One of my favorite record club ads back in the day was from 1968: The Man Can’t Bust Our Music.
Except that he can. And he does. And sometimes he has a good reason.
It happened most recently in Neptune Beach on July Fourth. A young man, Lane Pittman, did what guitar heroes do. He pulled out his axe and shredddddded the National Anthem.
Hundreds of people crowded around. As Pittman told First Coast News, “I was so excited. I had been planning this for months and I never played the National Anthem so well.”
There’s something to be said for that. I reckon. Can you picture this guy practicing, night after night, listening to the Hendrix version from the Woodstock soundtrack? That’s how I see it going down. There is something quintessentially American about that. Specifically, the intersection of white skin privilege and callow self-indulgence.
You know what else is quintessentially American? Small town police reactions.
Apple pie, Mark McGwire, Tiger Woods, Union Carbide and Anthony Weiner all rolled up into a sucrose surprise in a fluffy pastry shell.
So American, and it got served up to Lane Pittman.
Pittman got a few notes in, and then a peace officer played Name That Tune.
“He said ‘if you want to go to jail then you will keep playing,” said Pittman in that same FCN dispatch. “And, I was, like, are you serious? He said you can’t play in the middle of the street. I said, can I move it back to the sidewalk?”
The art of getting to yes. Pittman, who looks like a cross between Randee of the Redwoods and Don’t Tase Me Bro, somehow thought he could negotiate with a police officer. Ask D’Angelo. Ask Devanta. Ask PINAC. Ask the Jax 19.
Clearly, Pittman doesn’t watch the news. Failing that, he clearly doesn’t get that his act isn’t nearly as cute as he thought it was.
He finished playing the song. Then? A fan club meeting!
“They walked me over to the patrol car. They told me I could leave my stuff because they just needed to speak with me. I got to the cop car and they told me to spread my legs and put my hands behind my back and I was, like, oh my gosh. I am getting arrested right now,” Pittman said.
Who would have thunk it? In Neptune Beach, suspects get to reenact the Rick James Superfreak album cover.
The cops say that people were spitting on police cars. And hollering. That’s not a good scene at all. They also say the issue isn’t the guitar-playing, but the street obstruction.
Now, if you’re looking for Lane Pittman to become Henry David Thoreau, you’re likely gonna be disappointed, if this quotation is any indication.
“People who know me know that I’m not that type of person to defy the law,” Pittman said.
Hold up. The fact is that we all defy the law.
56 in a 55? Defying the law. Gunning it through a yellow? Defying the law. Not having everything that can go wrong actually go wrong? Defying Murphy's Law.
When you get a warning from a cop, and persist in what you’re doing, you take a chance to defy the law.
What was this chance for, exactly? Justice for D’Angelo? He wouldn’t know D’Angelo from DiGiorno.
An banal act of bourgeois rebellion, with nothing at stake. No principle of justice is in play here. No higher cause. Just a “Look at me, Ma, I’m shredding.”
He wants the charges dropped? So did about 19 people on a local bridge in December. They obstructed a roadway also. And they had an actual reason; they wanted to call attention to what they saw as institutionalized racism.
Did they claim they weren’t defying the law? To be sure, they quibbled about how substantially they’d broken the law. But they knew they were making a larger point. One that required drastic action.
Agree with it; disagree with it. Hate it or love it, or take a middle ground. But here’s the reality. Pittman thought he could get away with making a fool of the cops because he was a middle-class white dude who clearly has gotten away with crap like that his entire life.