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Reaching, Teaching, Preaching

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I'm not going to talk much about what's in this week's issue, but I'm going to make what I do talk about relate to it.

A childhood hero of mine died over the weekend. Gregg Allman wasn't a saint. He wasn't even always a good person. He struggled with addiction for much of his career. He ratted on a friend to get out of trouble with the law. He stole Cher from Sonny.

He was also one of the greatest Southern blues and soul singers ever to bring those musical forms into rock in the racially mixed Allman Brothers Band. I say racially mixed because when the Allmans formed in the late 1960s, there wasn't a lot of that in the rock of the South during that period.

Allman lost his brother, the great blues guitarist Duane, at the height of their band's reign in the early '70s. Duane Allman was a towering figure. His fiery guitar defined the Allmans' sound. Perhaps ironically, the group didn't score a big hit until a couple of years later, with "Ramblin Man," a country-rock song that hardly reflected what the Allmans did best, which was improvising on the blues in deeply soulful music that would take you to other galaxies. Then the band floundered for about a decade before coming back in the late '80s with a hot new guitarist and a renewed chemistry. And they toured and toured and toured.

Gregg Allmän
  • Gregg Allmän

I wrote about the musical and cultural importance of the Allman Brothers Band in a book a few years ago called Dixie Lullaby: A Story of Music, Race and New Beginnings in a New South. But really, I was just writing about what the Allman Brothers meant to me. After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., in 1968, a very young Gregg Allman wrote a mournful ballad called "God Rest His Soul." Like so many Americans who saw King as someone who might help usher this country into an era of treating people with respect, Allman was shaken by King's murder.

And now, nearly a half-centry later, we're still looking for someone — a politician, a preacher, a musician — to help usher us into an era of treating people with respect.

Here's where I'm going to make that connection I promised:

A lot of people of my generation loved Gregg Allman, but they'll say things like, "Rap isn't music, it's junk," it's this or it's that. Or, "Millennials are just selfish kids who don't do anything." Then those people voted for Donald Trump because they wanted to "make America great again."

That's a load of bullshit.

In this issue, you'll read Ryan Pitkin's interview with a Charlotte rapper who just Saturday night performed an awe-inspiring show at Hattie's Tap & Tavern before making plans to move to Los Angles for some much-deserved recognition. Mason Parker is a stunning rapper and poet who tells it like it is in beautiful, flowing, hard-hitting verse. He performed a jaw-dropping role as the Griot in OnQ Performing Arts' production of Miles & Coltrane: Blue (.), about the two great jazz legends. This paper named Parker the best rapper in Charlotte in 2013.

Parker is a millennial who's doing amazing things in this city, and he will be acknowledged for it. But do you think I saw one other person my age in that audience? No. Not one. I did see a comment under a video I live-streamed from the show on Creative Loafing's Facebook page by someone who looked about my age, maybe a little younger. It read, "Wish there was a real band." Presumably, the guy who posted it wasn't in the audience. If so, he was sorely missing the point. If not, his comment was about the same as if he'd been looking at a live-stream from an art gallery and wrote, "Wish there was some real food there."

It was a non sequitur.

You'll read about another millennial in this week's news section who's also doing amazing things. Tiera Swanson is taking so-called high art out of the stuffy, museum-like institutions of Uptown and straight into neighorhood rec centers and libraries in east Charlotte, north Charlotte and elsewhere. Read contributor Kia Moore's piece on Swanson's sometimes homeless childhood in central North Carolina and you'll understand why she deeply understands the good people she's serving in her job as the director of the Arts & Science Council's relatively new Culture Blocks program.

In "God Rest His Soul," the young Gregg Allman sang of King's assassination: "A man lay dying in the streets / A thousand people fell down on their knees / Any other day he would have been preaching / Reaching all the people there." Back then, Allman himself was reaching young people, many of whom today are much older and incapable or unwilling to be reached. But that's OK. Both Allman and King have been replaced by younger folks like Mason Parker and Tiera Swanson, who are reaching new generations of people — and perhaps even a few older folks, too.

But we have to listen to be reached.

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