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Perspectives on Loretta

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This is to all you Aesthetic Stalinists in our comment section, evaluating the quality of art based on the politics of the artist. The idea that Loretta was some marker of fascist values (the number of people in comments calling Loretta a “fascist” is amazing) and white nostalgia for the pre-civil rights era (huh?) shows a lot of poor taste and/or Aesthetic Stalinism. What are some of our nation’s leading Black intellectuals and writers saying about her?

Hanif Abdurraqib:

It was all there in the songs of Loretta Lynn. Songs about what women not just desired, but needed, to survive. Songs about never wanting to love again pressed up against songs about falling in love. She sung the lonely songs better the older she got, which some people might consider sad but I consider necessary. Enough decades of life suggests that one might begin to take an inventory of her aches and regrets, the absences that have been planted through the years and have grown only wider as the clock winds down.

“I’m Dying for Someone to Live For” from the 2018 album “Wouldn’t It Be Great” is Ms. Lynn at her most heartbreaking but also her most surgically brilliant, as a writer of rich, transportive quality. The listener is there, present with her, overlooking an empty landscape, taking inventory of all of its sounds and movements and weighing the burdens of our own hearts against whatever small mercy from the natural world arrives in an attempt to keep us company. The weeping willow, the tide, gently pulling the hair of the shoreline.

“There’s a whippoorwill out on a limb / I know I’m more lonesome than him,” so the song goes. And I believe it. The best Loretta Lynn songs could convince me of anything. I could be in love and briefly believe myself lonely. I could be lonely, and, for a moment, I’d believe I’d never be alone again.

Loretta, I miss you already. Loretta, I will think of you whenever my eye catches a feather, pulled from the sky, blown off the edge of some bird’s lonely wing.

And what about Tressie McMillan Cottom:

The music legend Loretta Lynn died this week at 90 years old. I love songwriting and roots music. I also love, in no particular order, a feminist icon who sticks it to the man, extravagant costumes and classic biopics. Ms. Loretta Lynn gave us all of that in her career. Marissa Moss is one of my favorite chroniclers of culture, gender and country music. Her new book, “Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be,” is a good read. Her reflection on what Lynn meant is moving. As a fan, I will miss her. I am also a Black fan of roots music and a scientist of social life. I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge Lynn’s politics at the end of her public life: The country girl born in Butcher Holler, Ky., embraced Donald Trump. People are complicated. In the final analysis, she gave the world more than she took.

That is exactly damn right. Loretta wasn’t a perfect person. She came from a time and place and culture that did not abide by 21st century liberal values. But did she make the world a better place? Was she one of the great American artists in any genre in its history? The answer to both is unquestionably a resounding yes.

People, your Aesthetic Stalinism is gross. Like what you like but quit making the personal politics of the artist relevant in your evaluation of the art. It’s a road to nowhere but writing your own fan fiction about corporate properties that reflect your personal politics and probably sexual desires of the day. And most of all, quit pretending that there is some kind of virtue in this kind of evaluation of art. There is not.

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