Thursday, April 24, 2008

Politically Incorrect Songs Mom Taught Me

The news the other day featured the huge, million-dollar mansion his parishioners were building Reverend Jeremiah Wright in Chicago, and it reminded my of a song my late mother wrote sixty years ago. It was a rousing pseudo-Negro spiritual she titled: “Sho’ Do Pay.” (Translation: It sure does pay).

The following is my best effort to reconstruct it from my memories of sixty years ago. I’m sure that somewhere in our boxes of family memorabilia I’ll find a copy of the words and music, but until then, this will have to do.

Sho’ Do Pay
(To be sung in dialect with religious

I got myself religion
The other day
Went down to the church house
And learned to pray
But there’s just one thing about it
I’d like to say
Oh Brothers and Sisters
Does it pay?

You can talk about your Moses
And you can talk about your Josephs
You can learn all the
Good Book has to say
Then you start in a cryin’
Lordy there’s no denying
That old time religion sho’ do pay.

We’ll roll mostly sevens
Way up thar in the Heavens
And we won’t have to work a single day
There’ll be ham and fried chicken
There’ll be no more pot lickin’
And Saint Pete will double all our pay.

So I’ll get me a Bible
And I’ll get me a hymn book
And I’ll learn all the Good Book has to say
Then I’ll start in a preachin’
And I’ll have a camp meetin’
‘Cause that old time religion sho’ do pay.

God you know I’m a sinner
But I’d sure like to enter
Them beautiful Pearly Gates someday.
(This is a fragment, and I don’t know where it goes in the sequence, or what comes before or after it.)

Mom’s allusions to Negro gambling, laziness, and religious cynicism would not play well in our politically correct world today, but were accepted as stereotypical humor then. You can mentally substitute Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, or other get-rich-quick televangelists, and get the same effect. Without worrying about political correctness either, because white Christians are always fair game.

Just don’t mess with New Agers like Tony Robbins.

Mom was ahead of her time in commemorating in song the sordid wealth that would be showered on slick religious hypocrites. At the time she wrote this song, she may have read Sinclair Lewis’ “Elmer Gantry,” and probably read about Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson, but most probably she had heard of and observed things associated with religious revival meetings, and noted their similarities to the carnival sideshows and Snake Oil salesmen of her time.

And had she lived longer, to the Rev. Jeremiah Wrights of our time.

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