An Uncomfortable Post

About a week ago, an email popped up telling me that someone had left a note at YouTube, commenting on my video that offers the full 1980 album by the late Levon Helm, American Son. The topic of the note was the song “Sweet Peach Georgia Wine,” in which the narrator gets in trouble in a small town:

I was on my way from Daulton, headed for Atlanta,
Thinking about that girl I left behind.
When a voice so soft and tender floated down to me from the window:
Would you like a taste of that sweet peach Georgia wine?

Well, she showed me to the backdoor, and she told me what it was for,
Said “You can come back and see me any old time.”
And just as I was going, that old sheriff bust the door in.
He said, “Boy, you’ve been in my sweet peach Georga wine.”

Now, how’s I supposed to know she was the sheriff’s daughter?
She was only sweet sixteen but she looked a lot older.
Well, I guess I’ve learned my lesson, son
You know I’m doing my 10 to 21
Just for tasting that sweet peach Georgia wine

If I ever get out of this jail house, I ain’t never gonna slow down
Until I reach that Georgia border line

Well, maybe one quick stop down in Macon
’Cause I hate to leave these parts and not take it:
One more sip of sweet peach Georgia wine

Now, how’m I supposed to know she was the sheriff’s daughter?
She was only sweet sixteen but she looked a lot older.
Well, I guess I’ve learned my lesson, son
You know I’m doing my 10 to 21
Just for tasting that sweet peach Georgia wine

In today’s ethos, “Sweet Peach Georgia Wine” is problematic, as my grad school advisor used to say. It’s about a relationship with someone underage, a jailbait song as we used to call them. There were many of them. It’s also from 1980, which was, for as recent as it sometimes feels, a different time.

The commentor at YouTube called it “a pedo song.” To be technical, it’s not. Pedophilia involves attraction to prepubescents, while attraction to those who are mid- to late adolescents – generally those fifteen and older – is called ephebophilia. (I learned this stuff in the 1990s, when I was doing some volunteer work for a foundation that was battling child abuse, and I double-checked it this morning at Wikipedia.)

That last paragraph is not one I ever thought I’d be writing at this blog. But I feel compelled to do so as a writer who relies on clear thought and definitions, and I feel compelled to do to as a survivor of child sexual abuse (by a man in our Kilian Boulevard neighborhood when I was younger than five). I don’t recall if I’ve ever mentioned that here before, either straight-on or obliquely. I’ve done a lot of work over the past twenty-some years to recover from it, and I continue to do so.

Yes, it’s only a song, but the comment triggered some feelings that aren’t very pleasant. And yes, the ages of three and four are a long way from the age of sixteen, but that’s a matter of degree if persons of both ages are supposed to be protected by the law. Anyway, something’s different this week than it was a week ago. Has thinking about this stuff ruined the song for me? Yeah, at least for the time being. I wince a little thinking about it popping up on the iPod. And as I was wincing, I deleted the track from the device and did the same with the Rolling Stones’ “Stray Cat Blues.”

I won’t feature the song here today. If you don’t know it, you can find it easily. I have some things to sort out (and having realized that this morning, my edginess over the past week is more understandable). And beyond the personal, determining how we value a piece of art from a different era that reflects values and mores we no longer embrace or tolerate is one of the places we are in 2022. Your decisions might not be the same as mine, and that’s fine.

I had a friend in a band once who ended all our conversations with “Peace, out!” I thought it was kind of a silly affectation, but it works here: Peace, out.

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