Why a classic rock song is wrong – Religion News Service

One of the things that I have bequeathed to my sons is a love for the rock group, the Band.

Except, one of their classic songs is simply wrong.

I am talking about The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

The song stars Virgil Caine, who worked on the Danville train, until Stonemans calvary came, and tore up the tracks again.

Back with my wife in Tennessee, when one day she called to me, Virgil, quick, come see, there goes Robert E. Lee! Now I dont mind choppin wood, and I dontcare if the moneys no good. Ya take what ya need and ya leave the rest, But they should never have taken the very best.

Like my father before me, I will work the land.

Like my brother above me, who took a rebel stand. He was just eighteen, proud and brave, but a Yankee laid him in his grave, I swear by the mud below my feet, You cant raise a Caine back up when hes in defeat.

I remember my father grousing about the song.

What the hell are we doing, mourning the defeat of the South in the Civil War? They were traitors! (Check out this video of the song, just so you understand how some have used it).

I understand why the Band (most of whom were Canadians) wrote the song.

Its about loss. Its about remembering that war is hell for everyone.

Except: the cause that they died for was a foul cause.

I have some Southern street cred. For more than a decade, I lived in the old Dixie.

I liked it a lot. I liked the people that I served as a rabbi. They were smart, kind, and loving. There really is nothing like Southern hospitality. I cherish the friendships that I made during those years.

But, during my Southern sojourn, I could hardly ignore the ubiquitous reminders of the Civil War:

And then, there isStone Mountain.

It is the Mount Rushmore of the Confederacy. It is also the place where, in the wake of the Leo Frank blood libel, the Ku Klux Klan met to re-organize itself.

I will never forget the time when I gathered with a bunch of Jewish Southerners to watch the movie The Help, which is about the experience of black domestics in the South in the 1960s.

At first, there was a lot of denial about the truths portrayed in that film.

That domestics could not use the bathrooms inside the houses: many in the audience refused to believe it.

Until someone stood up and asked: Havent yall ever wondered why so many of our houses have bathrooms in the garage?

Which got me wondering: The first Atlanta house that I lived in had a bathroom in the garage. I always figured that it was because when you gotta go, you gotta go.

Apparently not.

And then, another person stood up and said: Lets all be honest with ourselves. During the civil rights era, we remained silent. We were told to stay quiet, because if we spoke up it would be bad for business or worse.

What we choose to remember, and what we choose to commemorate, is never a neutral act.

As my teacher, Yehuda Kurtzer, writes in his book,Shuva:

Memory is selective, deliberate, literary, constructed, and oriented toward the lessons we take from the past; history, in this binary, is scientific and empirical.

So, what should be done about statues of Confederate statues?

First, of all, we should welcome the debate about the fate of Confederate statues, and those that portray Southern luminaries. This conversation is one of the most intellectually invigorating in recent American memory.

Second, the conversation has to incorporate the nuances of memory.

Some historical figures, like Confederate generals, are most famous for the war in which they fought, and for the cause (slavery), for which they fought.

Others, like Washington, Jefferson, and many other noteworthy Americans, owned slaves.

But, this is neither what they are known for, nor the source of their distinctiveness. There needs to be some kind of larger and deeper moral calculus.

I believe that the statues of Confederate generals belong in museums (the place of history), and not the public square (the place of memory).

Here is why: the public square, the place of memory, is also the place of active memory.

Those statues are iconic to white supremacists, and spur on their hateful rhetoric.

Some think that America is heading for a second civil war.

The question is: how do we avoid that?

RNS columns are direct-published opinion pieces. They are not always edited and reflect the views only of the author.

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Why a classic rock song is wrong – Religion News Service

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August 21, 2017   Posted in: Leo Frank |

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