Rich Wilhelm

Posts Tagged ‘Brad Paisely’

In Defense of Brad and LL

In Music/Opinion on April 12, 2013 at 3:56 am

So, what about that Brad Paisley/LL Cool J song?

In the event that you missed it, Brad and LL are kicking up some controversy this week over a song called “Accidental Racist,” that appears on Paisley’s new album, Wheelhouse. Beginning with a scenario in which a barista at Starbucks takes offense at the Confederate flag on a customer’s Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt, the song moves on to become a conversation between Paisley and LL Cool J on racial relations as they existed throughout the history of the United States, right up to the present day.

I listened to “Accidental Racist” once, on YouTube. I tried to find again just now, but the song has become harder to find. I don’t know whether this is because it has been removed as much as possible from the Internet or whether it’s just buried under all of the “Accidental Racist” reaction videos that have appeared this week. My initial take on “Accidental Racist” was that, while the subject matter is daring, the song itself is clunky, awkward and bound to annoy and/or offend many people, of all races, who hear it.

Maybe that’s the point. After all, isn’t the “Conversation on Race” that we frequently hear about often clunky, awkward and bound to annoy and/or offend many people, of all races, who hear it?

Actually, I don’t think Brad Paisley and LL Cool J intentionally set out to write and record a bad song. But maybe sometimes a bad song with good intentions is better than a good song with good intentions, if it takes that Conversation on Race in a new direction.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about it, but I do know some things. I have loved Brad Paisley’s work practically from the beginning of his recording career and I think he is an enormously talented songwriter who has proven his ability to tackle big topics in song. If you haven’t heard it, check out Paisley’s song “Welcome to the Future,” which begins with Paisley as a kid, wishing he could have a TV in his car, and culminates in a celebration of President Obama’s election (without, it should be noted, tipping Paisley’s hand as to who he actually voted for in the election). It is an ambitious and brilliantly constructed song, which at the same time doesn’t seem like the lyrical overreach that “Accidental Racist” might be.

In addition, I was listening to LL Cool J years before anyone had even heard the names “Tupac” and “Biggie.” So, bottom line for me is, I like these two guys and I appreciate them going out on a limb like this, even if they fall on their faces with “Accidental Racist.” Teaming up for this was, in some ways, a brave and crazy thing to do and I’ve got to give them credit, even if “Accidental Racist” isn’t necessarily one of my favorite songs on Wheelhouse.

As it happens, I know there was a time when I was the “Accidental Racist.” I hadn’t thought about this for years, until this week, but when I moved into my first college dorm room at Temple University 30 years ago, one of the things I brought from home was a small Confederate flag that I sat in my Chichester Class of ’83 beer stein that also held a Bert (from Sesame Street) plush toy that wore a small metal pin that proclaimed “Eat McShit and Die.”

None of these objects had any real connection to each other (other than my attempt at being surreal, maybe?), but I guess the question is what was I doing with the Confederate flag? It was a souvenir from my first trip through Tennessee the year before and it coincided with my interest in Civil War history. And that’s it, by which I mean that was my complete connection to the flag. No one ever mentioned the flag to me and I’m not sure how I would have reacted if someone did. Maybe if someone had expressed offense to me about it, a clunky, awkward and potentially offensive dialogue would have started. Maybe something good would have come from the dialogue. Who knows?

What I do know, or at least think I know, is that maybe the upper case Conversation on Race or Dialogue on Race that is supposedly happening isn’t nearly as important as all of the millions of lower case conversations that each of us can potentially engage in everyday. Maybe if each of us can strive to better those dialogues with the diverse people we meet, then the upper case Conversation might improve a little bit.

A word of advice though: spewing anonymous, snarky, ill-informed opinions that reveal nothing more than your own set of prejudices and insecurities does nothing to advance any conversation, lower or upper case.

So to Brad and LL: “Accidental Racist” may not be either of your finer moments, but I salute you both for your unabashed craziness in letting such an awkward and clumsy statement exist to reflect all of our own awkwardness and clumsiness. Because, whether we like it or not, many of us are just as clumsy and awkward as Brad Paisley and LL Cool J.

Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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