Not so long ago I wrote a post on Disposable Hero. However, in reviewing the song, I avoided entering the ‘race dimension’. On the one hand, even though I love the song so much, it really does a number on me emotionally. On the other hand, because articulating the ‘thinking’ employed by Frank Leepa in crafting this dimension is not necessarily an easy task.
Notwithstanding the above, I shall dare myself into entering this dimension. But before I start, perhaps I should mention that a play by David Mamet titled Race is to ‘blame’ for this self-daring exercise. Race was one of those productions that I recommended to all (and sundry) during the past Grahamstown National Arts Festival. It is an intricate piece that deals intelligently with prejudice and bigotry that stem (in as far as the storyline is concerned) from a potentially racially-charged criminal case: a rape of a black woman — possibly involved in the trick turning business — by a rich white married man.
In my opinion, both the play and the song carry the message: ‘race matters are not simple matters’ and/or ‘race is a nest of prejudice’. The only difference, again in my opinion, is that David Mamet in his writing was overt while Frank Leepa was subtle to the point that one may be forgiven for assuming that his composition lacks the message. In fact, I would argue that the only clue to the existence of this message lies with how Tšepo Tšola sings the line “they must be mad”: he is deep, emphatic and very purposeful in his delivery. (You really get a sense that he wants you, the listener, to appreciate that his powerful voice is a mere instrument or medium that shouldn’t distract one from engaging with what is being communicated.)
Basically, as Tšepo Tšola sings that line, curiosity builds up about the identity of the mad men. But as something to expect from Frank Leepa’s compositions, the ‘riddle’ is left for the listener to decode. My decoding led me to the conclusion that Frank Leepa was referring to a category of people that deserve the label racist. This deduction was made by tracking back to the part:
On the morning news, on television;
The big shots down split — split down in the middle.
[The Messiah-healer …]
So, who is going to be first on the plane?
They must be mad!
Aside, of course, from making note of the fact that television was still a novelty, I realised that a few things can be said in unpacking the above quoted lyrics. Fundamentally, we are reminded that we cannot make sweeping statements about a group of people. There was a split: the big shots — who happened to be all white men — didn’t all agree with the idea that, after fighting as brothers with black men, it was fair for them to be transported last. These few good men understood deeply what made the war, which had just ended, respectable. They understood that domination, of any kind, of one being by another is not fair or morally acceptable.
Unfortunately, because the good men in the big shots league were few, the outcome of the split favoured the wishes of the majority. Frank Leepa makes no direct mention of this fact; but very skillfully, he does put into perspective why an honourable man, a disposable hero (like his father), was disillusioned by the outcome. Disillusioned by the blindness of the majority to see injustice when it is directed to others. After a bloody war, how could they possibly fail to see the inherent injustice perpetuated by their ‘vote‘?!