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Friday, June 05, 2020

The Story of Neil Young's "Southern Man"

Earlier this week, Neil Young streamed a 2019 solo acoustic version of ‘SOUTHERN MAN’ on Neil Young Archives.

On the album Decade, Neil Young's writes in the liner notes about the song "Southern Man":
This song could have been written on a civil rights march after stopping off to watch "Gone With The Wind" at a local theatre.

But I wasn't there so I don't know for sure. Actually I think I wrote it in the Fillmore East dressing room in 1970.

In light of current global events, Neil Young's song "Southern Man" has taken on new relevance about an old story. There were likely many drivers for featuring the song "Southern Man", but probably a key lyric is the line: "Don't forget what your good book said", given U.S. President Donald Trump's walk from The White to St Johns Church in Washington, DC on June 2, 2020.

"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 Southern man"

U.S. President Donald Trump @ St Johns Church
Washington, DC - June 2, 2020

Here is some additional background and context on The Story of Neil Young's "Southern Man", courtesy of the essential Sugar Mountain.

From Neil Young concert on May 16, 1974 at The Bottom Line, New York City:
I have to tell you a story about Southern Man.

I was at the Oakland Coliseum. I was playing away. I was having a pretty mediocre time actually. It wasn't that hot you know. Show number fifty-eight. We were all tired. The band wasn't right in the first place. It was one of those things you know. By the time we got there - Southern Man - everybody, every night would yell "Southern Man, Southern Man". I could dig it you know. It was nice. But I went to sing it. And I was singing away and I started off...and by then you know I sang it with Crosby, Stills & Nash and I sang it by myself and I was singing it with these guys. By then I was starting to sort of feel like a Wurlitzer. Even though I really believed the song, where I was at, where I wrote it and everything. But anyway, I was singing away, "Southern Man better keep your head, don't forget what the good book...". This guy in the front row as far away as me and you. He jumped up, "right on, right on, I love it". He felt really good I could tell. All of a sudden this, this black cop just walked up to him - it just was the scene, the way it looked to me - and he just crunched him. And I just took my guitar off and put it on the ground and got in the car and went home.

A lot of those people couldn't understand it because they couldn't see from the other end. They thought I had just freaked out or something. But something about it - and ever since then I've never sung the song. I don't know why. I don't know. I sang it a lot. I sang it every night for a long time and I really - that's the story anyways. I couldn't do it. I don't feel it right now.

Filming "Journey Through The Past"
Columbus, GA - October 1972

photo by Joel Bernstein
via Neil Young Archives

From "Shakey" by Jimmy McDonough:
JM: Are you preaching in “Southern Man”?

Neil Young: No. I’m warning. Warning. “Southern Man” was an angry song. I wrote “Southern Man” in my studio in Topanga. Susan was angry at me for some reason, throwing things. They were crashing against the door ’cause I was down there doin’ I don’t know what the fuck. We fought a lot. There’s some reason for it, I’m sure. It was probably my fault … everybody can relate to that.

“Southern Man” was more than the South—I think the civil rights movement was sorta what that was about. The far North and the deep South are not very different. They’re extremes. Look at Robbie Robertson—an Indian from Canada who wrote a lot about the deep South. I’m sure it’s the same kinda thing.

Southerners, northerners, they’re extremists. I mean, look at the people who live up in Canada. And look at the people who live in the deep South. They’re out there. I love Canada, with the hockey games and the fuckin’ spirit—everybody gets so fuckin’ into it. It’s so real. And there’s that real family thing about the South—everybody gets together and has barbecues, ya know what I mean?

“Southern Man” is a strange song. I don’t sing it anymore. I don’t feel like it’s particularly relevant. It’s not “Southern Man”—it’s “White Man.” Heh heh. It’s much bigger than “Southern Man.”

We hope you remember that a Southern Man needs Neil Young around anyhow. Now, more than ever.

Also, see Northern Man, Southern Man and The Un-Civil Wars of Donald Trump & Neil Young and Southern Man and Northern Man: Ronnie and Neil, The Un-Civil Wars & Rebels with Causes.

And then there is the story of Merry Clayton's Southern Soul Cover of Neil Young's "Southern Man". Southern soul for a southern man from a southern woman.

Merry Clayton

Hey, Hey, My, My, this is the story of Donnie, Ronnie and Neil.

And, so why exactly might a southern black woman cover a white Canadian man's ode to racism in the Confederate south again, now anyhow?

Keep Calm, No Fear, Shut It Down, and Keep on Rockin'!

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At 6/05/2020 02:50:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

I hope and pray that there were words that would move the world forward and stop all this hate. I have lived too long and seen too much to have much hope that this will ever end, yet I’m convinced we must keep trying knowing that words won’t change anything.

Peace 🙏

At 6/06/2020 08:37:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Yes, it is sad to see the world we live in. The orange dung stain, has brought the right-wing haters out from under their Rock. He has assured them that it is okay to be who they are, or they could always somewhat been able to stay in the closet and keep their opinions to themselves. Look at how hate crimes have increased since Donald Trump took power. And the racist thing, going clear back to the Civil War, I don't believe will ever change. You cannot control the hatred and the thoughts of an entire region of the country. I can't help but wonder if Lincoln would have been better off to let the South go. They want to see secede? Fine, let them go. Especially Texas. They could become part of Mexico.....

At 6/06/2020 10:17:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Ouch! easy there now.

At 6/06/2020 10:31:00 PM, Blogger The Pope of Pop said...

Texas was part of Mexico. The empire stole it and by golly is going to keep it. It's not a southern problem, it's a US problem. Slavery was legal in the US for 80 years, the Confederacy was only around for 4. 13 us presidents (1/4 of the total) owned slaves. Nobody is saying the Washington monument or the Jefferson memorial should be torn down. But maybe they should be saying it.

At 6/07/2020 11:50:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Dan - your calming words are welcome here. and actions speak louder.
but the right words 1st, can lead to the right actions next.

Peace 🙏

@ Blogger Unknown - while we welcome everyone's words here, we're not finding this very helpful.

This is simply more of the same old divide and conquer rhetoric spiffed up to ride along with the latest hate vehicle of the day. The false illusion dialect of the left-right duality is just another trap you've fallen into yet again.

As anyone with eyes wide open can see, everything seems to be going according to The Plan. Civil War 2.0

Trust us, the Powers That Be want this so bad. The desperation is so palpable that they even dragged out the same 60's script.

Have a white man murder a black man in broad daylight. Destroy the inner cities by burning at night w/riots and looting. And then top it off w/ launching a manned rocket into space as a distraction.

Don't fall for it again. Everyone should've learned a lot from the 60's, but guess not?

@ The Pope of Pop - "Nobody is saying the Washington monument or the Jefferson memorial should be torn down. But maybe they should be saying it."


At 6/07/2020 10:07:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Thrasher, thank you and well stated.


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