I had a great chat with someone today, a portion of it gave me the idea for a blog. This is a blog of two parts.
I started the chat as the continuation of a previous chat. I had asked this person to guess which song I considered most powerful from a band we both like and have enjoyed for years. These days in much smaller doses than back during our 20s, but we would still go see them any time, any year, any day of the week that they visit here.
JT: Is it A. White Devil, B. Season of the Flood, C. Keep it on Wax?
Friend: That’s not a bad list. White Devil is particularly good.
JT: White Devil is one hellova song. “Cocaine is a hellova drug” (quote & ironic joke).
We talked about a bunch of other stuff but I want to concentrate on this song.
If you’re reading this blog, it’s because you saw the title ‘White Devil’ and you immediately thought something along the lines of, ‘golly gosh, gee whiz, that’s a really inappropriate and scary name for a song. Is it racist? It must be some kind of white supremacist song, this man must be a racist.’
Then you might search for the song on YouTube, listen to it and be either impressed by it, or hate it. It’s that kind of song. There is no in-between. It’s polarising. People will either hate it, or enjoy it. It’s definitely not the kind of song you would play to your children, or adult friends that like bubble-gum pop, opera, or country music, for example.
If you hate the song, hate its heaviness, dislike its intensity, you might be even more concerned about me, because I really like this song (in moderation, not so often these days). Then you might start to jump to more knee-jerk conclusions about me: about my personality, my political views, my state of mind, what I stand for.
Then hopefully, maybe not, but hopefully, you would google the lyrics and/or you might google the search term: “song meaning White Devil”.
Then all your assumptions would fall to pieces.
I am reasonably sure that most people would be ok with this and think, ‘Ok, well that’s interesting. I’m glad that song actually has a really sensible message behind its lyrics. It scares me a little bit, because it’s really intense sounding, but it’s not a harmful piece of music / artistic expression.’
Or, if you are a certain type New Zealander, you might get very deliberately obtuse at this point. Very, very, deliberately obtuse.
You might adopt a certain tone of voice and say something like, ‘this song is actually glorifying cocaine usage… and the musicians are being facetious about it’ or ‘any song that sounds like this can only be made by people who are on drugs… they must be devil worshipers…’
If you are this kind of New Zealander, then I am really concerned about you. If you are this kind of New Zealander, then I think you are adopting a toxic viewpoint because you feel threatened by this kind of musical and artistic expression. If you are small minded and disapproving of people who like music like this because it threatens you, because it challenges your comfort zone, pushes your boundaries, challenges your ear drums, if you are the kind of person that jumps to conclusions about song titles and lyrics without actually reading them carefully – then I really worry about you. I pity you.
If this is you, then I challenge you to be more of a critical thinker. To not take things purely at face value – to dig a little deeper before you make up your mind about people, about ideas, about musical expression, about art. I encourage you to not make up your mind based on fleeting impressions.
Fleeting impressions can be very misleading. Jumping to conclusions based on shallow perspectives, based on fleeting impressions, is a very idiotic and shallow way to live your life.
You may still be judging me for my referencing the quote “Cocaine is a hellova drug.” That’s a well known quote from comedian and satirist Dave Chappelle, being very un-PC (as usual), arguably from his heyday, back in the early 2000s.
He is being ironic about cocaine usage amongst musicians and entertainers back in the 80s, being humorous by lampooning how ridiculous, off-the-wall, and outrageous their behaviour was.
Whether the skit is funny or not, is very subjective. It is Dave Chappelle being “a habitual line stepper.” Which is what some people would argue, is the main responsibility, maybe the only responsibility, of a dedicated satirist.
Which made me wonder, does anyone have the intestinal fortitude to be that kind of satirist in New Zealand these days? Is it wise? Is it acceptable?
If the answer is no, is it then acceptable to have a Democracy where people are vilified for that kind of humour? Is that actually a Democracy at all?
Here’s what I think – does this satirical skit offend you?
Cocaine usage is illegal, irresponsible and socially harmful – it shouldn’t be the subject of humour
Cocaine usage is illegal, irresponsible and socially harmful – but it is acceptable for comedians to satire messed-up entertainers snorting it and acting the fool because their behaviour was actually quite funny to witness. Or, funny for the three entertainers to reflect on in hindsight (and exaggerate) and joke about for the purpose of comedic entertainment
Having said that, two of the people who feature in this skit have died prematurely.
Their comedy lives on.
But if they were all still active professional comedians and entertainers today, would they be accepted? Would this kind of humour be permitted? Would they be too scared? Would we allow them, with criticism, with praise, with fans and haters?
That’s the whole point of Democracy, right? If you don’t like what they do, watch something else.
Don’t buy a ticket.
PS – I also quite like some of Dallas Green’s alt-country stuff, with his other band City and Colour. He seems like a very chilled out soulful Dude, definitely not a devil-worshiper (like I am, obviously).