Sam Cooke, Shreveport, and “A Change Is Gonna Come”

Sam Cooke’s plaintive, moving civil rights ballad “A Change Is Gonna Come” was born in 1963 of discrimination after he and his wife were turned away from a segregated Holiday Inn at Shreveport, Louisiana. Incensed when the desk clerk lied and claimed no vacancies, Sam made a scene in the lobby, vociferously protesting, and while driving off, he and his entourage honked horns and lobbed insults like Molotovs as their taillights disappeared into the night. 

When Sam and company arrived at the Black hotel downtown, the police were waiting. However, the arrests created abysmal p.r. north of the Mason-Dixon line after the NY Times and UPI caught wind and publicized the discriminatory arrest of an affable fellow (at least he sounded affable on his records) who only wanted a place to sleep after twisting the night away. In 2019, Shreveport’s mayor apologized to the Cooke family and awarded Sam a key to the city – a mere fifty-six years after Cooke’s death at thirty-three. Nothing like a posthumous award to salve the wounds of a no-longer-sentient being.

According to Peter Guralnick’s biography Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” also spurred Sam to compose “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Sam, the story goes, felt chagrined that a White fellow had written such a moving civil rights song. In fact, Sam admired “Blowin’ in the Wind” so much that he included it in his live performances not long after its release. 

Of course, the songs are much different. In “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Dylan asks in third person a series of questions that ponder “how long” it’s going to take to end discrimination. “A Change Is Gonna Come,” on the other hand, is deeply personal, written in first person, and cites incidents of hurtful slights and expresses existential despair. However, despite the dirge-like tone of the song, the narrator feels certain that eventually “a change is gonna come” and justice will prevail, so the overall effect is hopeful rather than depressing.

Well, despite the election of Obama and the proliferation of people of color in national advertising, we’re not quite there yet, and it seems that many in the South have recently become emboldened to unfurl and wave their inner Stars-and-Bars, not to mention Republican-led state legislatures’ ongoing successful attempts to make voting more difficult for African Americans. 

In fact, to me, 2021 feels an awful lot like 1961, though at least now, Sam would have no trouble checking into a Holiday Inn – though he might turn up his nose at one – and Confederate statues are coming down as opposed to being erected. 


Sickroom Notes from a Whiny, Wounded Epicurean

painting by H. James Hoff

Sickroom Notes from a Whiny, Wounded Epicurean[1]

Perhaps boasting non-stop about my superhuman immune system for the last thirty years wasn’t all that judicious. Oh, you should have heard my cock-a-doodle-doing![2].

My immune system makes Arnold Schwarzenegger look like Denver Pyle.

I haven’t been ill since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

An airborne virus does a one-eighty when it sees me bopping down the boulevard, etc. 

And it’s true that in my thirty-four years at Porter-Gaud, I maybe missed ten or so days in total, most often because of laryngitis.[3]

Well, comeuppance has arrived, taken off his mask, and sneezed in my face. For the last four days, when it comes to coughing fits, I’ve been giving tubercular John Keats and DH Lawrence a run for their money. Although doubly vaccinated, I drove the day before yesterday for a Covid test, which unsurprisingly was negative. Afterwards, I retreated to bed, ministered to by nurse Caroline, who throughout my malady has plied me with chicken broth, hot tea, and good advice, like not going the Singer/Soapbox Open Mic the previous Monday[4]

Let’s face it: a summer cold isn’t exactly kidney stones or a case of the shingles (not to mention bone cancer), so the source of this whine festival lies not so much in physical discomfort but in the boredom I’ve experienced, borderline ennui. I felt so drained Wednesday afternoon, I couldn’t read anything longer than a tweet, and scrolling down my feed is disheartening, with all that talk of the decline of democracy coming from the likes of Steve Schmidt and Bill Kristol. And I have two books I’m rarin’ to read, Peter Guralnick’s Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing and James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird, which until today lay on my bedside table like a couple of concrete blocks, heavy, cumbersome. Petite misère but for a second or two, misery nonetheless.

But, hey, I must be on the mend because I’m sitting at my desk and taking this opportunity to roll my right foot over a frozen water bottle to combat a king hell case of plantar fasciitis I’ve developed walking to and from bars on Folly Beach in flip flops.

Like they, say, there’s no fool like an aged, wounded epicurean.

still from WF Murnau’s film The Last Laugh


[1] No one can accuse me of click-baiting with that title.

[2] And no doubt you have if you know me personally.

[3] I also took a couple of personal days along the way, one to see the third game of the ’91 World Series, another to see the Stones in Columbia, and several during my late wife’s last week.

Missing school is a drag. It’s more work to miss than to trudge through (and I never got close enough to students infect, I’d like to think).

[4] I’d made a solemn promise to Kelly West I’d be there for her debut poem, and who would break a solemn vow because of what at that time was merely a scratchy throat?