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Great White New Yorker Cover

I was discussing a recent New Yorker cover with a friend the other day. He’s possibly the most liberal guy I know and the illustration had a political theme, so I asked for his take. The image depicts a young, white family unloading for a summer canoe trip by a riverside. The boat is still atop the roof of an SUV or minivan and the father, thin with sun-guarding fishing hat strapped under chin and Birkenstock sandals, holds two oars and scans the parking area nervously for signs of trouble. His wife dutifully fits each child with a life vest. Parked adjacent is an unoccupied Ford pickup truck with a shotgun on a rack and three bumper stickers, one with the MAGA slogan, one a Christian cross flanked by two American flags, and one the Gasden Flag snake, coiled against blue background. The implication about the unseen pickup people is clear. For anyone who’s seen “Deliverance,” there’s strong correlation with the backwood toothless crackers who rape Ned Beatty in the film. I was less sure about the qualities ascribed to the young family, but my buddy thought the drawing cast a “wry eye” and depicted them as “crunchy.” Crunchy isn’t the adjective I’d choose; if anything they seem upper-middle class white Brooklyn with all this image entails. But I wasn’t sure. I got the artist’s intent but other subtleties escaped me. Being the New Yorker, safe assumptions can be made.

Here’s my theory on current cultural stereotypes: The left sees the right as morons and the right sees the left as pussies. Apologies for the latter word here, but it best fits. ‘Moron’ on the right includes uneducated, unenlightened, unintelligent, uncaring and unwilling to change. ‘Pussy’ on the left includes ineffective, bubble-living, hysterical and un-American. ‘Heartless,’ ‘selfish,’ ‘provincial,’ and ‘xenophobic’ can also be tagged to the right, while ‘cabbage-headed,’ ‘elitist,’ ‘condescending’ and ‘NIMBY’ work on the left. The truth is that all these tags could be applied to either side, so perhaps the one best fitting these mudslingers is “hypocritical.”

Many will point to the current social and political climate for fostering these caricatures but I believe the opposite is true. The labels and division they create have fostered the climate. It’s OK to despise a president but it seems another matter to despise an entire group or region. I know San Francisco and New York City somewhat well and can attest that the stereotypes in each case are both accurate and way off the mark. The same must hold true for places like Alabama or Tennessee. Never before have we been so connected and so far apart.

Non-sequiturs notwithstanding, I look to the tangential nuances of music. It’s an equally inaccurate means of tapping the American pulse, but does offer convenient metaphors. It’s also a safer way of finishing a post that was going in a dangerous direction. Sports may seem equally appropriate, but similar vitriol can sneak in discussing football (take a knee, buddy) soccer (nothing ever happens in this game) or basketball (these guys need to keep their mouths shut.) Baseball is the most quintessentially American game, reflecting purity of intention and wide-spread corruption. But it too can get dicey. Music is different and sneaks up on us in unconscious fashion. Toe-tapping often precedes understanding, and by then it’s too late.

Take the early work of Detroit’s native son Ted Nugent. Specifically, his song “Great White Buffalo.” It came out in ’74 on the album “Tooth Fang and Claw.” You think you know Uncle Ted, but here he explores the topics of conservation, colonialist greed, and native American wisdom. It’s sewn together with one of the greatest electric guitar riffs and climactic pay-offs of all time. The set-up is simple — The Indian and buffalo are living in harmony “only (taking) what they needed” and existing “hand in hand.” Enter the greedy white man who “couldn’t see past a bill-fold” and wants “all the buffalo dead.” The epic payoff comes when the legendary beast shows up to even the score. “When I looked above the canyon wall / strong eyes did glow / was the leader of the land / the Great White Buffalo.” GWB proceeds to “lead the battered herd” in making “a final stand.” None of this happened, of course, and the Buffalo were wiped out. But the sentiment is firmly intact.

Moving along .. Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam have been riding together this summer on the “LSD Tour.” I can’t get away too much, too far, or for too long these days, but I’ve managed to catch a couple of shows in NYC and San Francisco. I’ve also seen Yoakam perform solo in spots like Santa Rosa, Stockton and Sparks, Nevada. The fanbase for these acts, particularly Yoakam and Earle, can be politically disparate. Earle rants on about fascism and Trump between songs and Dwight pays homage to Merle Haggard and “Fightin’ Side of Me” blares from P.A. speakers before he takes the stage. Yet Yoakam’s fans cross over to Earle and his early work like “Galway Girl.” And I saw two young gay dudes at the Masonic show in San Francisco, obviously there to see Dwight, still rocking tight jeans at 61 and twirling on the toe of his Rios of Mercedes cowboy boots. All three acts are southern and came up together. It has to be one of the oddest fanbase congregations ever  but it works and everybody walks out smiling. It’s a bit reminiscent of when Willie Nelson let his hair out and wrote “I’d have to be weird to grow me a beard just to see what the rednecks would do.” Music allows this type of odd integration and even celebrates it. Or maybe I hope it does .. I don’t know. Like I said “tangential nuance.” I’m as lost for answers as most others, but this seems as good a direction to push my chips as any.

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