(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
My, my, but this whole
flap about Brad Paisley’s new song “Accidental Racist” and the rap by LL Cool J in the
song is beginning to get out of hand. People all over the Internet world are taking sides, when there are really no sides
Critics are calling him a national laughingstock for his supposed naiveté. All kinds of people who
ordinarily pay no attention to country music are suddenly experts on the race issue — and the music. Meanwhile Paisley is
taking it pretty calmly, even going on The Ellen DeGeneres Show to explain the song.
“I don’t know if anyone
has noticed, but there’s some racial tension here and there,” Paisley said. “I felt like when we were writing the song, I
didn’t really feel like it was up to the media or Hollywood … or sorta talk radio to deal with that. I think it’s music’s
turn to have that conversation.”
In his liner notes for his new album Wheelhouse (his nickname for the recording
studio), Paisley writes that the album is “a digital journal of the shattering of comfort zones and collateral magic. …
We had only one rule with this record: to throw out the rules.”
The song’s title itself is awkward. “Accidental Racist”
suggests some kind of innocent kid just sort of accidentally wearing his rebel flag emblazoned Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt out
in public. Then he wanders into a Starbucks (product placement?) and the sight of the flag offends a black barista. And the
narrator has the nerve to justify his flag by saying he just loves Skynyrd. That is begging the question. If you buy and openly
wear a shirt with a Confederate flag on it, you are making a public statement, dude. Live with the consequences.
my non-songwriter’s opinion, the song is extremely earnest and well-meaning, if clumsily written. And is matched by LL Cool
J’s equally inept rap, rhyming “do rag” with “red flag” and equating gold bling necklaces with slave chains.
has flirted with social topics before. In “Welcome to the
Future,” he obliquely gave a nod to Barack Obama for getting elected president.
If there is one lesson Paisley
can take away from this furor, it’s that you can’t solve a hundred-plus year-old social problem with a six-minute country
song. I’m glad he’s asking the question, though — a question all the dirt-road, beer-drinking, truck-driving country boys
will never ask.
You can’t totally rehab a social issue with one slogan or mantra. “Give peace a chance” was a good
candidate, but it still hasn’t caught on.
But just ask Natalie Maines. She should have figured out that you can’t wish
away an unwanted war with a one-minute diatribe from the concert stage. Back when telegrams still existed, concert promoters
said of protest singers, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.”