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 to take.
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.
In 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.
Paisley 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.”
This NASHVILLE SKYLINE column first appeared on CMT.com. Chet Flippo is Editorial Director for CMT/CMT.com.