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A friend and I went into a Baptist church in our younger days. We were 18 or there about and smoked pot and all that other swinging rock and roll stuff but we went in just out of curiousity and the preacher was preaching on the word and I objected to him calling it a word because actually it is a slur, a defamation, a slanderĀ  but he called it a word and he had looked it up though I didn’t know of any dictionary it was in because I would look up words like penis or prepuce, which meant the foreskin of the penis but he had to look up this word and you know the word it is the slander of a name for negroes and really refers to a time when they were bought and sold in a market place. He said the definition of “nigger” in the dictionary was one who complains a lot. How ignorant. My friend said he must have found the word nagger and thought that was what he was after. Perhaps that was how he pronounced it I wonder now.

I avoided the saying of that word for decades or you might say scores of years and finally having been exposed to both Patti Smith and the Freemasons of Waldo, Florida I fell into letting myself say the word aloud. Of course, John Lennon sang it in a song and Randy Newman like it for his little tune about the southern patriotism, Rednecks, but I held tight to never saying it, never allowing it to be said. My life changed in 1978 and that become much harder. That was also when I heard the poet Patti Smith sing Rock ‘n Roll Nigger. Good God, too much going on for me to figure that out. She sang about Jim Hendrix and Jesus and Jackson Pollack and Gregor but I got the feeling it was about dying. Being misunderstood and dying. But somehow it must relate about being bought and sold. It’s perfect for the suffering artist. What does he do if he can’t sell? He must sell and there will be someone there telling him how to live, how to make art how to make love even if he wants, if he needs their money. So money is no small thing. PS sings about money in Free Money.

I could never understand from what I learned in school that I could be just like the slave, bought and sold, staying in my place, doing what I have to, what I’m told or else. Or that I would be that person.

 

 

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Categories: American Culture
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