side who were fighting to keep slavery, which we all find offensive. The nazi swastika was originally an old Buddhist/Hindu design, but now it's become the symbol of naziism, which we all find offensive. Arguably the same thing?

So in summary, terrorism is shit, but so in a different way is racism experienced on a daily basis by large sections of society. The argument isn't really about statues that often aren't even 100 years old: they're about whether we should celebrate the achievements of those who represent racism and oppression.

Discuss... 😉

At 8/19/2017 08:18:00 AM, Blogger Thos said...

I think what I'm saying is, both terrorism and racism are dreadful; arguably discriminatuon affects more people than domestic terrorism, so any steps we can make to lessen it are worth taking?

At 8/19/2017 09:32:00 AM, Blogger herbsworld said...

Three Words:

Drive By Truckers.

(If ya don't know 'em OR never heard 'em, you should)
start w/ the Youtube.

At 8/19/2017 10:27:00 AM, Blogger Lloyd Walton said...

Seen from afar, as these monuments to the grand American experiment topple, I'm reminded of an old Russian proverb. History is very hard to predict.

At 8/19/2017 03:25:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

No one is born with hate. Hate is taught.
Teach your children to love and care for each other and help create a better future.


At 8/19/2017 03:48:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Thos - Thanks and good points. For us, the problem of erasing and rewriting history is highly problematic. How do we learn from mistakes of the past if we destroy them so that they become forgotten?

Yes, by all means, we should celebrate the achievements of those who represent racism and oppression.

@ herbsworld - Right, DBT's Ronnie & Neil says all that needs to said.

The point here being that if the quintessential "Southern Man" (Ronnie) and Northern Man (Neil) can become friends, than it should not be that hard to truly end this ongoing civil war once and for all.

@ Lloyd - thanks for distant perspective b/c we need it. History is actually not hard to predict. Nor the future as it keeps repeating until the true history is learned and not repeated. That's why we're trapped in a loop b/c of the destruction of history prevents us from learning and moving forward.

@ Dan - Yes, teach those children. We reap what we sow.

Ignorance is violence.

And thanks to all for the civil discussions here. We were conCERNed that this thread might spiral, but we're relieved to see so many respectful exchanges.

TW was founded with the firm belief that if all Neil fans could get along, that would mark a real turning point in history.

ps - "The Big Shift" is happening right now -- whether you believe it or not -- you won't escape it.

At 8/19/2017 04:14:00 PM, Blogger joe lookout said...

@ Thos

Dear friend, some nazi death camps (Auschwitz in particular) are still there to remind us what

human madness could produce. Symbols can be 'used' in different ways. To me, the most

important thing is to teach history (which, more often than not, is written by 'winners') in a

well balanced an objective way. Here in Italy we had the fascist dictator Mussolini, for

more than 20 years. We still have symbols of that period, every where, (not Statues of him

though) and I think this has not caused big issues so far. If destroying symbols of the

past had been a common practice, we would not have any trace of our history. I do hope that

in US and everywhere else wisdom and intellingence could prevail against hate and racism.


At 8/20/2017 01:16:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

DBTs brilliant band put POTR in the shade 'Ronnie & Neil' such is the duality of the Southern Man

At 8/20/2017 08:09:00 AM, Blogger Thos said...

Hi Joe lookout, thanks for your comments. Good point about the preserved death camps at auschwitz and dachau. By preserving these horrors of history people can indeed remember what humans can be capable of, and remain vigilant.

My fear is that many of those who want to preserve the statues aren't looking at them and saying "there's s bad man who stood for hatred". I mean at Charlottesville, the protesters turned up at nighttime with torches: symbolism much?! These weren't historians worried about not being reminded of the errors of the past: rather, they were celebrating what the statue represents: racism.

Good point also regarding musoloni, many of whose building projects are architectural gems which will likely be treasured forever for their aesthetic and practical value. My point would be that no one in Italy is facing fascism on a daily basis, and so seeing these buildings isn't like rubbing salt into an open wound. However if you're a person of colour who already faces racism and oppression just because of the way they look, then seeing these statues of prominent racists in heroic poses probably is like rubbing salt into an open wound. I agree it's a tightrope, with nuanced arguments on both sides, but these are my opinions.

It's also worth noting that Robert E Lee didn't want any confederate statues putting up as he himself thought it would stop wounds from healing.

At 8/20/2017 09:51:00 AM, Blogger joe lookout said...


Tks so much for your reply, hope to manage to document myself deeper, in order to better understand what's going on....


At 8/20/2017 10:25:00 AM, Blogger Thos said...

Hey respect Joe, it's nice to chat things through with you. Very jealous of you living in Italy, such a beautiful country!

Thanks thrasher as always for providing such a good forum for debate!

At 8/20/2017 01:38:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

@Lookout & Thos : Many thanks for your welcome input here on the subject at hand. You have presented your views with love and compassion and I have got much value from your perspectives.

Peace to ALL.

At 8/20/2017 06:23:00 PM, Blogger joe lookout said...

@Thos,Dan and Thrasher: Tks to all from a humid and hot Roman night...keep on loving in the Free world....

At 8/20/2017 08:43:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ All - thanks for speaking out your truths.

... because, silence is complicity.

"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

~~ Martin Luther King, Jr.


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