Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

I once received a promo package in the early 90s that felt like molten Kryptonite once I opened it & realized what it was: a pack of “white power” punk cassettes from some racist label up in Seattle, so laughably dumb and musically abhorrent that I had no choice but to immediately parcel them off my most politically correct friends with no explanation. I don’t remember anyone getting too offended, because the stuff’s so dated and beyond the pale that it’s like hearing someone vehemently argue for corsets and chastity belts. Anything that places its “politics”, dubious as they are, in front of the actual music being made is going to suck every time, and what I’ve heard of “white power” rock proves that from stunted minds comes supremely stunted music (that includes Skrewdriver, including their “but they were totally awesome before they were racists” 1977 crap). There was a time, however, when the US racists, fresh off a couple of landmark defeats such as the Civil Rights bill, were not only running scared but actually still thought they might be able to rally the populace to their side. Their weapon, outside of George Wallace’s presidential candidacy, was a heady brew of redneck country music, militaristic Klan anthems and wistful paeans to old Dixie. The pinnacle recording, as I understand it, was JOHNNY REBEL’s “For Segregationists Only” LP from the mid-60s, which I guess is something of a holy grail for modern wimps who, in 2004, honestly feel threatened by other races, as well as for those who traffic in deep irony & revel in listening to taboo words and ideas thrown around with abandon.

I’ve got an associate who I’d put in the latter camp, a guy who, among other genres, collects XXX stag party records, Norwegian death metal, developmentally-delayed childrens’ choruses, and anything else that might bring a wry snicker to his lips. This demented rogue was kind enough to send me an unsolicited CD-R of a collection called “Klassic Klan Kompositions”, which includes the JOHNNY REBEL record and another 60s compilation called “For Segregationists Only, Volume 2”. Both contain ample usage of the “n-word”, to say the least, and portray America as being under massive assault from federalists, welfare moms, liberals and most of all, what we now call African-Americans. The caricatures are crude, hostile and filled with paranoia. There was a whole (rather large) posse of self-styled “conservatives” who saw their South under attack from the US federal government, forcing them to integrate and live with people whom they’d had under their thumbs for generations. Johnny Rebel and his cohorts tapped into their claustrophobia with a bizarrely playful, sing-songy racism that often sounds like the country-era JERRY LEE LEWIS if he’d taken his lyrics “one toke over the line”. It’s not violent per se, just cantankerously crackers, and often straining for a clever rhyme. And it’s completely transparent in the sense that “Johnny Rebel” is obviously several different session men recording under the same name; the vocals shift several octaves from track to track, making this a cobbled compilation of cheap studio recordings with a common paranoid theme. The schizophrenic nature of these releases, on Reb Rebel Records – and indeed of “Johnny Rebel” himself – is captured in this excellent article by Nick Pittman in New Orleans’ Gambit Weekly. From the article:

“Johnny Rebel's first release was a 45 rpm with "Lookin' For a Handout" on the A-side and "Kajun Klu Klux Klan" on the other. Trahan followed with five more 45s, each with a B-side, bringing the complete Johnny Rebel catalog to 12 songs. His subjects: the laziness of blacks. How blacks and whites were meant to be kept separate. How a black would lose a spelling bee to a donkey. Only two Johnny Rebel songs, "Keep a' Working Big Jim" and "Federal Aid (The Money Belongs to Us)," were not about race. The first was a tribute to New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison's efforts to solve the Kennedy assassination. The other was critical of foreign aid. Along with the 45s, Reb Rebel included four Johnny Rebel songs on a full-length compilation album titled For Segregationists Only. According to the album notes, the songs "express the feeling, anxiety, confusion and problems of many of our people during the political transformation of our way of life." If you had a taste for "subtle, rib-tickling satire," these songs were for you.”

I recommend reading the whole thing, as Pittman tracks down the guy who may or may not be the real Johnny Rebel. Was it real? Was “Rebel” recording this stuff strictly for a paycheck, or did he seriously believe what he was singing? Who knows, but there’s probably 25 or so bald oi-heads out there who still think this stuff is the gospel truth, rather than a weird curio from a long-gone era in American history. Still mad at LBJ, still upset at that rabble-rousing Martin Luther King, and skulking away in chat rooms with their creepy kin.