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CrescentMoonFever

The song "Strangered in the Night"

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What is this song supposed to be about? A slave confronting his former owner, from the perspective of a nearby bystander? That's what makes the most sense to me but it's still a really intense song that Tom hasn't come close to matching in the 40 years since, in terms of subject matter. What do you make of this one?

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I like the song musically, but the lyrics have always put me off.  The "crazy black guy" and "damn you black bastard" - I just don't get why Tom would go there.  And to my knowledge, he's never explained himself on the lyrics to that song.  I kind of cringe every time I hear it, and I'm glad they don't play it anymore.  Just my $.02.

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2 hours ago, TomFest said:

I like the song musically, but the lyrics have always put me off.  The "crazy black guy" and "damn you black bastard" - I just don't get why Tom would go there.  And to my knowledge, he's never explained himself on the lyrics to that song.  I kind of cringe every time I hear it, and I'm glad they don't play it anymore.  Just my $.02.

Interesting, it was definitely a bold choice to do that. I'm surprised they ever played it live, if they did. I could definitely see some of those lyrics being offensive especially with how sometimes you can't hear every word clearly at a live show. To be honest, even if you have the full lyrics it still kind of comes off "cringey" as you said, but it seems like the song is trying to make a statement against racism in some weird roundabout way... as if a racist white person is singing it while onlooking whatever is going on. I don't think anyone would accuse TP of being racist (especially in light of his comments about his past Confederate flag use recently), but undoubtedly the narrator of the song, the main character, is coming at it from a racist viewpoint. It did seem a little lazily conceived, and probably wasn't a great idea to write the song.

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I've always liked the song. I think musically it's great and shows a now buried era of the band with that early Stones/punk vibe of the first album and You're Gonna Get It! Lyrically I find the song to be a early example of a story driven song like a "Nightwatchman" or "Something Big" but I do agree that some of the lines 40 years later now come off as cringey.

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I've always wondered how those lines made it through TP, the band, Cordell and MCA. I agree they're a little cringe-y, but still, I've always liked the song. They played it at the Vic in 2003, and I'm not sure, but I think I remember Tom changing the line from "crazy black guy" to "crazy big guy." I could be wrong, but I remember thinking, "Oh, Tom changed the line to be less offensive." 

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The only other link I can find to Petty (possibly) semi-addressing this was on another message board, discussing a time it 1977 when an NME review apparently painted him as racist and Tom supposedly responded. This is some of the relevant part but the poster didn't even provide a link so I can't even verify this.

http://z1.invisionfree.com/thefall/index.php?showtopic=35067&st=50

On 28th May 1977, NME printed a letter (p58) from one "A.K. Odamtten", complaining that the song "Strangered in the Night" was censored on record when it came to the offending line, "God damn you.... you've blown away my dreams", but that live Petty had sung the phrase "black bastard" where the ellipsis is. So it wasn't actually an NME live review.

On 4th June 1977, Petty's letter was published (p54). 

In it he does use the rather poor pun "I ain't no racist. I don't even drive." I think this is bad judgement, like he thinks the word "racist" is not to be taken seriously. More to the point, he cites the entire lyric and observes it would be sensible to take it in context. He also says the line is not censored on record at all, contrary to Odamtten's claim.
 

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Wow, way too much made out of a song lyric.

 

you know what, back in the early 70's there were a lot of crazy people out there with knives and guns, white , black and purple.  A guy like Petty and his band mates would typically face crazy black men (and white)  with knives as they gigged at crappy road houses all over.   I was gigging in a band and going to rock shows at that time.  I remember some crazy ass people who were pissed off for racial and other social  issues.

Back then, Black Musicians in R&B bands experienced the same from the crazies around them. Black and white.

We got to stop thinking in racial terms.  

 

There's good and bad out there of all kinds, and there always have been!  That won't change but we have to change our minds! 

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12 hours ago, Ephi82 said:

you know what, back in the early 70's there were a lot of crazy people out there with knives and guns, white , black and purple.  

 

 

Let's not forget, ever since the 90s we have the blue men group running free!! Some scary shit, if you ask me. 

 

 

12 hours ago, Ephi82 said:

We got to stop thinking in racial terms.  

 

There's good and bad out there of all kinds, and there always have been!  That won't change but we have to change our minds! 

 

Seriously.,how true! Well put. These days you can't even try to say something about anything without totally unwillingly step on someone's pride, taste, origin, look, religion, political camp - let's not even mention "identity". Soon no one can do anything about anything soon without hurting someone. How did that happen? Rights is one thing, sectarianism, fear and suspicion is quite another. The world are packed full with minorities and majorities who totally define themselves so rigidly with this or that special quality, setting themselves aside instead of seeing what we all have in common. Terrified to do or say anything wrong. Isolating themselves more and more. '

IMO, people need to stop taking themselves so damn seriously!!! Stop being so afraid of everything and everyone that's different. Stop being hateful and stop see hate everywhere. I say learn from the history instead of trying to rewrite it to suit our contemporary ideas all the time! You can botox your face anyway you want, but you can't botox the past. If it's grand or shameful, it's gone. So, stop being idiots, quite frankly. Start getting the now-priorities straight, focusing on more beautiful and loving sides of life, helping each other instead of taking hurt all the time, always suspecting the worst, going after each other with greed, knifes, guns and lawsuits. Isn't this kinda part of what Shadow People is all about...? 

That said. I am aware of the "troubles" with said song, but put in its context, seen as I think it should be seen - as an in-character kinda song - I must confess I like it a lot.

 

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* Case in point: I obviously felt the need to "justify" myself, after making that Blue Men joke there... Thinking that if perhaps someone took offense (being them Smurfs or just overly righteous) I better explain where I come from in terms of morals. To show I'm not a bad guy.  That is so typical and a good illustration of my point. 

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6 hours ago, Shelter said:

Case in point: I obviously felt the need to "justify" myself, after making that Blue Men joke there...

Yes, whatever happened to people reading/seeing/hearing something they disliked or disagreed with and just moving on with their day? As an example, if I find a comedian's humor personally offensive, I just don't watch him or let that joke slide by and wait to see if I like the next one.

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6 hours ago, Shelter said:

 

 

Let's not forget, ever since the 90s we have the blue men group running free!! Some scary shit, if you ask me. 

 

 

 

Seriously.,how true! Well put. These days you can't even try to say something about anything without totally unwillingly step on someone's pride, taste, origin, look, religion, political camp - let's not even mention "identity". Soon no one can do anything about anything soon without hurting someone. How did that happen? Rights is one thing, sectarianism, fear and suspicion is quite another. The world are packed full with minorities and majorities who totally define themselves so rigidly with this or that special quality, setting themselves aside instead of seeing what we all have in common. Terrified to do or say anything wrong. Isolating themselves more and more. '

IMO, people need to stop taking themselves so damn seriously!!! Stop being so afraid of everything and everyone that's different. Stop being hateful and stop see hate everywhere. I say learn from the history instead of trying to rewrite it to suit our contemporary ideas all the time! You can botox your face anyway you want, but you can't botox the past. If it's grand or shameful, it's gone. So, stop being idiots, quite frankly. Start getting the now-priorities straight, focusing on more beautiful and loving sides of life, helping each other instead of taking hurt all the time, always suspecting the worst, going after each other with greed, knifes, guns and lawsuits. Isn't this kinda part of what Shadow People is all about...? 

That said. I am aware of the "troubles" with said song, but put in its context, seen as I think it should be seen - as an in-character kinda song - I must confess I like it a lot.

 

Totally agree with both sentiments but again and not to get overly political here, it's not just minorities defining themselves leading to political correctness, the last election shows that "Middle America" has their own ideas that are defined rigidly as well with a load of nonsense in there as well (IE, we're building a wall to keep immigrants out and they're gonna pay for it). It's a complex issue overall that deserves a candid, serious talk that no one is willing to have because everyone's too partisan to try to compromise. One side is a bunch of commies and the other side full of backwoods hicks, that's no conducive to a solid talk. That's mainly why when it comes to those things I like to play Devil's Advocate so people can try to understand things outside of their echo chamber.\

Anyway, I still love this song. The sequence of the B-Side on this album is vastly underrated.

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I never looked at the lyrics for this song; didn't really give it much thought at all till now.

 I thought the title was a bad pun on the classic romance Strangers in the Night. Well, the title certainly seems like it.

As for the rest of the song, musically it's in the higher quality filler category for me. Slinky riff but nothing too memorable. Ehh, I don't know, I guess I go back and forth on this one instrumentally. The first few seconds of the intro are interesting, too bad that wasn't the foundation of the song. I like when/if they pull it out live at a residency (didn't they?) simply because it's refreshingly different. For some reason this and Fooled Again feel similar to me.

Okay, we got it but what about the lyrics?

 I don't see the big deal. A black guy shoots a white guy in the head. Gruesome but sad to say  violence can happen to anyone. 

My impression is Tom painting a picture of a night of violence, but as to motive, who knows? I could interpret it as a random murder or a revenge killing, I tend to the latter but really, I care just enough to post on this but not much more than that.

c'est tout

 

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Classic 12 bar blues about a guy that got hustled in the past by the guy with the silver cue, and of course he gets revenge.  It's a rockin song and easy to change the lyrics to be a little more PC.   The dog bark is a hoot!  I don't read anything into the racial stuff, it's just a classic payback - a bit gory, but only rock and roll.

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On 12/27/2016 at 10:11 PM, High Grass Dog said:

I've always wondered how those lines made it through TP, the band, Cordell and MCA. I agree they're a little cringe-y, but still, I've always liked the song. They played it at the Vic in 2003, and I'm not sure, but I think I remember Tom changing the line from "crazy black guy" to "crazy big guy." I could be wrong, but I remember thinking, "Oh, Tom changed the line to be less offensive." 

Yes! He did change it to "crazy big guy," "big bastard" etc. on the 13th, until one time in the end of that performance he slipped up and didn't follow that line change. The performance of the 17th isn't as politically correct, though.

Another song that has uncomfortable sentiments, I think, is "Kings Road" with the "there were people all around wearing funny looking clothes / Some boys, some girls, some I don't know." But with the rise of the modern era's (finally) accepting of people of different genders and sexual orientations, it becomes all the more clear that art develops and changes over time as culture does. 

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On 12/24/2016 at 5:02 PM, TomFest said:

I like the song musically, but the lyrics have always put me off.  The "crazy black guy" and "damn you black bastard" - I just don't get why Tom would go there.  And to my knowledge, he's never explained himself on the lyrics to that song.  I kind of cringe every time I hear it, and I'm glad they don't play it anymore.  Just my $.02.

I have this exact same reaction to this song. I always skip over it. It feels out of place and I just don't like the lyrics. It's probably the only song by TP that I just don't like. 

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Does art have to be PC ? It shouldn't be to be art.  From the beginning of time , artists and scuptors have pushed the society by paintings and statements.

Is what Tom wrote in the third person as PC uncorrect as alot of rap songs ? 

To take pride in your heritage isn't condemning or preventing other to take pride in theirs.   To say the war between the states was only about slavery is to say you don't know the history of state rights versus a federal government.  Even today , with so many states passing the pot law against the federal law , state rights are still in the news.

How would you react if the states obeying federal law against pot invaded and the US government enacted martial law in those states since they are clearly in violation of the federal law.  Suppose the states who have passed pot  smoking as legal succeeded from the union .  I think to understand people in history you have to go back to their time , you can't bring them to our time and judge them.   

And in the end is it only rock n roll ?

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12 hours ago, Timflyte said:

Is what Tom wrote in the third person as PC uncorrect as alot of rap songs ? 

Right. Is it?

My personal angle, save for what I already said before, is that as far as writing in character is concerned, artistically almost anything goes, since it's about creating an atmosphere, a scene - historical or otherwise - being it nice or not so nice. Some characters are saints, others not so much. And they all needed to tell our story, play with our hearts and mind. If anything, that all is what moral and good (hopefully) judgement comes from. That is reacting is good and sound, condemning or censoring is dangerous. Just my take.

That said, it DOES depend on context. The rap example mentioned is really mind blowing. As I understand it, it does not serve any purpose beside building a hype around shallow and quite horrible ideals, glorifying crime and violence by means of being downright hateful and insulting towards women and/or other people deemed unworthy of the endless cool certificate. That people don't just fail to react, but even support and cheer for this type of more or less genuinely meant messages, is beyond me.

Not to mention how people keep being happy Facebook users, even in the light of FB power and grasp long since crossed the borders of decent operations and became a real, actual and dangerous threat to democracy as we know it. And I mean.. That is all leaving any possible artistic aspects and freedoms far behind us in this reasoning about what people admit to in the name of entertainment. 

I'd say from most such perspective Tom's story telling is both great and thought provoking art, where so many other outputs and channels are numbing our minds beyond repair. Just saying. Just look no further than yourself before judging this song on too much of a deep moral or political level. Again.. it's safe on the art side of the divide, isn't it? Let's not forget that we live in the most hateful of all times in many ways. Let's stop and think about what we today idolize and what is there to tell a story and what is there to twist our minds and create real fear and hate of the other.

 

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Rap genre - shudder :huh:

Other people's musical taste can be so weird!  

Ha haha I was talking with some teenagers this week & correctly named each song as it came up on their speakers.  I could not do that with rap (What is this? Call that music? It's all noise to me!)

Teenagers said: "Correct," each time with that special tone of surprise reserved for an adult knowing stuff.  To be fair, pretty much anyone could've got them - Tainted Love (Soft Cell), Whip It (Devo) & Jesse's Girl (Rick Springfield), Summer of 69 (Bryan Adams).     

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Right - like these people somehow don't realize that because it's 2018 we can listen to recorded music from every decade now.  It's truly an amazing thing to contemplate, our access to historical archives and the like.

I think it's maybe a reflexive thing for kids these days, to make the kind of comments which are directed at their own perception of their uniqueness rather than merely a comment about the actual thing being commented on.

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