Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sha Na Na Na Na Na Na

Strolling through the local health food store today, I noticed the music that was playing over the loudspeaker. The tune was catchy, the lyrics thought-provoking, and the singers quite talented. Stopping in the tea section, I sang along--under my breath, that is. You don't want to hear me singing out loud unless you're wearing earplugs--thick ones.

Anyway, listening closely to the song released a multitude of memories. The record, Get A Job, was a big hit when I was a kid. I'd heard it hundreds of times before, of course, but today the words struck me deeply. Perhaps I was reading more into it than what was initially intended, but I got the distinct sense that the songwriter was saying he wanted a job, but couldn't find one and because he was a black man he was out of luck, i.e. "Is there any work for me?"

Later at home, I googled searched the singers, The Silhouettes, and learned that their song had been released late in 1957 and went on to become a Billboard smash early in 1958. The songwriter, Richard Lewis, was a former serviceman who had moved back to his mother's home after being discharged--unable to find a job. Even though he wrote the lyrics to make it seem as if he was just sluffin' and not really seriously looking for work, I got the feeling that like with a lot of black servicemen, there just weren't any options made available to him once he came home. I know that's what kept my father in the Army until retirement. Where else was he going to go?

As I checked out the video, what struck me right away was the audience. Here, four grown black men are onstage rockin' and rollin' away to a song that laments how they can't even participate in the system. Yet the entire audience is made up of white teenagers. As they clap their hands and sway to the beat, the Caucasian kids look totally oblivious. Didn't they even think about how ridiculous it was that they were bouncing in their seats to a song filled with socio-economic angst, and that the very singers of said song wouldn't even be allowed in that auditorium with them had it not been for the need to have them on stage singing? But why would you even think anything if you've never been taught to examine anything? The beauty of a system that oppresses an entire race of people is that the oppressors aren't allowed to think, especially about their privileged place in the hierarchy.

Damn. This is a crazy planet. When I consider how outraged Americans were to discover the system of apartheid that was once South Africa, I am thrown for a loop about the way they allowed racial segregation to continue for so long in the U.S.

Back to music. We had so much of it in our house that my sister and I were singing and dancing at an early age. There was always a radio on playing the Billboard top 100, and we quickly learned the lyrics to most of the popular tunes--morbid tunes, like Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley. There was a lot of music on TV, too, and I remember watching shows like American Bandstand, The Lloyd Thaxton Show, Upbeat, Hullabaloo, Shindig and, later, Soul Train. I remember when Nat King Cole hosted his own weekly series, and when Leslie Uggams was a regular on Sing Along with Mitch (Miller). So much of American music is black music yet so many black musicians were never given the credit nor the royalties they deserved. But neither were black Americans in other fields.

You know, I keep harping on hope, and the larger possibilities that lie in front of us. Let's HOPE I'm right.


Your Hip Hapa,

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