Rolling Stones, Brown Sugar

I just read Gene’s comment about the Political Correctness Police in the comments to the Now I’ve Got A Witness post (about the ranking of every Rolling Stones’ song). I started reading the list from the bottom up, and was noting the very excellent songs ranked near the bottom of the list. Short and Curlies, in particular, apparently because it is misogynistic ignoring the jamming instrumental track behind the lyrics.

In any case, I come at the Political Correctness Police a little differently. I believe people have a basic right to express their opinions, and I also believe people have a right not to be aggressively attacked with hateful speech. Since those two positions are not mutually exclusive, the resolution is one of constant negotiation with oneself and with those within earshot.

For me, there is a big distinction between words said by a person directly to another person in such a way that the implication is personal, and the same words issuing into the public space in a more general way. The former is hate speech, the later is hateful speech (if the subject is hate) and hate speech is perhaps not illegal but certainly morally reprehensible, while hateful speech can be extreme and uncomfortable and repulsive, but its immorality is far from automatic and should be given every benefit of the doubt.

Which brings us to the Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar, which is certainly one of the most rampantly offensive and rocking songs in their oeuvre. A writer named Lauretta Charlton wrote a defense of the song in Vulture a couple of years ago,  and quotes Mick Jagger as saying, in 1995, “I never would write that song now. I would probably censor myself. I’d think, ‘Oh God, I can’t. I’ve got to stop. I can’t just write raw like that.’”

I can imagine a world without the hatred and history of Brown Sugar didn’t exist (I have a good imagination), and in such a world such a song probably wouldn’t exist. But that isn’t our world, and if in 1969 Jagger didn’t pour out the lyrics to the song (which he in subsequent years in live shows changed, because he felt uncomfortable singing the originals) as he did, our world would be a lesser place. Fuck those Political Correctness Police.

David Marchese ranks Brown Sugar as the 10th best Stones song of all time.

7 thoughts on “Rolling Stones, Brown Sugar

  1. Sure, it’s all about intent. In this example, the intent is to be metaphorically outrageous. Mick wouldn’t write those lyrics now, but even then there was no hatred. He doesn’t even consider the possibility. And also, there are times when hatred is justified. The Brown Sugar situation, if written from the slave’s POV, would be one. A prisoner in the Gulag would be another, and, er, all down the line.

  2. Bet you can’t guess what I think. (So I’ll tell you anyway.)

    If rock ‘n’ roll isn’t pissing off someone, well. . .

    (But what do I know? “Finding Dory” is probably “rock ‘n’ roll” around here.)

  3. See, I don’t get that. Why must rocknroll piss somebody off? If some asshole is offended, great, but in no way is it NECESSARY. Same thing with sex and drugs – they can be there and often are but they don’t have to be.

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