Brad Paisley Meet Leslie Barris

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So, in addition to having trouble accessing my blog yesterday the news feed that I use to track stories related to Civil War memory is clogged with articles about the Brad Paisley – LL Cool J controversy.  I’m not sure which is worse.  I don’t have anything insightful to say about the song other than that the music and lyrics are both the work of amateurs.  To be honest, it seems to be much to do about nothing.

On the other hand, I got nothing but props for Leslie Harris of Orange, Texas who asked the city council to consider resolutions and ordinances that would block a planned Confederate veterans memorial that includes a flag just off the interstate.  Harris argues that, in fact, this is not a veterans memorial, but a Confederate flag memorial.  She also offers some comments about the appropriateness of publicly acknowledging Confederate History Month and in the process reminds the audience that white Southern attitudes about the Confederate past are complex.

23 comments… add one

  • Greg Rowe Apr 10, 2013

    Ms. Barris’ appeal come not only gives pause to consider the varying white attitudes related to Confederate and Southern history, but does so in an area of Texas not exactly noted for tolerant views of African-Americans or a negative perspective of the Confederacy. The neighboring town of Vidor is still largely a white community with attempts to integrate the town futile over the years. It also serves to reinforce the idea that one cannot paint the entirety of the population of southeast Texas with a broad brush, as I learned in the late 90′s covering the James Byrd murder for my hometown newspaper.

    • Andy Hall Apr 10, 2013

      Vidor is one of Texas’ more notorious “sundown towns.” Orange itself has a long history with racial violence and lynching, to the point of having a well-known “hanging tree” at a prominent intersection in the middle of town until 1892. There are some particularly gruesome atrocities allegedly perpetrated against suspected Union sympathizers in Orange in 1860-61, that can be at least partially corroborated. That is, unfortunately, part of the community’s “Confederate heritage” as well, but I doubt the memorial in question will mention that. Heritage advocates like Granvel Block get pretty shrill about their opponents wanting to “erase history,” but there’s plenty of history that they themselves are quite happy to have disappear forever.

      • Kevin Levin Apr 10, 2013

        Heritage advocates like Granvel Block get pretty shrill about their opponents wanting to “erase history,” but there’s plenty of history that they themselves are quite happy to have disappear forever.

        Well said, Andy.

  • Mary Apr 10, 2013

    Brad Paisley & LL Cool J’s “music and lyrics are both the work of amateurs”?? What planet do you live on?!?! They could buy and sell you all day long with the amount of money they have made with their music and lyrics. In addition – if you would actually LISTEN to the lyrics – you would understand they are touching on what is actually an issue in this country! Shake my head….

    • Kevin Levin Apr 10, 2013

      Hi Mary,

      Yes, they do indeed make much more money. I try to make ends meet as a high school history teacher. If it makes any difference, I read the lyrics and found them wanting. Thanks for the comment.

    • Eric Apr 10, 2013

      I’ve been an LL Cool J fan since the mid 80s. I picked up Bigger and Deffer when it was released and still listen to it now. Maybe I’m not THE authority on LL, but I can speak from a position of having inadvertantly memorized more of his lyrics than I care to admit.

      That said, this is -by far- the worst writing I’ve ever heard come from him. This is way worse than the Kool Moe Dee battles of 1986. This is just bad.

      Example:
      “I’m the best, takin’ out all rookies / So forget Oreos, eat Cool J cookies” is good. Great, actually.

      “If you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget the iron chains.” Bad. Just amazingly horrible. It’s offensive to pretty much everybody everywhere on every level imaginable for no apparent reason. Plus, it’s just bad writing. Rhyming “chains” with “chains”? No. That doesn’t work (unless you’re Johnny Cash).

      • Kevin Levin Apr 10, 2013

        Yeah, it’s pretty horrific. Just don’t place those lines next to KRS-One or Chuck D. LL doesn’t stand a chance.

        • Joey Andrews Apr 10, 2013

          the impression I’m getting is that everyone is upset over the content of these lyrics and deciding to attack the artistic integrity of the song rather than admit they’re upset with the lyrical message.

          Before I speak any further I should state that I have a degree in Music, concentration on Music Theory and do my fair share of composition and performance (though mostly in my free time at this point as I’m currently finishing a Law Degree). That aside I will now opine.

          I am not a fan of country music, I actually mostly detest it on a personal level. Personal preference aside, this song is entirely solid. The guitar work is technical and subtle, there is nothing out of place from a theoretical stand point and on a compositional level they integrated the spoken word and sung elements very well. If you notice near the end of the song LL Cool Jay is doing his spoken/rap over the top of Paisley’s singing. This part utilizes a complex meter in order to allow for LL Cool J to effectively say more words and line up on the down beats of Paisley’s chord pattern.

          In short this is nothing simple or sloppy, and this is not something your average person with a guitar and an idea could just write up and slap on the radio.

          From a lyrical stand point I see even less where the issue is unless the issue is content. The lyrics don’t utilize contrived rhymes and don’t make use of odd iambic rhythms at all. It’s very clean, very clear, and importantly very melodic when delivered. The rap from LL Cool J is clearly not the most unorthodox rap, nor is it the most creative ever delivered as far as the mechanics of rapping go. It is however poignant.

          I think the real issue is that here you have a country singer speaking the truth about a social condition that exists in the south and that many southerners do not want to admit exists. Not only that but a black man speaking his mind about southern symbols of the confederacy that make him uncomfortable is clearly disconcerting to a movement of people who’s argument is that “black people don’t mind”. Having a very public song very loudly proclaim that this culture is a problem and is creating problems is enough to make people uncomfortable and thus they attack the song.

          I’m no fan of Mr. Paisley, and a moderate fan of Mr. Cool J, but I tip my musical hat to both of them for this one. A well written song, and an important message both together.

          • Kevin Levin Apr 11, 2013

            Thanks for taking the time to comment.

          • Rob Baker Apr 11, 2013

            Well said. I think people are right in saying that the song perpetuates some stereotypes. However, I think that is the point. They are using these stereotypes as an in. Is it furthering our understanding of Southern culture or racism in America? No. Is it forcing us to ask questions? Obviously.

            Also, keep in mind that this is one song off of the album. It appears that the album has a message not limited to a particular song on the album. Therefore, this one song is nothing more than a page in a book that should not be taken out of context.

  • Christine M. Smith Apr 10, 2013

    The amount of money one makes has nothing at all to do with their ability to create meaningful art. (I’ve never heard the song, didn’t know it existed, and probably won’t listen to it at all because neither “singer” appeals to me.) I do subscribe however to this old saw: At a dinner one evening the business man leaned across the table to the teacher and asked, “I make “x number of dollars” a year. What do you make?” and the teacher answered, “A difference”. I just got home from “making a difference” on a day when I received a small award for making an impact on a student’s life with my teaching. I’ve won three of these, and every one of them (student nominated) has acknowledged my passion for teaching about the Civil War. I’d much rather “make” a differenc.

  • Christine M. Smith Apr 10, 2013

    That last should be difference.

  • Boyd Harris Apr 10, 2013

    Seriously, Kevin. The fact that Brad Paisley is taking up so much of my day is the last thing I expected when I decided to pursue my academic studies. Great video and an excellent example of how the line “it ain’t like you an me can re-write history” from Brad Paisley and LL Cool J’s song is completely untrue.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 10, 2013

      You nailed it, Boyd. That is one of the connections I was hoping would be seen between the song and the video. Paisley and LL do little more than perpetuate old and tired stereotypes about racial conflict and region.

  • Brad Apr 10, 2013

    I’m ashamed I share a first name with Mr. Paisley (although mine’s actually Bradford). Maybe I will change it to Kevin! :)

    • Kevin Levin Apr 10, 2013

      Has a nice ring to it.

  • Robert Moore Apr 11, 2013

    I think the song might be worth considering, not for the lyrics, but from the perspective that it might be… perhaps… representative of a generational memory lapse in society’s (what percentage that might be, we just don’t know… and probably won’t) understanding of history. Or, is this simply a matter of where Paisley and L.L. Cool J are in their limited “understanding.”

    There’s part of me that thinks that, for this to enter into discussion in Civil War circles, it must be a slow day (I mean… really???). Another part of me, however, thinks that some engaged in this discussion are just asking the wrong questions.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 11, 2013

      I couldn’t agree more with your last point. Perhaps it’s worth a brief reference, but all in all it really isn’t worth serious consideration. I think both perpetuate stereotypes that get us nowhere in addressing the tough questions.

  • Pat Young Apr 11, 2013

    I love video. The most telling shots were at the end when you see the board that designated Confederate History Month. In a town that is 40% non-white, every person on the podium was a white guy. Do we really think that Confederate history is about the past in Orange, Texas?

  • Pat Young Apr 11, 2013

    Also interesting that the memorial is going to be on Martin Luther King Dr. Apart from the perceived insensitivity of this, I also thought of what sorts of neighborhoods streets named after MLK are usually (but not always) in. But perhaps in Orange, that street runs through some leafy suburban neighborhood.

  • Pat Young Apr 11, 2013

    Interesting that she both identifies as a descendant of a Confederate soldier, presumablt making her an insider, and as from a Catholic family, which she identifies as a previously excluded group.

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