"You Rock!" What would America be without Black People?
For several days now, we have had people observing us where I work.
It doesn't bother me, I just ignore them. I don't do any better or any worse than I would do if they weren't there.
These are very low level management people, and truthfully, I wasn't impressed with them at all. Honestly, I remember thinking what a bunch of "hillbillies."
But what made me think about them today, was that when they left last night, one of them forgot their umbrella. And she called and asked if I would look for it, and when I found it she asked if I could send it to her.
I told her I would.
That's when she said something I totally did not expect. In a very enthusiastic voice, she said, "YOU ROCK!"
It caught me off guard and I chuckled and said, "You're welcome."
Now here is a middle aged manager, I don't remember by sight which one she was, and she is managing a small office way out in the sticks somewhere, yet she has come to the "big city" and is using a term young people now use.
Now I know that young people don't stop to think where words come from, and I seriously doubt that most older people, that woman included, do either.
And you may not either. But just for fun, ask yourself this question:
What on earth, is the history of "You Rock!" and why does it matter?
It matters because it answers the question, what kind of a country would this be, if there were no black people in it, or if there never had been any in it.
And the question is valid because after all this time there are still people who are racist and can not stand to see this country led by a black President.
I guess the simple answer to that question, what would America be like without them, is, that America would be another Canada - not that there is anything wrong with Canada, just that it is no U.S.A. Canada does not "Rock." (They have some "rockers" but they all come here to work:)
You see, "You Rock!" has the word "rock" in it, which is one third of a three word phrase that African Americans are the creators of: "Rock and Roll."
Now the funny thing to me was that when the woman said "You Rock!" to me, the original translation of that might be, "You have sex!" Or to put it more bluntly, "You F***!"
Because "Rock and Roll" was a euphemism in the black community for just that: sexual relations.
Euphemism is just a big word which to me means, a word or words you say when you can't say what you really want to say.
In the fifties, the culture was such that no one could sing on a record "Let's have sex all night long." But you could sing, "Let's Rock and Roll all night long."
And so some black people did.
But even music was segregated back then so most white people were listening to Lawrence Welk blow bubbles out of a flute or something.
But then something happened. Some white kids started listening to "Race" music and started hearing about rocking and rolling, and they knew what it meant.
And so did a lot of white adults who raised cain when that white evil demon Elvis Presley started gyrating as if he were indeed "rocking and rolling" onstage, and singing that kind of music with a voice that sounded like he himself was "colored." They even called him a white n*****.
They tried to put a stop to it, this Rock and Roll, but it did not work. They said it was evil, the devil's work, and that it would destroy our nation. (Country music was Ok though. It was ok if the country got drunk and cried itself to death.)
Fifty something years later, Rock and Roll is here to stay after destroying nothing but a lot of eardrums (including mine)... but the meaning of the original words has been lost to a lot of people - including the white middle aged woman who told me "YOU ROCK!" because I saved her umbrella.
To her, "You rock!" might now be sanitized enough to mean "You're great!" But she will probably never realize she made a comment about my virility.
This was not meant to be a history of the integration of African American Music into the stream of American music to the benefit of both. (Notice I did not say "mainstream" because there really wasn't much to American Music before Black people "helped" us out. Michael Row the Boat Ashore?* Hardly compares to European Classical Music.)
(*Correction: A reader on another site informed me that Michael Row the Boat Ashore, was actually a spiritual used at the time of the underground railroad, which goes to show that even more music than I thought was actually black originally.)
But just think for a moment, where American music - and American language also - and even world music would be now, if there were no black people ever in America.
We would still be listening to that "bubble" music.
Or crying in our beer, as many millions still choose to do.
But as for me, I choose damaged eardrums.
And though I am now way to old to "Rock and Roll" all night long, I do have my moments.
And when I have them musically, I prefer to go to the original source, because the original is almost always better than the copycats. That's why if I want to listen to "Hound Dog" I don't listen to Elvis Presley but I go back all the way to Big Mamma Thornton.
And sometimes when you do that, you make an amazing discovery. You find that some - not all by any means - great old rock and roll songs...
were written by white people, and then sung by black people. And then... sung by white people.
The moral of this story folks, is that we are all in this together, black and white.
And in doing so we are not Canada - and we make some very beautiful and interesting music.
In other words, "We Rock."
Thanks in great part...
to Black people.
They were brought here against their will
and treated horribly for hundreds of years.
They had the blues and they created the blues
and they sang their way through all their (and our) tribulations.
And they created rhythm and blues which became rock and roll.
And finally, one of them rose to be the most powerful and greatest man of our present day:
And now so many cry in your beer crazies are trying to tear him down.
But he and black people came from down.
And no one will ever be able to keep them there again.
September 17, 2009.