How many times do you think John Mayer has listened to “My Stupid Mouth” this week? I don’t know about you, but it will be hard for me to separate that song with this incident. For the umpteenth time, John Mayer’s said too much again, this time to a Playboy interviewer.
For those who don’t know, John Mayer gave an epic interview with Playboy touching on love, maturity, masturbation and the trials and tribulations of his on again, off again relationship with Jennifer Anniston. Seems harmless right? Well he also referred to homosexuals as fags a few times and used a reference to David Duke and called his schlong a white supremacist to explain that he doesn’t sleep with black woman. And he dropped the n-bomb.
Yikes. Unlike the song, this has potential to be more than a social casualty. John is facing a career catastrophe. While this definitely isn’t the end of John, he will face backlash for this interview for a long, long time. Well how did Captain Backfire get himself into this situation in the first place?
First, John underestimated how lethal the n-bomb remains to this day. In a way, I can’t blame him. He likes hip-hop, he knows rappers and has black friends (which is clear from the interview and the “hood pass” comment that led to his n word usage). From the outside looking in, the n word might not seem so vile anymore. In hip-hop and in the hip-hop culture, its “nigga nigga nigga nigga nigga. Nigga this, nigga that”. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of his friends have referred to him as their nigga.
Am I trying to justify his use of the word? No, not at all. He was wrong for using the word and it really took away from his point, which was the inherent racism in giving a white guy a “hood pass” because black people like him. Once again, he was a fool for using the word.
My point is that I think we’re at a crossroads with the n word. We all know the vile history behind the word. We all know how starting in the late 50s through the 80s we, as black people, claimed the word as our own while simultaneously making it uncool for other races to use it in the mainstream.
However, for the past 20 years or so, in a way we’ve kind of sold the word out. When it was ours, it was something we would say amongst each other and in our own media from time to time. Now, people of other races probably hear us use the word every day. It would be simple if there was a set guideline about acceptable use of the word, but there isn’t.
Some still say only blacks can use it. Some say blacks and Hispanics. Some say anybody that’s “down,” for lack of a better term. Personally, I wasn’t that offended by his use of the word because of the context and my thought that he was using it in an explanatory manner and was trying to prove a point. Chris Rock says it’s ok for anybody to use it if they’re reciting a rap song, but refer to what’s acceptable within your group of friends otherwise. Some people don’t care anymore.
So what’s John’s deal? Did he think it was cool to use if he was making a point, as he hinted in his Twitter apology? Do his black friends allow him to use the word? Did he think it wasn’t that serious any more? Did he just have a brain fart? We don’t know.
But I do think we need to reevaluate how we use the word. Black dominated media, like hip-hop and black cinema, are pretty much mainstream now. The n-word is all over that stuff. Also, we use it all the time in public and via public mediums like Twitter and Facebook like it’s not a volatile world. Then get mad when someone we deem unacceptable uses the word, which varies from person to person. Just a thought.
John also pissed a lot of people off with his comments about black women. I don’t think many people were upset that he doesn’t sleep with black woman, but people were mad at the language he used. David Duke and white supremacist can definitely evoke strong emotions from a lot of people. I even have a friend who was furious about what he said about Kerry Washington (he referred to her as “white girl crazy).
I don’t think John realized that lot of black people aren’t into dark, dry humor. Forgive me for generalizing, but you just don’t across a lot of black comedies with that type of humor. While some of us may have chuckled when he said he has a “Benetton heart and a f*ckin David Duke c*ck,” or that his “d*ck was a white supremacist,” most of us probably thought “what the hell do you mean David Duke c*ck.” To a lot of us, that’s not funny.
Black comedy, typically features a lot of joking between characters, storytelling (featuring a lot of exaggeration) sarcasm, irony, awkward situations, oddball characters and even situations that are borderline slapstick. We’re just not into that dry, dark and subliminal humor.
Two black shows that used dark, dry humor recently are the “Chappelle Show” and “The Boondocks.” While a lot of people think these shows are funny, there is a large group of people that don’t get it. Even some of the people that laughed at these shows didn’t realize that they were being made fun of. The Boondocks, especially, is a show that comes from an elitist perspective, hence it has a somewhat cult following (probably filled mostly with elitist blacks).
So John made that mistake. He made a joke that black people in general just weren’t going to find funny. And that’s before you factor in the sensitivity many of us have around racial issues. And by the time they got to the part about the black actresses he found attractive, he was too far gone to extract a smile from the offended.
So what does John need to do now? Well, he should just play his guitar like he said he was, and stop trying to be a comedian. Point blank, John Mayer is not a racist. He grew up idolizing black musicians, has black friends in the industry and has a lot of black people in his band. Was he out of line for using the n-word? Completely, without a doubt. Is he a weirdo and somewhat twisted in the head, yes. Racist, I don’t think so.
When you listen to his music, you can hear the influence black musicians had on him. He said that black people like him because he’s “very …” which is a poor way to articulate anything. Black people like John, ironically, because of what’s got him in trouble in the first place, because he’s clever with words.
Besides being an extraordinary guitar player, John differs from many rock artist via his way with words. Like many black artists, it’s easy to understand the meaning in John’s songs. He’s able to turn “I miss you,” into “I walk with your shadow, I’m sleeping in my bed with your silhouette.” That’s a great line. Clever, but obvious.
This differs from a lot of rock. Throughout the history of the genre, many of the greatest musicians have lyrics which are, quite frankly, convoluted. People wax poetically about what they think artists like The Who, The Police, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John etc. are trying to say in their songs. With John Mayer, he just finds a clever way to express his feelings in plain English, like many black artists do across all black dominated genres of music.
So he’s already repented a bunch of times, and probably will apologize more. As long as he keeps his mouth shut and just plays his guitar, he’ll be fine. Black people are a forgiving group of people typically. Heck, we’re not even that mad at Kramer anymore and it was clear as day he meant to use the n word in a racist manner. While those of us who did watch Seinfeld were uncomfortable with watching him in the reruns for a while, he came back enough to joke about the incident on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” during his hilarious exchange with J.B. Smoothe as “Danny Duberstein.”
I think you can divide black John Mayer fans into three groups. Those who grew up listening to rock music and were always a fan of his, those who found out about him in the mid 2000s, and those who discovered him more recently via his collaborations with artists like Kanye West and Common, or his performance at the Michael Jackson memorial.
Long term or original John Mayer fans understand his story and probably get his comedy. I think the lion share of the outraged are either new fans or people with only a vague understanding of who he is or his music. While it will be hard to win a lot of the new fans back, and a lot of them will never bother to listen to him again, those people weren’t in his primary audience to begin with.
His problem is with people who might not have been offended by his comments per se but are tired of his repeated acts of immaturity. This is unfortunate because he is truly the greatest musician of our generation. He’s Jimi Hendrix reincarnated as a poet laureate, but has an uncanny ability to come off as a douchebag.
He touched on it in the Playboy interview, and it’s clear that his image bothers him, which is why he tries to be funny. But at some point he has to realize he’s not a comedian. He’s a musician. The more he tries to be liked, the more people will hate him.
Like the other great, but troubled musician of our time Kanye West, Mayer doesn’t get that. He wants to right every wrong, make ever hater a fan and win every award while being a great musician. This isn’t a realistic goal. Just be great and tell your story through your music. In other words, its time John Mayer let his art speak for him.