Brad Paisley’s Southern Heritage

There is an interesting verse in Brad Paisley’s single, “Camoflauge” which references the Confederate flag controversy:

Well the stars and bars offends some folks and I guess I see why nowadays theres still a way to show your southern pride the only thing is patriotic as the old red white and blue is green and gray and black and brown and tan all over too

Let’s ignore for now the fact that Paisley apparently has the wrong flag in mind.  We know what he means.  I don’t want to make too much of this, but it seems to me the lyric tells us something about diversity in the South as well as the extent to which Country Music has become mainstream.  It’s a clear statement on the part of Paisley announcing that he does not want to be stereotyped.  It’s unfortunate that at this point much of the nation still needs to be reminded that most white southerners do not identify with the Confederate flag.  What do you think?

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34 comments… add one

  • Will Stoutamire Nov 8, 2011

    I’m glad to see Paisley taking on the ridiculous notion that “southern pride” has to be equated with the Confederacy, and, in particular, the Confederate battle flag (even if he makes the all-too-common mistake of saying “stars and bars”). Especially so considering he sings in a genre that, though admittedly I’ve been known to listen to it quite a bit from time to time, isn’t exactly famous for progressive lyrics. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the “southern heritage” folks up in arms about this song shortly.

    That said, he still deals in the stereotype that we all wear camouflage… and in his other songs we all hunt, fish, and drive big pickup trucks. But alas, that would be mainstream country music. Although, to Paisley’s credit, even some of those songs are tongue-in-cheek (or at least I hear them that way). And they’re much less harmful stereotypes to begin with…

    This isn’t the first time Paisley has tackled issues of racism and the historical relationship between Confederate symbols and the segregated south. A couple years ago, he released a single called “Welcome to the Future” which included the lyrics:

    I had a friend in school
    Running back on the football team
    They burned a cross in his front yard
    For asking out the homecoming queen
    I thought about him today
    And everybody who’d seen what he’d seen
    From a woman on a bus
    To a man with a dream

    Chorus:
    Hey, wake up Martin Luther
    Welcome to the future
    Hey, glory, glory, hallelujah
    Welcome to the future

    http://www.cowboylyrics.com/lyrics/paisley-brad/welcome-to-the-future-27652.html

    (Side note: apparently this was based on the experiences of a real friend)

    IIRC, he received the ire of many for those lyrics, too. What I see is someone who refuses to be saddled with the stereotype – validated again, I believe, just the other day on this blog – that “true” Southerners must proudly fly the Confederate battle flag and worship Confederate heroes. He instead seems to envision a more open and diverse South that doesn’t blatantly ignore or push away the history of Confederate symbols after 1865 – a South that acknowledges a long, divisive history, and yet still can find plenty of things to be proud about today (even if he uses camouflage as the example… hrumph).

    • John Buchanan Nov 10, 2011

      He also performed live at the White House in 2009 for the Obama Family and closed his show with this song….very well received.

  • BorderRuffian Nov 8, 2011

    KL
    “It’s unfortunate that at this point much of the nation still needs to be reminded that most white southerners do not identify with the Confederate flag.”

    Based on what?

    Didn’t they have a state flag vote in Mississippi a few years ago? And the flag with the Confederate emblem won by a 64-36 margin? Even counties with a heavy black population voted for it. Figure that one for us.

    The Confederate flag still flies on statehouse grounds in South Carolina.

    And the Georgia flag…is still a Confederate flag.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 8, 2011

      It’s nothing more than an observation based on my own unscientific survey. Of course, I may be wrong.

    • James V. Hillegas Nov 8, 2011

      I recently had an exchange on a LinkedIn group that brought up similar themes as this post and, more specifically, BorderRuffian’s reply.

      http://wwwhistoricalthreads.blogspot.com/2011/09/if-truth-statements-fall-in-wilderness.html

      I was amazed at how quickly those who support the Lost Cause went ad hominem.

      My experience is also anecdotal, so I cannot claim whether or not any given percentage of Southerners feel this way, but some of the ones who do feel this way are extremely reactionary about it.

    • John Buchanan Nov 10, 2011

      Okay….so that is 3 states….what about the rest of us?

  • Eric Jacobson Nov 8, 2011

    I don’t see it as unfortunate at all. In fact, I find it refreshing that Paisley, who has a tremendous following nationwide, is stating that the Confederate flag is troublesome to some. Perhaps it is a reminder that most white Southerners don’t identify with the flag, but I think he is talking to folks from this area as much as anyone. If you know anything about Paisley, his wife, and family, which I have some knowledge of, he is simply stating what a lot of folks already know. Plus the overall theme of the song really isn’t about this verse. It’s a goofy song about camoflauge. Let’s face it, Paisley isn’t trying to be Dylan!!!

  • Petit Sourice Nov 9, 2011

    Completely disagree. Most Southerners ARE identifying with the CBF (the “Criss-crossed bars and 13 stars”). And his assault on it is a shame. So we are just to forget that our GGreat Parents and uncles fought and died? Oh, and of course the poor white conscripted privates went and fought so the rich plantation owners could keep their slaves, yea right. The poor soldiers in the War of Northern Aggression fought because they wanted freedom, not to be a slave on uncle sam’s plantation. Which is exactly where we are today.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 9, 2011

      So we are just to forget that our GGreat Parents and uncles fought and died?

      Paisley’s point is that you can honor your ancestors in any number of ways. I also he means to suggest that one’s southern ancestors extended beyond the four short years of the war.

      The poor soldiers in the War of Northern Aggression fought because they wanted freedom, not to be a slave on uncle sam’s plantation. Which is exactly where we are today.

      Yes, many white southerners believed that the maintenance of slavery would protect their freedoms. You have the ability to change the current direction of the country. A slave did not.

    • Mountain Music Nov 27, 2011

      Amen! Paisley is dead wrong with his lyrics and it was a cheap shot…

      • Kevin Levin Nov 28, 2011

        I guess one man’s “cheap shot” is another man’s truth.

  • Petit Sourice Nov 9, 2011

    Tongue in cheek comments:

    I live in the north — with yankees…. but I grew up in the South.

    I get tongue in cheek racist remarks about where I am from constantly.

    I find this:

    “So, Petit, are all your kin folk toothless like on Swamp People.”

    • Michael Douglas Nov 9, 2011

      That’s not racist. It’s disgusting, ignorant, rude and uncalled for. But it’s not racist. Anyone of any ethnicity can be toothless. You do a disservice to people who have actually experienced racism (and yes, I include some white folks in that) by appropriating and misusing terms with real meaning.

  • JE Nov 9, 2011

    Brad Paisley is only ‘southern’ in the sense that he now lives in Nashville. He was born in Wheeling, West Virginia and raised within eyeshot of the Wheeling Custom House, home of West Virginia’s UNION capital! =)

    • Kevin Levin Nov 9, 2011

      Paisley reminds us that the South is a diverse place. Unfortunately, some people embrace a narrow view of southern heritage for self-serving reasons.

      • Storm Nov 10, 2011

        “Unfortunately, some people embrace a narrow view of southern heritage for self-serving reasons”

        Such as Brad Paisley, he is all to happy to say whatever it takes to gain favor with the pc crowd in order to make a buck.

        • Kevin Levin Nov 10, 2011

          Do you know this for a fact or does it simply help you to sleep better at night? Wait, don’t answer that.

          • Storm Nov 10, 2011

            Too late, I will answer that. I sleep fine, but thank you for asking. I believe the verse is more about business than personal conviction. Music is his job, reading anymore into it than that is a bit of a stretch. He has a song for everyone…the party crowd, the male chauvinist crowd, the redneck crowd, the God crowd, the sappy romantic crowd, the pc crowd. Whatever you want to hear, he’s probably got it or he can get it. He’s good at his job, more power to him.

            • Kevin Levin Nov 10, 2011

              Thanks for the follow-up, Storm. Whatever may be the case, you still have not demonstrated that the verse does not reflect his personal belief.

              • Storm Nov 10, 2011

                It has not been demonstrated that the verse does reflect his person belief.

                I’m gonna miss her- Are we really going to think he believes a man should run out on his family over fishing? Probably not.

                Alcohol- Does he really think alcohol abuse is funny? Probably not.

                Is he all that bothered by the flag? I doubt it but once you step in pc, there is no neat way of wiping it off. It’s best to camouflage it with a little perfume and hope nobody notices the stink.

                • Kevin Levin Nov 10, 2011

                  Is he all that bothered by the flag? I doubt it but once you step in pc, there is no neat way of wiping it off. It’s best to camouflage it with a little perfume and hope nobody notices the stink.

                  Again, is this because you know it to be the case or is it impossible to conceive that not all white southerners identify with the Confederate flag as a reflection of their “southern heritage”?

    • Mountain Music Nov 27, 2011

      Spot on JE….

  • Rob Baker Nov 9, 2011

    Kevin,

    If you want to see an interesting singer/songwriter’s complex with the Confederacy, look up the band “Rebel Son.”

    Just make sure there aren’t any kids around when you do. ;-)

  • Matt Nov 9, 2011

    Paisley does acknowledge a certain diversity of thought with regard to the flag, but I fail to see how this song is really about diversity. We could discuss the authorial intent behind “green and grey and black and brown and tan all over too,” but let’s also not forget that he’s writing about camouflage.

    Paisley is an immensely talented artist, but he’s also become a hack. Virtually all of his singles in recent years have been gimmicky ballads centered on stereotypical characters, designed (I suspect) to sell records rather than express any sincere political or social belief. If you’re in need of an example, take a listen to “I’m Still a Guy” or the truly awful “[So Much Cooler] Online.”

    Admittedly, this song appears to come closer to genuine social criticism than do either of those, but I agree with a couple of the other commenters–particularly Will, who correctly points out that Paisley “still deals in the stereotype” of the pickup-driving, gun-toting southern man. Although born and raised in the South, I am none of those things. At the risk of overanalyzing a piece of clearly commercialized music, and to paraphrase from history, I ask: am I not a (southern) man?

    The problem with Paisley is that for all of this supposed “inclusivity” on the issue of the flag, he still leads us toward narrow visions of identity that divide more than they unite.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 9, 2011

      I don’t necessarily disagree with you as I am only vaguely familiar with his work. That said, it’s much more interesting than Kid Rock’s identification with the flag and he isn’t even from the South.

    • John Buchanan Nov 10, 2011

      Matt,

      You need to look at all the music on his albums….you are hearing the Top 40 Country Music stuff (some of which is still very good).

      He makes a good living but he also does some very interesting music on the B side music….and he is a guitar virtuoso.

  • Neil Hamilton Nov 11, 2011

    Storm,

    I see that you have the view that Paisley is simply making a buck and not pushing a point-of-view, that he merely wants to sell records and CDs.

    In order to make a buck, don’t you have to sell a product that people want and identify with enough to give you some of their hard-earned money? That you have to know your audience enough so you don’t offend or drive them off? Maybe Paisley’s music is more a reflection of what people are willing, maybe even wanting, to hear?

    Hard to make money if all you do is offend them, isn’t it?

    Neil

    • Kevin Levin Nov 11, 2011

      We still have no evidence that the verse does not reflect Paisely’s personal belief. The problem with Storm’s position is that he is likely only to steer clear of such accusations when they happen to correspond with his own beliefs. Can’t do much with that.

  • Deanna bush Feb 25, 2012

    I hope brad loses tons of his fans for this!! Southern=confederate flag! He lost us for sure as fans!!! He makes me sick now!!! We support the confederate flag period!!!!!

    • Kevin Levin Feb 26, 2012

      Spoken with true Southern compassion.

    • Rob Baker Feb 26, 2012

      What about east Tennessee, North Georgia mountains, and West Virginia. The cbf ism’t Southern heritage to a lot of them

  • will Jul 1, 2012

    the confederate BATTLE flag is not a symbol of racism.it represents soldiers who fought and died for their country,and any other meaning is invalid and not true.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2012

      It was a symbol of racism to black men in the United States uniform who fought Confederates at the battle of the Crater. That’s just a start.

  • Doug King Apr 19, 2013

    @Rob, I’m sorry but many of those folks in Eastern Kentucky, portions of Tennessee, Georgia and yes, West Virginia….will hold close to that flag, some of them, still quite racist, even in this day and age, but they’re coming around…..they are quite used to the blacks, but still don’t cotton to outsiders like the migrant Hispanics or Arab/Indian folk. The flag represents a sort of freedom, the rebel spirit within all of us….historically it was a symbol of oppression. It’s a flag. People are still oppressing each other. Rich against poor, cultures, religions and orientations. Your arguments doesn’t carry any more volume than the LGBT community trying to convince people that they were born that way. It’s a choice that we’ve all made and a choice, that we take responsibility for. But don’t go off and make an attempt to crucify me or anyone else for waving a flag…..there are plenty of folks who have been waving theirs and mind you.

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