RICHARDSON: ‘Ball of Confusion’

April 20, 2014 

As most of you know, I’m not the brightest bulb in the light fixture, but every now and again I get a germ of an idea. Those ideas usually hit me over the head with increasing velocity until I pay attention.

I thought there was something wrong with my radio last week when the 1975 song “Wake Up Everybody” -- the title track on an album by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes -- played almost back to back. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I figured I probably changed stations. Then on my morning walk, as I settled into my earphones and hit my stride, there it was again. It just kept popping up. I was on my lawn mower when the 2010 cover by John Legend and The Roots hit my iPhone. Somebody wanted me to listen.

“Wake up everybody, no more sleepin’ in bed

No more backward thinkin’ time for thinkin’ ahead ...

Wake up all the teachers, time to teach a new way

Maybe then they’ll listen to whatcha have to say ...

The world won’t get no better

If we just let it be

The world won’t get no better

We gotta change it, yeah, just you and me.”

Thirty-nine years after the song hit No. 1 on the soul charts, the lyrics, unfortunately, still ring true. I wonder if Teddy Pendergrass, the lead singer, thought his words -- written by John Whitehead, Gene McFadden and Victor Carstarphen -- would still apply in 2014? None will know. Pendergrass died in 2010. He was 59. Only one original Bluenote is still alive, Lloyd Parks. McFadden and Whitehead have also passed on.

My question is, will the lyrics ring true or hollow 39 years from now in 2053? While I pray for hollow, I fear we’ll be able to sing prophetic songs until doomsday.

The singers and songwriters of the recent past were more than performers. Here’s a few lines from Bob Dylan’s 1964 “The Times They Are a-Changin”:

“Come writers and critics

Who prophesize with your pen

And keep your eyes wide

The chance won’t come again.”

Was Dylan ever right? Though the song is about civil rights, Dylan could not have foreseen Oklahoma City, 9/11, Columbine or Sandy Hook. More than Mississippi has been burning.

Curtis Mayfield’s, 1988, “If There’s Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go.”

“Educated fools From uneducated schools

Pimping people is the rule polluted water in the pool...”

When I was growing up, there was a general trust of industry and the political process. There was a thought that everyone was trying to do the right thing. My naivete has disappeared -- GM’s recent self-inflicted woes, Superfund sites and the ever-escalating profit motive that has Pope Francis saying we have “a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power ... where the powerful feed upon the powerless.”

The Temptations’ 1970s hit “Ball of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today”):

“People moving out, people moving in. Why, because of the color of their skin.

Run, run, run but you sure can’t hide. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

Vote for me and I’ll set you free ...

Well, the only person talking about love thy brother is the preacher ...

And it seems nobody’s interested in learning but the teacher ...

(It’s a) Ball of confusion. Oh yeah, that’s what the world is today.”

We’ve developed what an old colleague called “segregation academies.” We don’t go to church and if we do go, we don’t listen. We vote for people because we loved their grandmama, not because the candidate followed her example. We brush mental illness aside until a deranged individual like F. Glenn Miller Jr. comes out of his mental cave and kills. He’s an example of how hatred rots the mind. Even in murder he couldn’t get it right. He intended to murder Jews but none of his victims were Jewish.

The ball of confusion is still rolling and gathering speed. I wonder if there will be a discussion of the social consciousness of Kanye West and Jay-Z rap lyrics in 2053?

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at Tweet@crichard1020.

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