Samson’s Riddle*

Wikipedia: “*a riddle that appears in the biblical narrative about Samson, which he wagered to thirty Philistine guests. The riddle can be found in Judges 14:14: “Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.”.

“Try a Little Tenderness” is a song written by Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly, and Harry M. Woods. It was first recorded on December 8, 1932, by the Ray Noble Orchestra (with vocals by Val Rosing).

Emily Lordi wrote in The Atlantic of 10th December, 2017:

“…In short, Redding’s “Tenderness” was a tour de force. Still, there was something bizarre about it—about a call for tenderness that was distinctly untender. Singing (then shouting) about women but not to them, Redding enacts a man-to-man aggression that seems to replicate the problem he wants to address. To make sense of this irony, we might consider a level on which Redding’s performance of “Tenderness” was not about a woman at all. We might instead hear it—in the context of the civil-rights movement that Redding had engaged with in his urgent 1965 recording of Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”—as a veiled demand for proper treatment of black people.

In this reading, Black America itself is the “she” who is “waiting, just anticipating” the change that Redding and his band want to effect. If one imagines Redding singing on behalf of those citizens subjected to gradualist approaches to integration and brutal anti-protest measures including dogs, water hoses, and death, it seems not odd but wholly appropriate for Redding to shake the song’s addressee by the collar and insist that he try—for god’s sake—a little tenderness.

This is not to suggest that Redding himself intended the song as a political allegory. But his performances of it, in the mid-1960s, do make a space for an otherwise verboten display of black male agitation. At a moment when even the most peaceful bids for racial equality could be viewed as attacks on white Southern mores—when sitting at a segregated lunch counter or entering an integrated school could be perceived as a violent provocation—the show of actual black aggression could be a death sentence. This may partly explain the cathartic force of Redding’s performances for his African American fans, as well as for an expanding white fan base that may have sensed the power and rage black citizens were often compelled to restrain…”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s