Category Archives: radio

Let’s Talk About Racism

Brad Paisley and LL Cool J have a new song out called Accidental Racist. I don’t know that the song is getting much airplay, but it is heating up the news channels. Race has been a hot button topic for a long time, but looking back to my youth there was one big difference to my mind. When I was a kid the “N word” was just another word. Most people wouldn’t think twice about saying it. The word was used extensively in Blazing Saddles. Richard Pryor used the word in several of his album titles and activist/author Dick Gregory used the word in the title of at least two of his books. You could even use the word freely on television. Yes, the word wasn’t supposed to be said by white people in racially mixed company, but even that happened from time to time. Sometimes there were fights because of this, but it just led to some fists flying and a whole lot more uses of the word in question. No one seemed to fear the word.

The word people tended to fear at least to my young eyes was one that started with an “F”. When someone said that word, you knew they meant business. It was never heard on television (at least until HBO came around). It was not used as frequently in the movies. It was never used as the title of a book or movie or record album to my knowledge. It was the Voldemort of words. Everyone knew the word, but most of us didn’t say it. Soldiers and sailors said the word, but mostly when fighting or surrounded by other soldiers and sailors. I was in second grade when I first came in contact with the word. It was written on the wall in one of my classrooms by a fellow student along with the word “ass”. Now I knew what “ass” meant, but this other word? I had no idea. One of the students said it was when two people “bumped their butts together”. Being an inquiring young boy thirsty for knowledge, I simply asked the teacher. She told me that it was a word only a very dirty person would know and didn’t provide me any sort of definition. I asked my mom when I got home and even she wouldn’t tell me what the word was supposed to mean.

Since the word was not used in Disney movies of the time, I was left to ponder the meaning of the strange word for several years before I finally got clued in as to its meaning. Or at least one of its meanings. The word had power back in the day. The other word, the one that started with an “N”… not so much. Over time the “N word” and the “F word” started changing places. HBO gave comedians, who apparently had been using the word quite successfully in their nightclub shows, a national stage on which to yell this little four lettered word at the top of their lungs. Films began using it more frequently (of course this might also be because I started seeing films like Animal House instead of 101 Dalmatians). The world didn’t end upon repeated utterances, but the word did start to lose its power. Once George Burns said it in Going In Style there was no fear left in the word. And yes, the scene where George Burns said the curse word to end all curse words did end up getting cut from the film, but just knowing that the man who played God had said this word was all it seemed to take. These days we don’t even call this word the “F word”. We call it the “F bomb”, even if it’s more like the “F firecracker” or “F sparkler” than an actual “F bomb”.

Songs started using the word. I remember the first time I heard Harry Nilson sing it in “You’re Breaking My Heart” I lost it. It was the early 80s by then and the “F” word was free. One of the highlights of going to the Roaring Twenties nightclub to dance was that point in the night when they would break out “The Rodeo Song” and watch the crowd go wild. But as this four letter term for fornication shed its trench coat and sunglasses, the “N word” picked them up and put them on. Social consciousness was sweeping the land; slowly in some places and not in all areas or interactions. And while activists would have a long road to travel before they would see a black man in certain neighborhoods in America, much less in the White House, one simple step that they all seemed to silently agree upon was that they would stop using the “N word”. White guilt or shame or perhaps just peer pressure slowly made the word less accessible. While the “F word” was starring in hit movies and waiting for the birth of the Internet where it would truly shine, the “N word” was becoming persona non gratis. White people were expected to have stopped using the word cold turkey. When we want to ask for one of those early Richard Pryor albums on CD our heads nearly explode. Even words that are close to the offending word give us trouble. Many of us listen as black people tell us that we are no longer allowed to use this word. Richard Roundtree’s blaxploitation western is now simply “Boss”. The last word in the title is missing and it won’t even show up on the side of a milk carton. (Do they still put missing children’s pictures on milk cartons?)

So the next step in the life of this word is for the black community to “take it back”. All of a sudden after a few years of the word being underground or in witness protection, it shows up as a term of affection used from one black person to another. Usually the last two letters have been replaced by a single letter “a”, but this is the equivalent of putting Groucho glasses on the Batman. You still know it’s the Batman, and if you say the wrong thing to Batman or about Batman, Batman is going to kick your ass. Now we have a word that is off-limits to a large segment of the population while simultaneously becoming heavily used by another segment. This creates a covetous attitude in many white people. Why can’t we say the word? Why is it okay if they say the word? I don’t like being denied my opportunity to sing along to Jay Z songs if I want to. Now the word has enormous power. If a white person says the word, he is almost always immediately branded as a racist (except for Quentin Tarantino, he seems to get a pass from much of the black community). The idea that a white person must never be allowed to utter this six letter word seems almost codified as national law which makes people who would normally never want to use the word, want to use it all the more. It’s like not smoking pot or obeying the speed limit. Even those that follow the law have thoughts about breaking it, and a lot of them will if they think no one is watching (or in this case listening).

Of course with blacks having their “off-limits to all but us” word, other groups hopped on board. Women despise the “C word” and gay people have fought to get their least favorite “F word” treated the same way that the “N word” is treated. They can say it. We can’t. So far they haven’t tried removing the last two letters and replacing them with the letter “A”. I really hadn’t noticed how much they had done to eradicate the use of this term until I was re-listening to an old Eddie Murphy stand up act and I realized how jarring it now seemed when he used the word in question. I couldn’t concentrate on the jokes any longer because I was trying to process how a comedian could get by with using this particular word these days. It couldn’t be done, but then this was an album from the early 80s.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. I just write a blog because I enjoy sharing my thoughts in a printed format albeit an electronic one. I do know that we need to start talking to each other and explain the linguistic problems that we have. For example, to keep from offending the currently preferred racial label is African-American. Many don’t like to be called black and they certainly don’t like negro or colored, both of which conjure up more images of a less enlightened time. But America is not the only country with black people. Is Lenny Henry, the British comedian, an African-American? No. So is he an African Brit? What about Nelson Mandela? Is he an African-African? Black just feels like the most accurate and least racially insensitive term that can be used, but I’m open to ideas and enlightenment myself.

I Miss Those Old Songs

I like a lot of different music. I always joke about the fact that my CD collection had Garth Brooks and The Butthole Surfers on the same shelf. A guy singing Elvis songs in Latin shares space with a cd of rock classics sung in “chant” format and a chant album done in oinks and pig latin. There is also a huge section of compilation cds featuring song hits from the 1970s. And there are plenty of more mainstream choices as well, Nickelback, AC/DC, Ozzy, Brad Paisley, David Allen Coe, Halestorm, Ice-T and Body Count, Nas, and plenty of others. About the only thing I don’t have represented is Gospel (other than an Elvis and a Johnny Cash gospel cd) and Polka (and even Polka gets a nod thanks to Weird Al Yankovic).

I listen to one of the local classic rock stations (FM 105) that also plays current rock except for late at night when I’m driving home and I switch to talk radio with Mike Savage and Coast-to-Coast AM. Even though I don’t usually agree with Mr. Savage’s political views, I still find him more entertaining than a lot of his competitors, especially when he drops the politics and tells stories about his life and travels.

I used to listen to Jack FM which was a hodgepodge similar to my cd collection. I also used to listen to the X which was a heavy metal/hard rock/alternative station that switched formats and became a FOX News station. The station I miss the most is WKAZ which played the hits of the 70s. The best part was that on Sundays they played the old American Top 40 shows from those years. These were the songs I grew up on. Mostly they played the well-remembered hits, but every once in a blue moon they would slip in Troglodyte by Jimmy Castor or My Girl Bill by Jim Stafford. The old Top 40 shows would play all the hits for a particular week, so you got a lot of one hit wonders and songs that had dropped out of the general consciousness. When’s the last time Donnie and Marie’s Deep Purple Dream was on the radio?

My wife and I made it a game on Sundays. We would flip on Casey Kasem when we got in the car, and try and guess what the year was by the songs he was playing. At the top of the hour they would always announce the year, so we always had less than 60 minutes to reach our conclusion based on songs that were just entering or exiting the countdown.

I also remember as a kid going to National Record Mart, Arlens, Hecks, Kmart, and G.C.Murphy and buying 45s with my favorite songs. When vinyl was replaced by cassettes and later cds, the singles didn’t seem as desirable. There were a few cd singles that actually included songs or versions of songs that were left off of the albums. That’s how I knew the words to the gory version of The Night Santa Went Crazy and heard the uncut acoustic version of You Oughta Know.

WKAZ changed formats to become another classic rock station. It resurfaced later as an oldies station concentrating more on the songs of the 50s and 60s. Also the signal was nowhere near as strong. What’s really funny to me is that WKAZ AM 94.5 was the rock and roll/pop station back when I was a kid listening to music in the 1970s. I remember hearing Harry Nilson’s Coconut on there for the first time and enjoying Me and Julio Down By The School Yard in heavy rotation. I even remember the name of my favorite DJ, Frank George. I had his autograph for years. It may still be in some of my junk we haven’t gone through.

Sure I could put on my cds and recreate all the music from that time. I could even haul out my 45s and listen to Convention ’72 by The Delegates or Mr. Jaws by Dickie Goodman or Clap For The Wolfman or Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road, but I’d much rather hear them on my radio with a dj introducing them in all their cheesy glory. I might enjoy listening to Bitch Came Back by Theory of a Deadman or Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked by Cage the Elephant, but none of them hold a place in my heart like the Star Wars Theme by Meco and the songs about stinky roadkill, horny cavemen, and a huge garden party. Of course another favorite was that song my 12-year-old mind thought was about watching a fireworks show with your girlfriend in the middle of the day, Afternoon Delight. Oh to be that naive once again.