May 8, 2018

ray stevens

I've left something out of my music discussions, something I don't talk about any more:  When I was a pre-teen, before folk music swept me away into deeper interest, I had a major thing for Ray Stevens' music.

I don't talk about it now because he went off the conservative deep end some time ago.  I fear what people would think.  I was already chastised by one friend a few years ago for liking one of his songs, even though my fondness is based in nostalgia and not current taste or regard for him as an artist.  I would not go hear him in concert now.  I would not support him financially or otherwise.

One of my childhood dreams was to meet him someday.

I recently downloaded exactly one album that contained a song I wanted to hear again, and played the song for P.J. in the car.  She didn't think it was funny.  The shame and humiliation I felt was penetrating, greater than what would have been commensurate with the situation.  There was a dissonance, an incongruity, between me-then and me-now, and it was profoundly embarrassing in that moment.

Back in the day, that music brought me a bit of light in the darkness.  I laughed.

I collected cassette tapes, enough to fill a shoe box I stole from my sister, beginning with the cassette that belonged to my parents (I Have Returned).  I understood the humor.  I understood the social commentary, and at the time, being reared Republican (so I was told) and Baptist (undisputed), it aligned perfectly with my worldview.  I knew others who loved his music, too.  It fit.

Now when I listen to the music, the female backup singers grate on my nerves and the whistles and sirens and comedic sound effects make me uncomfortable.  It's all over the top.  They aren't funny any more.  Something was lost along the way.  But there was a golden era, between the young Ray Stevens and his liberal social and political critiques, and the older Ray Stevens with social and political discourse coming from an almost polar opposite place.  An era when he focused on what was funny in life, made up characters and mocked Southern culture and the plight of the average Joe.  That was the music that I embraced, though I'm now aware some of it was hurtful to those outside my white, straight, Protestant Southern culture.  I stopped listening in my mid-teens and haven't been exposed to the newer, more inflammatory material he produced.  The Ray Stevens I knew was, in my child's eyes, innocuous.

I still know every word to every song.

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