More than once in my life, this situation or one very similar to it has occurred:
I'm standing with someone as I hear the opening strains of country music rebel redneck David Allen Coe's "You Never Even Called Me by My Name" in the background. I can see in their eyes that they don't even notice the song is on (a red flag), so I have to explain what is going to happen during the final verse.
One of these times was in a bar as an African-American co-worker and I were winding down after a tough night on the newsdesk, and the song came on the jukebox. (Yes, this was a long time ago, when jukeboxes weren't found only in Waffle Houses.) Since I saw no acknowledgment that this beautiful song was in the air, I felt obliged to tell him what was about to happen so that he didn't think it was some sort of weird white cult thing spontaneously breaking out.
"In just a second, all the white folks in here, including me, and especially the guys, are all going to start singing along with this song, but only the last verse. And they're going to do it really loud. Do not be alarmed. It's something we white Southern folks have to do, like memorizing important lines from 'Smokey and the Bandit' and pledging allegiance to one NASCAR driver. It's not optional."
He looked at me like he always did, as if I was just a little too white.
Sure enough, about the time Coe belts out "I was drunk the day my mom got outta prison ," most of the white men and a good many white women were singing along at the top of their lungs. The drunker they were, the louder they got. Not a single African-American sang along, and a few white Army guys looked confused as if they hadn't gotten the memo at our last white people convention. Those Army guys probably hailed from foreign lands like Wisconsin and Minnesota where folks talk funny, fish through holes in the ice and can stay awake when Garrison Keillor talks. And they don't listen to a lot of David Allen Coe. Or mild country like George Strait. Or even wimpy pop country like Rascal Flatts.
Granted, Coe may be the most sickeningly racist redneck to ever pick up a guitar. But the song was written by the great songwriter Steve Goodman, so I think it's OK to sing along all the way to the part where his mom gets "runned over by a damned ol' train." Still, I can see where African-Americans might not want to have a fun sing-along with a racist redneck. And despite my thoughts on the idiot singing it, there's no denying that last verse is among the most famous in all of country music. Besides, my singing along is totally involuntary. I can't help it. There's some genetic whiteness I just can't shake.
So African-Americans get a pass from singing along, though they're certainly welcome to, just as women can choose to dance to Chris Brown songs and still be against domestic violence, though it makes no sense to me. And folks from up North (anywhere above LaGrange) don't have to learn to sing along immediately, but they should be forced to learn the last verse within a month of arriving here. But some people have NO excuse not to be ready for the sing-along including my formerly Southern wife. (I yanked her Southern citizenship.)
Just last night in the kitchen, the song came on, and I began to sing along to the last verse. My wife looked at me the way my old friend once did, and I knew that (a) she didn't recognize this song and (2) I'm still entirely too white. Not that there's anything wrong with that; some of my best friends are white.
"What do you mean you've never heard this song?!" I asked bewilderedly. I mean, the woman grew up in Richland, Ga., which is well south of LaGrange.
"What part confused you? You know, you look awfully white today. You should get some sun."
I hated to do it, but I've had my wife deported. It's part of Georgia's new immigration law, based upon the similar law in Arizona. Except, instead of showing your papers, you just have to correctly answer one simple question.
"The reason I pulled you over is to answer this: Before I could get to the station in my pickup truck, she got runned over by a damned ol' what?"
If they answer "elephant," "M1 Abrams tank" or "Corvette," they must be deported immediately - in the back of a pickup truck.
-- Chris Johnson is an independent correspondent whose "Best of Chris Johnson" is now available for Kindle. Follow him at Facebook.com/KudzuKidWriting.