The myth comes down with Jerry Joseph's 'Dead Confederate'
Four years ago, when he wrote the song "Dead Confederate," Portland singer/songwriter Jerry Joseph never envisioned the furor over historic statues, symbols and place names would engulf our nation.
It's been an issue, yes, but not to the extent we see today with social justice movements.
Like many people, he detested the whole concept of the Confederacy and people buying and selling other people. And Joseph said he certainly appreciates how the Civil War changed the nation's history. Having friends from the South who feel the same, Joseph penned "Dead Confederate," using the voice of the statue itself as people tore the old soldier down and sent the effigy to the dust bin of history.
In summer 2020, the song resonates with anybody who sees statues as glorification of an inglorious past. Let's just say, Joseph's song couldn't be more timely, set to be released Aug. 21 as part of his "The Beautiful Madness" album.
Patterson Hood and his band Drive-By Truckers collaborated with Joseph on the record, and he wrote in the liner notes that "it's one of the best songs about prejudice and hatred that I have ever heard."
Jason Isbell, who plays guitar on the song, calls it one of the top five songs ever written about the South.
One of the lyrics: "Hey now baby I'm a dead confederate, 80 years I stood my ground, I ain't sorry, ain't regretting it, now they're trying to tear me down ... Hey now baby I'm a dead confederate, rebel pride, a heart of stone, I ain't worried, I ain't sweating it, wish they'd just leave me alone."
Another: "Swallowing my granite pride, they haul me out to gravel pits, forget that I lived and died, smash me up to chips and bits."
The thing is, Joseph, an Oregon Music Hall of Fame who calls Portland home and tours the world, said that some people felt the song sympathizes with the ol' reb.
"My wife hates it," said Joseph, 59. "She said, 'You get two verses in and you have empathy for this (expletive) statue.'
"I don't write characters, I'm a self-absorbed musician, everything's about me, but when I do write it's important to be the voice of the character. The Confederate statue is not going to sing that 'I'm a racist… tear me down.' The statue is singing from the point of being proud of his cause. I thought I could make it ugly enough that no one would think I'm identifying with it. Most southerners don't get that image. They're pulling him down and putting him in the dust bin of history, which is where he belongs."
UnCut Magazine named "The Beautiful Madness" album of the month and "Dead Confederate" song of the month, saying that "Joseph specializes in searing socio-political songs in the shape of heavy ballads and rumbling alt-country."
Joseph, a self-described "lefty," sees nothing redeemable about Confederate statues. "Absolutely not" do they belong in private museums, although he does concede that, if you look deep enough, a great many people memorialized by statues (or place names and such) have racist tendencies.
He read a post on Instagram that argued that we'd be pulling down 95% of the statues, if we went by such a criteria. "What does that say about your culture when 95% of those people have those backgrounds?" he added. "It's the best argument why we can say we suffer from systemic racism."
Joseph often tackles social issues in his singing and songwriting. Think of a cross between Merle Haggard and Bob Dylan, and you have Joseph, a rough-around-the-edges fellow who clearly has lived a life and trudges on to tell about it.
His latest single, "Sugar Smacks," is basically a nine-minute rant about the world we live in — the president, guns, cartels, the abandoned Kurds and "Lakota Sioux Medicine songs sung by Rocky Mountain white kids, thirty different bands playing the Grateful Dead Book."
"Cause the real world leaves me throwing up and wishing it was done," one lyric reads.
Joseph has been staying home — aren't we all? — during the COVID-19 pandemic and period of government restrictions. Happily staying home, as he has spent ample time around his wife and two younger children; he has two older children and grandkids. He has enjoyed going to Coquine restaurant for its sourced vegetables, sardines, mussels and more — "it's getting me through," he said.
He's usually traveling and playing music with his band the Jackmorons — well, he has been to Montana this summer, that's something. He often works in war-torn lands and on behalf of refugees.
The video from "Sugar Smacks" includes footage from his travels to: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Kibbutz Ketera, Eilat and elsewhere in Israel; Beqaa Valley and Beirut, Lebanon; Kabul, Afghanistan; Ramallah, Bethlehem and West Bank Territories, Palestine; Kampot, Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, Cambodia; Bangkok, Thailand; Mumbai, India; Nicaragua; Saigon, Vietnam; Manaus and Sao Paulo in Brazil; Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, Australia; Athens, Georgia; Tijuana and Tulum, Mexico; Wellington, New Zealand; Berlin, Germany; Portland; Breckenridge, Colorado; Halabja, Iraq; Jordan; Duhok, Kurdish Iraq.
You get the picture. The guys gets around.
"I haven't been in one place for four months my whole life, other than being incarcerated (as a youth)," he said.
He has a lot of fans, including Hood, who writes in "The Beautiful Madness" liner notes, "Jerry, to me, is a cult figure who could, in some alternate reality, have easily been one of the biggest stars in the world. One of the greatest live performers I have ever seen and has long been one of my favorite songwriters."
While taking on our world's problems and dead Confederates, Joseph also sees what has happened in Portland with protestors and federal government crackdowns on riots. He visited downtown one night and subsequently became enveloped in crowd control measures, and "it kicked the (expletive) out of me." He fears that politician rhetoric could lead to more violence and confrontation.
Joseph does yearn for a simpler time.
Part of him wants to record his song about marriage, and hopes someday they build a statue for (the fictitious) "John and Mary Smith who've been married 71 years."
As far as the future, if and when he returns to the road, will the road welcome him?
"I'm getting a lot of offers, at some point I gotta go back to work," he said. "I don't know where I'm going from here. Are (foreign countries) going to allow U.S. passports?"
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.