It's been quite a week for Brad Paisley. Not only did he release "Wheelhouse," but he landed him squarely in one huge, huge controversy with Accidental Racist, the song he did with rapper LL Cool J.
The song deals with a white man wearing a shirt with a Confederate flag walking into a Starbucks and being served by a black barista, who doesn't understand the white man. LL Cool J also doesn't want to be pre-judged: "wish you understood / What the world is really like when you're livin' in the hood / Just because my pants are saggin' doesn't mean I'm up to no good /You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would / Now my chains are gold but I'm still misunderstood."
Now, I never perceived Paisley to be particularly controversial figure, but he sure is at least for the moment. Yet, this is not the first time that he has embraced racial issues. That was never more the case than on Welcome to the Future, his 2009 album. He didn't receive much of any comment about the title, although for those who criticize him now should have been praised back then.
While some have now (falsely) accused Paisley of being a racist, Welcome to the Future makes it clear that he is not at all, and in fact, it's an ultra cheap (and easy) shot. In that emotionally charged song, Paisley sings, "I had a friend in school / Running back on a football team / They burned a cross in his front yard / For asking out the home coming queen/ I thought about him today / And everybody who's seen what he's seen / From a woman on a bus /To a man with a dream / Hey, wake up Martin Luther / Welcome to the future / Hey, glory, glory, hallelujah / Welcome to the future" (check out the video at the 3:43 mark).
The lyrics to Accidental Racist are far from perfect. I'm not sure that referring to "an ol' can of worms" raises the level of discourse. Slavery and keeping down the blacks was more than simply an "ol' can of worms." It's hard to think that in this day and age that the old way of doing things could possibly work any more.
At the same time, the character (and it is a character talking, not necessarily Paisley) gives voice to the idea of at least trying to understand. LL Cool J raps, in perhaps the best line, "The relationship between the Mason-Dixon needs some fixin."
The solutions may be a bit simple ("Let bygones be bygones," LL opines), a bit too neat. A bit too pat and simple. Life isn't that easy, of course. Those of color still don't have the same freedoms and/or standards of living of white society. Women don't compared to men. Gays to straights, etc.
Paisley may not be presenting any compelling answers in Accidental Racist, and that's okay. Coming up with a solution at this point in the country's history in a few minutes of a song would be a bit presumptuous, since we can't seem to deal with issues of race, the haves versus the have nots in our world very easily. It's more of a simple plea to understand each other and raise issues of race in America, something that we don't seem to do very easily, nor understand all that well.
I wonder if Paisley envisioned the reaction he would get for putting the song out? Or LL Cool J for getting involved?
It's not any surprise that Paisley is sticking by his guns. He tweeted earlier this week, as you buy this album, I hope it triggers emotions. I hope you feel joy, heartache, triumph, surprise; you laugh, cry, nudge someone beside you."
"...I hope the album rocks you, soothes you, raises questions, answers, evokes feelings, all the way through until Officially Alive"
"'Cause I wouldn't change a thing. This is a record meant to be FAR from easy listening. But fun. Like life. Have a ball, ya'll."
If he didn't defend himself, you'd have to think this guy had no guts whatsoever. So no surprise there.
Accidental Racist> may be buried way into the lengthy list of songs on "Wheelhouse," but it has made its mark. Whether Paisley wanted it to in the way it has or not. So, for better (and for those who think so) worse, thanks for at least making people think and consider issues of race and society.
It's not the best song that Paisley has done. Welcome to the Future, was far better musically and lyrically and makes you really think about how far we have come in the world. But give Paisley credit for raising the issue in a way more than he ever thought he might.