White America, You’re Making Me Sad
I’ve been watching a lot of crowds on TV lately listening to music. It’s summer, and the TV morning shows are broadcasting concerts. Let’s think about this for a moment. The last Western musician known to be a morning person was Johannes Sebastian Bach. Since then, without exception, every successful musician and 86.2% of the unsuccessful ones has been a night owl. Yet when Today or Good Morning America calls, they crawl out of bed for a dawn soundcheck, and throngs of people get up early to stand in the park or a blocked off street.
And that’s what they do. They stand. Like statues. Marble statues.
Now, there is a level on which The Funk is a matter of God-given talent. Most of us are not given to dance like James Brown, sing like Isaac Hayes, strut like John Shaft, or just be George Clinton. That’s just how it is. All of us have some top level of our physical embodiment of The Funk, and regardless of the color of your skin or the content of your character, it just ain’t that high for a lot of us.
But here’s what worries me. Funk-impairment is a physical limitation, but I believe that complete funk-disability is psychological, and it is curable. In particular, the straight white man has been telling himself for far too long that The Funk is forbidden to him. Perhaps in the ‘60s a bunch of academics got together and decided that we would never dance again, for our white-guilty feet have got no rhythm. Maybe J. Edgar Hoover had all the straight white men who could dance arrested, claiming to look for commies but really just searching for someone to spin him around the floor backwards and in high heels.
Anyway here we are, with people going out of their way to be seen, on television, not dancing. Maybe you like Outkast and maybe not, but don’t tell me that Hey Ya! isn’t a catchy song. Is One Week by Barenaked Ladies humorously postmodern or a weak ripoff? Who cares? It’s got a nice beat and you can dance to it. Personally, I think Jimmy Buffet is massively overrated, but Cheeseburger in Paradise does make me move my feet.
And yet, I’ve seen every one of these bands on TV, playing their guts out on about an hour of sleep and a gallon of coffee. And throngs of white people standing there, nodding their heads with just enough rhythm to prove they aren’t deaf.
Wake up, Whitey! For God’s sake, you got out of your bed and fought your way into midtown Manhattan to see this band. Do you really just want to stand there? Is that what you want to tell your buddies? “Yeah, I got up two hours early, took the train in, got right down front, and I bobbed my head like it was 1999!”
Let the rhythm move you. I promise, you won’t turn black or go gay just because you shake your shimmy. Here’s a little anatomy lesson. Below your neck are your shoulders. Give them a shake. It’s OK. Get your whole chest into it. Feels good, don’t it?
Now, down below your waist, above your legs. Those are your hips. They can move too. Side to side, front and back in a circle. Yes, even without moving your legs much at all. You need to try this right now. Hum a song and just do a little chair dancing. Nobody’s going to see you, and if they do, what the hell? Look ‘em dead in the eye and sing out loud. That’ll show them to stare.
If you’re ready for the advanced class, there on the other side of your hips is your booty. I myself have what the American Medical Association calls “No-Butted Irishman’s Disease,” but even I have a booty. Just keep moving your hips and think about getting your back into it. There you go. Big or small, wide or narrow, you’re shaking what your momma gave you. Good for you, Whitey!
(At this point, I should thank Melanie Phillips, who showed me in 1989 where my hips were and that they did in fact move. No, not like that, you dirty bastards, strictly platonically. You changed my life, Mel.)
And one more thing. It’s OK if you’re bad at this. You may be for a while. You might be forever. You know how in any crowd of people clapping on the 2 and 4, there’s somebody clapping her heart out on 1 and 3? Well, that’s my mother. See the person next to her whose movements are just barely too rhythmic to be an actual seizure? Well, that’s my aunt. They are severely funk-impaired people. But they love music and they love to dance just for the joy of it.
And I guarantee, every band on Earth would rather watch them flail with the love of the music than watch you stand there and nod. So give it a try. Get up, get on up, and give it a try.
Remember, you really can dance if you want to.