The opening lines of a radio adaptation of Perceval L. Everett's late 20th century tale "The Appropriation of Cultures":
VOICE: Is anybody listening?!
VOICE: Is anybody listening?
(MUSIC ... THEME ... IN)
ANNOUNCER: Is anybody listening ... to this half-hour-long program designed to bring you something interesting and unusual in the field of radio drama?
Well, if anybody IS listening, they'll hear something called "The Appropriation of Cultures" -- a radio play based on the short story by Percival Everett.
(MUSIC ... THEME ... OUT)
DANIEL: (NARRATES) Yeah, they took down that flag.
Used to be, that flag was always up there on top of the State Capitol.
It was up there for years and years.
And, one day, it wasn't there.
No, I don't know WHO took it down.
Well, wait, that's wrong. Actually, I guess you COULD say it was me.
No, I'm not bragging. All I'm saying is that that flag'd probably still be flying on top of the statehouse - if it wasn't for me.
(CHUCKLES) No, I don't work for the government.
I don't work anywhere, actually.
Well, when my mother died, she left me money and a nice house to live in. So I don't work and I don't pretend I need to work.
Oh, sure, I earned a degree. In American Studies from Brown University. (CHUCKLES) I earned the degree but the degree never earned anything for me.
What I really enjoy - is playing my guitar.
(MUSIC ... GUITAR LICKS ... IN BG)
DANIEL: (NARRATES) I play a nineteen-forty Martin guitar with a Barkus-Berry pickup.
SOUND: (CROWD NOISES)
DANIEL: (NARRATES) Some nights, I used to go to a joint near the campus of the University of South Carolina and play jazz with a bunch of old guys.
(MUSIC ... GUITAR IS JOINED BY A SMALL JAZZ BAND ... IN BG)
DANIEL: (NARRATES) Now, these old guys all worked very hard during the day, and I didn't.
(MUSIC ... A SUDDEN STOP-TIME BREAK)
DANIEL: (NARRATES) But they never held it against me.
(MUSIC ... THE BAND RETURNS JOYOUSLY ... AND FINISHES THE SONG UNDER THE FOLLOWING:)
DANIEL: (NARRATES) What I really loved to play was old-time slide tunes. But mostly we just played standards. And, sometimes, we would take requests.
(MUSIC ... TO A FINISH ... THEN OUT)
SOUND: (POLITE APPLAUSE ... CROWD NOISES CONTINUE ... SOME FEEDBACK AS DANIEL APPROACHES THE MICROPHONE)
DANIEL: (TO THE CROWD) Well, um, I guess we're taking requests. (NO RESPONSE) Nobody has a request?
FRAT BOY: (OFF) Play "Dixie"!
FRAT BOY: (OFF) Play "Dixie" for us!
2ND FRAT BOY: (OFF) Yeah, play "Dixie"!
SOUND: (CROWD NOISE BUZZES)
DANIEL: (NARRATES) It was some white boys - from a fraternity. You know -- golf shirts and chinos and too much to drink? And I'm standing on the stage -- a black man holding an acoustic guitar -- and they're yellin' at me:
FRAT BOY: (OFF) "Dixie"! (TRYING TO HELP) You know -- (SINGS OFF KEY) "Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton..." You know!
SOUND: (CROWD NOISE SUBSIDES)
DANIEL: (NARRATES, AFTER A PAUSE) Yeah, I knew.
Weeeeeell, I give 'em a long look.
And then I look from them to the old guys I was playing with. And then I look at the other college kids in the club. Everybody's embarrassed. Everybody's uncomfortable.
Now, don't ask me why I did it, but I turned back to these drunken frat boys, and I said to 'em, I said:
(THOUGHTFULLY, AGREEABLY) Okay. "Dixie."
(NARRATES) And then I started to play.
(MUSIC ... A STANZA OF "DIXIE" ON THE GUITAR ... SLOW AND TENTATIVE AT FIRST, BUT BUILDING ... CONTINUES IN BG)
DANIEL: (NARRATES) Now, I had to feel my way slowly through the chords.
And I had to use the slide to squeeze out the melody.
Because I had heard it a hundred, maybe a thousand times, but I had never played this song before -- this song that I grew up - hating. This song the whites had always pulled out to remind themselves and those other people just where they were.
And I got partway through it when I decided - it was mine.
I decided that the lyrics were mine.
I decided - that the song was mine.
(SINGS, SLOWLY, BEAUTIFULLY, MEANING EVERY WORD)
Oh, I wish I was - in the land of cotton.
Old times there are not forgotten.
Look away, look away.
Look away, Dixieland ...
(SPEAKS) And I wasn't kidding. I sang it like I meant it. And there was no satire in my voice. And, as I sang, I could hear the silence all around me. I could see the roomful of eyes on me. And I wondered what the reaction would be.
(MUSIC ... THE GUITAR ... THE SONG ENDS, TRIUMPHANTLY)
SOUND: (A LONG MOMENT OF SILENCE ... ONE PERSON CLAPS ... THEN ANOTHER ... THEN THE ROOM ROARS WITH CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ... THEN UNDER)
DANIEL: (NARRATES) I looked hard into the darkness of the club and I found the frat boys in the back as they stormed out, a couple of people near the door chuckling at them as they passed.
And right next to me on stage was Roger, the old guy who played tenor sax. He slapped me on the back and said something like "Right on" or "Cool." And we got back to work.
(MUSIC ... SAX LEADS THE BAND INTO A MELLOW VERSION OF DUKE ELLINGTON'S "TAKE THE A TRAIN" ... JAZZ CONTINUES IN BG AND AGREES WITH THE FOLLOWING:)
DANIEL: (NARRATES) Later, when the set was done, all the college kids slapped me on the back as I walked toward the bar, where I found a cold beer waiting for me.
SOUND: (CROWD NOISES)
COLLEGE KID: Nice work, Danny.
DANIEL: (NARRATES) I didn't much care for the slaps on the back but I didn't focus too much energy on that. I was busy trying to sort out my feelings about what I'd just played.
The irony of my playing the song straight and from the heart was made more ironic by the fact that, as I played it, it really DID come straight and from the heart. I was claiming Southern soil, or at least recognizing my blood in it.
Mine was the land of cotton and hell no, it was not forgotten.
Well, I guess when you're twenty-three, your anger is fresh and typical, and so is your ease with it. You can forget your anger for chunks of time until something like white frat boys asking you to play "Dixie" -- or simply a flashing blue light in a rearview mirror -- brings it all back.
Anyway, I liked the song, wanted to play it again, knew that I would.
(MUSIC ... OUT)