Today, I again woke up thinking about “Dixie.” Thinking about Sonia’s fact-check comment and my response to that song.
Although I didn’t know its exact heritage, I did know the song had been used in minstrel shows. But how did I know that? My self-questioning about my reaction is coming from my surprise realization that I have no memory of learning this song, of hearing it performed, of hearing it for the first time. When did “Dixie” burn itself into my brain, complete with the entirely negative context in which it was careful wrapped when that concert medley called it up from the back of my memory?
Maybe it’s not surprising that I can’t remember learning a song, but I remember things like that. Music memory is strong enough for me that I do remember. Okay, probably not every single song I know, but the ones that have particular significance, yes.
So where did “Dixie” come from? It’s not that big a deal, really, that I can’t remember. I don’t think it’s some awful experience I’ve buried. I’m just surprised. I feel as if I’ve always known that song, and I know that isn’t true. But where would I have heard it?
Yes, of course there was the General Lee, Bo and Luke’s car on the Dukes of Hazzard. The car’s horn played “Dixie.” And I watched that show. Religiously. (Hey, there’s no room for coyness or shame here.) But that wasn’t the first time I’d heard the song. Knowing exactly what I was hearing was part of the joke, the guilty pleasure of liking the show.
No. I was fully aware of Dixie by then, from who knows where or why.
More to the point is that I called it “harmless,” and it’s hardly that. Except that it is. That line, “look away, look away, look away, Dixieland.” There’s a soft, wistful, dreamy sadness there.
At least in the way it plays in my head, in the way Percival Everett has reimagined the song for me.
Which is the gift. Not to fall in love with an unlovable song, to still be jarred by its appearance on stage at a concert, but to let my mind rest on it a while and then land here. Not to love the song, but to hear in it something that the author never intended, something other, something real.
Look away, look away, look away.
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