John Hiatt, “Take It Down” from Crossing Muddy Waters (2000): One Track Mind

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On Saturday (June 27, 2015), Bree Newsome scampered up a thirty foot flagpole on the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse and removed the Confederate battle flag. The act of civil disobedience heeded the call that grew louder in the wake of the awful, racially-motivated slaughter at the Emanuel AME Church down the road from Columbia in Charleston, but the movement to do what Newsome had achieved — if only temporarily — started years before.

Civil rights leaders fought to remove the flag from the top of the Statehouse more than fifteen years earlier, which culminated in a compromise passed in April, 2000 by the South Carolina legislature whereby the Stars ‘n’ Bars would come down from the top of the building and fly next to the Confederate soldiers monument on the grounds. Also, the flag couldn’t come down from its new home without legislation passed ordering it. As of this writing, that still hadn’t happened but seems likely to in the coming weeks.

Around the same time the flag controversy had heated up at the turn of the millennium, John Hiatt was working on a new batch of songs that would form his drum-less, mostly unplugged album Crossing Muddy Waters. Hiatt’s calling card is crafting homespun tunes of inner battles, broken relationships and domestic bliss; he didn’t gain his stellar reputation as a singer-songwriter from politically-charged anthems. But for one couplet in one song on Crossing, he did so in a pretty explicit way. In the last verse of “Take It Down,” John Hiatt sings:

South Carolina where are you
We were once lost and now we’re found
The war is over, the battle’s through

So, take it down, down, down
Take it down
Take it down, down, down
Take it down

When those words were first heard by most of the public in September of 2000 at the release of Crossing Muddy Waters, it appeared that John Hiatt was speaking out on an issue that was already settled. Hearing them today in light of what has happened, those words never sounded more poignant. Funny how that works.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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