Under cover at the “cleanest country music show on earth”

This piece was first published last Sunday at the I ♥ Democratic Socialism group blog at Daily Kos.

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line

I Walk the Line, by Johnny Cash

DISCLAIMER: It’s with some trepidation, a lot of joy, but mostly my usual reckless devotion to doing my best as a species-being, that, just days after Bernie Sanders’ wonderful historic announcement of his bid for the U.S. presidency as the Democratic Party nominee, I bring to you another shoot-from-the-heart democratic socialist piece. Don’t blame Senator Sanders, my momma, or my papa for my potty mouth or the crap I write. It’s solely my fault and Antonio Gramsci’s. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a wearer of a WWBD bracelet, although I do love the man and certainly don’t want to hurt his campaign, which is the single best hope the collective we we (there I go again with the potty stuff, teehee) have had in a very long time. Some of the stuff I write embarrasses the heck out of me, so I certainly don’t want it to be Mirandized as stuff that can and will be used against my candidate for president. I feel of mixed mind and sometimes even a little bad for some of my style choices–like the heat-seeking but probably unnecessary curse words I have used in my last couple of diaries–but never for my desire to have a better world, with liberty and justice for all. We are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We need to walk the line of affectionate comradeship and not the line drawn for us by the plutocrats.

Friday night I, a gray haired half-Hispanic potty mouthed in-the-closet democratic socialist, was hanging out listening to country music surrounded by polite fundamentalist church-going white haired “white” people forced by Satan and FDR to live un-free lives on the government dole. For this daring assignment I was compensated with good food, good music, and even a little inspiration:

Where once aspiring presidential candidates went to pay respects to Billy Graham, whom they say like Fidel Castro still lives, I suggest that the Democratic candidates may want to go see Billy Dean. He is now a if not the cultural hegemonic force of top tier influence with southern white fundamentalists, as well as an amazing singer, excellent musician, and really nice approachable guy, despite occasionally pimping for his son who works for Remington gun company. You will usually find him in Branson at the Starlite Theatre. I found him near Mossy Head under humbler circumstances.

But first … Why bother you ask?

You may have noticed that folks in my beloved Deep South tend to be a tad hypocritical about government. Sooner or later this cognitive dissonance may become so swollen that a tiny pinprick could pop it, sending gas all the way from Bugtussle to Hooterville. It is certainly worth a try. The local chamber of commerce types do love them some military bases, but that is about war-mongering MIC “freedom” after all and therefore universally good. The real commies are the old folks, who often are literally alive because of the government paying for their socialized medicine and guaranteeing them a minimum income.

Perhaps it is at least worth it to go into the belly of the beast once in a while and see if we cannot let some of the gas out in a way that preserves appearances. After all, those who are twanging are not the only “walking contradictions” (to use the phrase that Kris Kristofferson first coined in a song but which others have kept to borrowin’). Many Democrats also love “socialism” as long as we don’t have to call it that. Many Republicans do too, but they add dog whistle tribalism to the mix. In other words, many Republicans want to play John Calvin and continue to predestinate government benefits, contracts, and jobs as majoritarian affirmative action to themselves, their parents and grandparents, and in general those people who look like them, “the real Americans.”

For the plutocrats, maintaining the veil over the hypocrisy, i.e., the bugaboo status of saying one is for anything with the “s” word, is of paramount importance in the cultural hegemony of the U.S. By the same token, even if Senator Sanders is resoundingly defeated by Secretary Clinton, the open use of the “s” word, particularly preceded by the “d” word, is possibly the greatest threat to the right from the Bernie Sanders presidential candidacy other than his mobilization of solidarity forces on various substantive issues, such as so-called free trade. What the plutocrats want more than anything else is to prevent their voter loyalists from becoming aware that the U.S. is actually not very democratic because it walls off the economy from democratic control, and also not very free because, through workplace repression, it fiercely represses dissent and the linguistic freedom of the masses to become self-educated.

I posit that, at least over time, if people on the left in the U.S. could on a daily basis point out to independent and Republican “whites” their “walking contradictions” in a loving way and without losing our jobs, we could win a lot of their votes for our candidates, which could make a difference in a close election in say Florida, for instance, the adopted state of Jeb Bush and so pivotal in nearly every election. Repression against the left in the U.S. is a major part of why the plutocrats are able to dominate cultural messaging. It is not just a matter of the right owning “corporate media,” including, but by no means limited to, Fox, AM radio, and most of the print media in small-town America. It is in part because the left has, somewhat of its own volition but largely against its will, abandoned the culture war for the heart and soul of the people attending the “cleanest country music show on earth.”

I disagree with Bill Clinton about many things, but I give him credit that he knew that it is possible to fit in with working people in the Deep South if you respect the good parts of their culture. I include country music among the good parts, for all its occasional jingoism, which I assure you I will get to in a minute.

It is my hope that Hillary Clinton’s primary primary (we we, tehee) nemesis, Bernie Sanders, will at least consider going into the belly of the beast with his message of working class empowerment, Brooklyn-Vermont accent and all.

And, even assuming it will not necessarily do him any electoral good, dadgummit, I’m lonely. A few of us have been keepin’ a light on for him for all these years ever since Studs Terkel, Stetson Kennedy, and later Bobby Kennedy stopped and sat a spell. And, if I recall correctly, many northerners took the bus and took a stand down here with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the rich homegrown tradition of incredibly brave southern African Americans standing up for their civil rights as human beings and Americans. Y’all Come Back Now Ya Hear.

As a matter of solidarity and strategy, it is not rational, just, or fair, and it is undemocratic and shall we say un-American, to leave our brother and sister African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Peoples, women in need of birth control and abortion access, LGBTs, and other minority groups, and the dazed and confused “Anglo” American workers and their retired elders, to battle prejudice and oligarchy on their own against southern state legislatures controlled by the Koch brothers. We know who rules under divide and rule, and it is not we.

But before you venture into these parts, you may need to know more about the lay of the land. That’s where this here piece of sober gonzo journalism may come in handy. Please continue reading below Satan’s hush puppy, if you dare.

***

Back-of-the-Koch Brothers Paper Towel Cultural Map to Working Class Retired “Whites” in the Deep South

The evening of International Workers’ Day I decided to go under cover with the largest collection of Red State “socialists for me only” I could find outside of a military base. Some dear brave relatives on the “white” side of my extended family are among the last “white” Democrats living in what we call L.A., lower Alabama, aka, the Redneck Riviera. They had invited me to attend the Panhandle Opry, which was celebrating its 36th year with a special Friday night show featuring a famous country music star and his cute-as-pie singing sidekick who came all the way down from Nashville/Branson.

If you are travelling by dugout canoe, take the Shoal River until it crosses Highway 90, hide the canoe in the bushes, and walk east all day until just before you get to Mossy Head, walk north on Laird Road 3.2 miles, turn right on DeShazo Road, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to the Ed & Vera Strickland Music Hall by nightfall, “Comfortable Seating” & “Climate Controlled.”

If you are travelling by eleven-year-old Prius, you can wear your faux boat shoes if it was casual Friday where you work and your swollen feetsies can no longer fit into your faux cowboy boots. When you pull in, the guys who will soon be playing in the band will tell you where to park. Be sure not to run over the sleeping dog. And if you need to smoke do it outside before you come in. Dipping, however, at least in days of yore, you could continue to do inside.

You will receive a nice plate of food, including fixins’ and a tiny sliver of cake, and your choice of tea, sweet or unsweet, on the right as part of your $20 admission fee, but you won’t get white meat if that matters.

After you eat, you will find your reserved seat by the label on the back of the chair.

The opening act was all local talent and included a full country band with three generations of the leader’s guitar playing family, slide guitar, drums, and assorted other musician neighbors, along with a rotating cast of singers, including three local ladies who were having great fun. Although the singers weren’t always on perfect pitch, it was beyond fantastic. Some of these folks have been doing this the first and third Saturday of each month for the last 36 years. They are talented, funny, and genuine people. They don’t do this professionally and have regular non-highfalutin jobs like auctioneer, Independent Beauty Consultant for Mary Kay Cosmetics, barbecue restaurant workers, beekeepers, etc.

When you come in, you also get a red raffle ticket. There were drawings for inexpensive but nice little prizes in the middle of the opening act. It was quite a hoot when the last three digits of the winning ticket of the lady on the row behind me were “666.” The truly Hee Haw-larious auctioneer by day and founder/leader of the Opry assured her that the boogeyman would not be coming to get her that night, that she was safe among friends. Query whether he would have felt the same had he known a dangerous democratic socialist was at that very moment sitting within 6.66 feet of her.

Then came the paying acts down from Nashville/Branson. They had this 13-year-old 7th grader country singer, Chloe Channel, who was raised in Pace, Florida and has been singing since she was 7 at the Farmers’ Opry in Chumuckla until it closed in 2012, and who has become semi-famous as a finalist for America’s Got Talent 2013. After I had come in earlier that night, little did I know that the little girl on crutches whose dad was allowing to use the men’s room so she wouldn’t have to stand in the long line for the women’s room would be transformed into this incredibly talented, composed, and truly spunky star. She was just lovely and had a wonderful voice and, did I say was truly spunky.

It was a little jarring but hardly unexpected when she broke up her classic country act by having all the veterans stand, talked perfunctorily about “preserving freedom,” and then sang Irving Berlin’s God Bless America followed by a song with the cryptic directive to “Let Freedom Ring.” But, as I was preparing this here piece, I looked up the youtube for that song and see that it has a double meaning, and that in Independence Day Martina McBride is actually singing about finding freedom from domestic abuse.

Then Billy Dean performed. He is, I think, the most famous person to come out of Quincy, Florida, correct me if I’m wrong. Except for one multi-dimensionally ugly song, which he unfortunately ended with, he was marvelous. For the most part, he was only accompanied by his own “old” acoustic guitar, which he played exceptionally well. He began by singing some songs with Ms. Channel, then he sang some stuff of his that wasn’t famous but was really good, then he sang a few of his hits, none of which I had heard of but all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Then he got Ms. Channel back for a few more songs with part of the band, which, again, were great …

and then the end came, which was not so great.

Billy said that his son now worked for the Remington gun company, which made me flinch a little. And then he said that last year when he learned about ISIS, he wrote a song that went viral, and he went on Fox’s morning show in New York City. Then he less than half jokingly said he bet everyone in here packed heat and would be ready if ISIS showed up, and this nice church lady sitting in front and to the right of me let out a glorious yelp, and I felt like I had suddenly been beamed into Charlton Heston’s presumed mansion beyond the pearly gates. Of course, he may not be out of purgatory yet, what do I know? Then he, Billy not Charlton, performed the truly awful song I have been warning you about, with the truly awful punch line,

I’m an American,
with a Remington.

Hardly rhymes for goodness sake, not to mention idiotic and obnoxious, as if the victims of ISIS don’t have the good sense to stand up for themselves and fight like us exceptional barbecue-eating Americans.

Then he said good night and that in a few minutes he and Ms. Channel would be glad to give autographs and pose for pictures at the front door as we went out [into the lovely, cool, star-filled Panhandle evening–my words]. I thought that was it, until the auctioneer took the stand again and led everyone but me in the Pledge of Allegiance (I held my hand across my bleeding heart so as not to make a scene but only said the words, “liberty and justice for all,” as is my un-American practice), made a wisecrack about Baltimore I could not make out, perhaps that’s for the best, and finished with everyone but me singing Amazing Grace. I know it is most of their fundie culture, but as a headstrong Episcopalian who places a high emphasis on inclusiveness of atheists and believers from all faith traditions, it seemed to be just a tad presumptuous, and I couldn’t remember the words after the first verse anyway, and by then it was really late and I was ready for the long drive home back to Nowheresville.

Yet, call me an optimist, I still think we can work with these people. If I did not have to work Monday morning I would be headed to Branson right now to spread the good news of democratic socialism like a street corner preacher. In the field of opportunity it’s plowin’ time again, thus saith Neil Young.

[In case you are wondering “why I write personally and plainly about Democratic Socialism,” you can read all about it in the section of the same name in my self-published political coming-of-age pamphlet. I won’t ask you to read it, but if you are the first person to do so, I will dedicate my next hit single to you.]

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