Friday, November 03, 2023

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

 "The night they drove old Dixie down," sang one Joan Baez. On a record that was certified Gold in 1971. It tells the story of a family in Virginia during the last year of the American Civil War. The song was written by Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm of The Band. It tells the tale of Virgil Caine and his suffering at the hands of Union General George Stoneman and his men. "In the winter of '65, we were hungry, just barely alive/By May the tenth, Richmond had fell, it's a time I remember, oh so well." In his autobiography, Mister Helm describes the writing process: Robbie and I worked on 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' up in Woodstock. I remember taking him to the library so he could research the history and geography of the era and make General Robert E. Lee come out with all due respect."

All due respect. For the commander of the Confederate Army.

Fifty-some years later, I have my doubts about how much airplay this song would receive. Nostalgia for the antebellum South is not as easy to scare up these days. Just a couple weeks ago, a statue of Robert E. Lee, the one that sat squarely in the center of the "Unite The Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was melted down. It was at the culmination of a counter-protest to the neo-confederate and white nationalists who gathered there in 2017 that Heather Heyer was killed when she was run down by one of the "united right" pin heads. 

It was after this tragedy that the former game show host and "president" said that "You also had some very fine people on both sides." 

Six years ago. Very fine people on both sides. 

For the record, if you'll pardon the pun, there have been a number of songs written and performed about Heather Heyer. 

None of them were recorded by noted activist and human rights sage Joan Baez. 

And none of them went Gold. 

Maybe Joan could melt down her gold record in the same furnace as the statue of Robert E. Lee. 

1 comment:

Kristen Caven said...

The night they melted old Dixie down?