Music as a Barometer of Our Times Calls for a Better Man

New Orleans   It’s Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I helped my son open up at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse for the regulars. Once or twice a year it’s “training day” all over for me. I’m help, just not great help, but I don’t mind getting bossed around. It’s fun to see everyone, wish them well. After decades, Mardi Gras is a chance for me to come off the road and get a day off for me and take a Trump relief break.

Alexa is playing alternative country and that’s a nice break as well. We’ve had some problems in country music recently. I’ve loved it for years, but almost had to swear off last year. It had become boring and ridiculous. Last year there was a song that said it all, as someone whose name I didn’t catch sang, “It’s hard to be a woman in a country and western song.” She mourned the fact that it all seemed about going after a girl and driving her to the lake or river in a big pickup truck.

But, maybe times are changing? I heard a song about how the trick of driving across the border was to put a Bible on your dash. A real sign of potential change though for women, and we can hope for their men as well, is a recent release by the group, Little Big Town, called “Better Man” where the refrain continues to “wish you were a better man.” No standing by. No taking the blame. None of what my companera calls “whining women singing.” It’s mournful about losing the man, but it’s clear it simply came down to the fact he just plain wasn’t a better man. That’s a standard we have to be ready to step up and be judged by.

Here’s Better Man:

I know I’m probably better off on my own
Than lovin’ a man who didn’t know
What he had when he had it
And I see the permanent damage you did to me
Never again, I just wish I could forget when it was magic
I wish it wasn’t four am, standing in the mirror
Saying to myself, you know you had to do it I know
The bravest thing I ever did was run

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I can feel you again
But I just miss you, and I just wish you were a better man
And I know why we had to say goodbye
Like the back of my hand
And I just miss you, and I just wish you were a better man
A better man

I know I’m probably better off all alone
Than needing a man who could change his mind at any given minute
And it’s always on your terms
I’m hanging on every careless word
Hoping it might turn sweet again
Like it was in the beginning
But your jealousy, I can hear it now
You’re talking down to me like I’ll always be around
You push my love away like it’s some kind of loaded gun
Boy, you never thought I’d run

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I can feel you again
But I just miss you, and I just wish you were a better man
And I know why we had to say goodbye
Like the back of my hand
And I just miss you, and I just wish you were a better man
A better man
Better man

I hold onto this pride because these days it’s all I have
And I gave you my best and we both know you can’t say that
You can’t say that
I wish you were a better man
I wonder what we would’ve become
If you were a better man
We might still be in love
If you were a better man
You would’ve been the one
If you were a better man
Yeah, yeah

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I can feel you again
And I just miss you, and I just wish you were a better man
And I know why we had to say goodbye
Like the back of my hand
And I just miss you and I just wish you were a better man
We might still be in love, if you were a better man
Better man

And, if those lyrics aren’t enough of a surprise, then here’s a big one: the song was written by Taylor Swift, who now styles herself a pop diva.

There’s some hope for all of us and a Happy Mardi Gras!

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The Dilution of Class Privilege on Mardi Gras

s.mgpastpresent.2New Orleans    Mardi Gras season is rough for year round residents. It’s not the going to parades but navigating the parade routes so that regular work and life maintains its semi-normal routine. It’s also stomaching the symbols.

Mardi Gras marks the beginning of Lent on the Christian calendar with Easter forty days away. Historically, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a guilty pleasure rife with class and racial entitlement. And, like so many rock-ribbed Southern traditions, the traditions of the upper class continue unabated. The daily newspapers continue to parade front page pictures on the Sunday before Mardi Gras of an elderly white man anointed as the King of the Rex parade, the premier old line outfit, and a young, white woman debutante as the Queen of Rex. This year’s queen looked twelve in her picture. She is no doubt an accomplished young woman who is now attending Yale and speaks Mandarin, but has never gone to school and hardly ever lived in New Orleans, as distant from her disloyal subjects as the planet Mars. The uptown island of wealth and privilege in New Orleans continues to float aimlessly in a sea that is 60% African-American and one of the most crime ridden and poorest cities in the United States. There’s something distinctly unappealing about watching self-proclaimed royalty throwing trinkets to the out stretched arms of the masses, but maybe that’s just me, because it is certainly deeply rooted in the New Orleans culture.

There’s pushback though. The Endymion parade celebrated its 50th Mardi Gras and along with other so-called super-krewes have left Rex in the dirt as the most popular parades. Endymion was a middle and working class parade interloper now claiming thousands of members, open to pretty much anyone willing to come up with a couple of grand. Not for everyone certainly, but compared to the high society swells, a democratic revolution. Such parades chose their royalty from the ranks of local and other celebrities focusing on the crowds and popularity, maybe even the fun of it all, rather than the pomp and prestige.

The post-Katrina surge of the young and the hips detached from any tradition, but looking for a good time, has also leavened some of the more troubling pieces of the Mardi Gras tradition and added a somewhat more democratic tinge to the experience. The African-American Indian “tribes” and costumes were neighborhood based and outside of the main culture, and now newcomers have brought some of the same topsy-turvy to tradition. There are walking parades, makeshift floats or none at all, and costumes of all description often to musical accompaniment. There are parades for dogs and neighborhood parades of floats the size of a shoebox. Some are bawdy and racy, while others are political and satirical. Many are unannounced without routes or routines and therefore all of the more exciting. When you hear the music, you can run to your front stoop and with some joy and surprise catch a glimpse of the passing parade.

Gradually the people are stealing up on the big whoops and making Mardi Gras their own as the natives and the newcomers make it more fun and celebratory, rather than a painful parody of the city’s racial and class divide.

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