Look away, Look a-way!

If there’s a Dixie city I might claim as my own, it’d be Charleston, the Holy City, a place of sophistication and grace.

Award-winning food, the Spoleto Festival, religious exceptionalism (the first baptist church in the south, last French Huguenot congregation, lots of Jews).

I also notice a lot of shadows here.

Through its port and market passed 40-60% of American slaves.
In its speakeasies flourished one of America’s first and most dynamic queer communities.

Some of the shadows are personal. Early in my adult life I worked for a company with a home office in Charleston and consequently developed patterns and acquired knowledge of alleys and routes and watering holes. There are contacts in my phone with 843 area codes and no last names (I’m still not sure who got that text about meeting at minibar. . .)

Wandering around slightly north of Broad (read: “s.n.o.B,” supposedly nothing worthy on the peninsula is north of Broad Street) I ate house pickles, sampled local microwbrews, and sucked honey off the bones of James Beard award winning fried chicken, before heading to the micro- minibar occupying the reception area of the office I once used to visit.

Inside, there weren’t more than a dozen seats, at least three of them occupied by folks who had once lived in Kansas City. On the menu was Boulevard Beer and hot injection beef jerky. A southern styled singer-songwriter crooned in the corner to whom I paid no attention until the insistent refrain “Look away, Look away!” caught my imagination.

I’ve always thought the goal is to look straight on, squarely and objectively, no matter how painful or grotesque.

What could we possibly be looking away from? I hope not prejudice and injustice, inequality and inefficiency.

“What is this horrible, horrible song?” I asked.

“Dixie,” I learned. “The national anthem of the Confederacy.”

And thus yet more shadows were revealed.

Wikipedia later offered more informed analysis than my simplistic impressions. Though by no means canonical, the general sense of the origins of the song “Dixie” seems to be that it comes out of blackface minstrelsy. A freed slave pines for his old life picking cotton for his kind and gracious master. He’s not so much looking away as looking “a-way-down–there.”

Regardless, it seems a strange sentiment for Confederate-Americans (that’s really a thing) to rally around.

Of course, the French sing in the Marseillaise of watering their fields with the blood of their enemies, but I’ve always thought of that as hyperbole. What’s the literary device at work in “Dixie”?

+++

Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Old times there are not forgotten.
Look away, look away, look away Dixie Land!

In Dixie Land, where I was born in,
early on one frosty mornin’.
Look away, look away, look away Dixie Land!

I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray! Hooray!
In Dixie Land I’ll take my stand,
to live and die in Dixie.
Away, away, away down south in Dixie!
Away, away, away down south in Dixie!

There’s buckwheat cakes and Injun batter,
Makes you fat or a little fatter.
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land

Then hoe it down and scratch your gravel,
To Dixie’s Land I’m bound to travel.
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land

I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray! Hooray!
In Dixie Land I’ll take my stand,
to live and die in Dixie.
Away, away, away down south in Dixie!
Away, away, away down south in Dixie!

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