Henry Rollins: The Column! Rebelling in Sweet Home Alabama
[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
If you are a fan of American history, Alabama is a very interesting place. To say that a lot has happened here would be an understatement.
Whenever I'm here, I think of America's turbulent past and of the rebel flag that you sometimes see on car bumpers and elsewhere in this part of the country. It is a symbol that holds many different meanings, depending on whom you ask. To this day, its appearance can get emotions running hot. To me, it's an appendage of America's past, not offensive, just sad.
Before the Civil War, the Southern states were selling a lot of cotton to England and didn't seem to mind British occupation. By and large, the Revolutionary War wasn't at all great for business. It very well could have been the start of the tension that would eventually reach a boiling point. In 1861, America tore itself in half; by 1865, the tragic, nonstop massacre had come to an end. Was there a winner? Americans killing Americans? No. No winners, just a lot of dead soldiers, blood-soaked land and an infamous assassination. America was a different country afterward.
The Southern states, to a great degree, lost their way of life. Slavery came to an end, having been abolished forever by the 13th Amendment. These states had to make some radical changes in how they conducted business.
Change comes very hard to some. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was vigorously and vociferously opposed by the Southern states. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law nonetheless.
So whenever I see the rebel flag on a band's backdrop, or anywhere else, I find it curious that someone would want to display a symbol that carries so much baggage. To the Southern states, the "rebellion" was what, exactly? Their push back against the self-evident truth that "all men are created equal"? I don't understand the rebel part of the equation here. The being on the wrong side of history part, I understand. Not a flag I would be raising anywhere but, hey, knock yourself out.
While not everyone is onboard with equality and freedom for all, great songs keep kicking the ass of those who choose to hang on to the dark days of America's recent past. Because of slavery, there is blues music. People could be held captive, but the music could not be. For me, jazz will always be the soundtrack of the civil rights movement. Music levels the playing field. It provides inspiration beyond measure and drives a stake into the heart of oppression.