“I think the world would be better off if I stopped doing interviews.”
Someone asked me the other day, “What does it feel like now to have a hood pass?” And by the way, it’s sort of a contradiction in terms, because if you really had a hood pass, you could call it a nigger pass. Why are you pulling a punch and calling it a hood pass if you really have a hood pass? But I said, “I can’t really have a hood pass. I’ve never walked into a restaurant, asked for a table and been told, ‘We’re full.’”
“My d**k is sort of like a white supremacist. I’ve got a Benetton heart and a f**kin’ David Duke c**k. I’m going to start dating separately from my d**k.”
– John Mayer, Playboy Magazine, March 2010
John Mayer is possibly the most accessible celebrity in our brand new, Twitter dominated, ultra accessible universe. This should not surprise as he made his fame wearing his heart on his sleeve. His two biggest hits, “Your Body Is A Wonderland” and “Daughters” are two of the most earnest and endearing discussions of romance committed to recordings in recent memory. He has achieved a universal fame as he says for being, well “very, very” in the above quoted Playboy interview. He’s perpetually honest, and unlike other celebrities, has filled his Twitter feed with the detritus of his mind, rendering his celebrity obsolete, and appearing just as quirky, bizarre, unusual and capable of fallibility as any “normal” person, but also having the aptitude to turn a phrase a strum a string and immensely fill his pockets. Is John Mayer a racist for saying what he was quoted as saying above in an interview for Playboy pushing his new album Battle Studies? No. Absolutely not. But is he a product of a generation of white people who see race and racism as a footnote of American history and not a perpetual struggle? Yes. Black men date white women. White rappers make acclaimed rap albums. A black man is the President of the United States. Up is down. Left is right. Accusing John Mayer of anything other than being a straight talking celebrity in brand new, straight talking times is unfair.
Black people often give white musicians the “hood pass.” It’s an acceptance of a belief that in their soulful artistry they understand the innate struggles and issues particularly endemic to the black experience in America. Artists like Eminem appeared to demand it, aligning himself with Dr. Dre, draping himself VERY consciously in the NWA and Snoop Dogg past of the producer, as well as starring in 8 Mile, an entire film that aggrandized his low income hood upbringing surrounded by African-Americans. John Mayer was a happy accident, black people with taste discovering a white guy who had soul and jazz chops and could more than back it up. His “hood pass” was never openly courted, and in many ways likely appreciated, but not necessarily wanted or specifically pandered to after receipt. Did Mayer’s cosign from the black community specifically make him an even larger celebrity? No. Did it make it financially feasible to maybe spend a few more nights in Vegas playing blackjack or viewing online pornography? More than likely. Revoking Mayer’s “hood pass” will not break his career. It will make him feel stupid for granting an interview he likely shouldn’t have done, but it’s not going to destroy him.
And in referring to his penis as a white supremacist, but stating that his heart, like Benetton, accepts “all colors,”and that he should date from his heart instead of his penis, well that’s ignorant, yes, but in some sort of bizarre and frank way (as is the norm for the interview) an honest admission of his own cultural stupidity. While talented, black women, he’s not an incredible soul penetrating Lothario. He’s another culturally ignorant white man saying culturally ignorant white man things. I’m fairly sure he doesn’t hate black women, he’s just never dated or slept with one. Sure, he overstepped a ton of bounds, but hell. Imagine being Jessica Simpson who was completely objectified as “sexual napalm” in the piece and compared to cocaine. Or even better, imagine being Jennifer Aniston and being both appreciated and vilified in the same interview. In a culture where brutal truth now equates with increased cultural currency, and as a recording artist in a struggling industry, that truth also equates to increased album sales too, as well, on any level, everybody wants to know, “what in the f**k is going on with John Mayer.”
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The emperor having no clothes isn’t embarrassing at all anymore, it’s actually quite cool. If you observe culture on any level these days we celebrate ignorance and absurdity completely, call it fresh artistic expression, and make it wealthy. John Mayer isn’t a racist, he’s a man tired, confused, refusing to even care that he feels that way, and trying to get over. He’s not a celebrity, he’s you, he’s me, he’s in some way all of us. There’s a deeper lesson to be learned here. Brand new world, brand new rules. Be careful what you wish for. It might just come true.