When, in his victory speech, Barack Obama told the crowd that “It’s been a long time coming…..”, he was, of course, alluding to Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”, and who doesn’t love an election where you need to know a little about old R&B to understand the references in the rhetoric? Now we have the benefit of hindsight, it seems as though the line “It’s been a long time coming…” has itself been a long time coming, given the number of times Barack has used the word “change” over the last few months.
What would Cooke himself have thought, if he’d been told in 1963, when he recorded the song (it was only released after his death in 1964), that it would one day be quoted by an African-American president? He wrote it soon after he and his band had been arrested after trying to check in to a whites-only hotel in Louisiana; it seems incredible today to think that this kind of moronic incivility happened routinely in Obama’s lifetime.
It’s not surprising, then, that even the grammar of the song is weary and mournful. Usually the construction “It’s been a long time coming, but…” is followed by another clause containing a verb in the present or present perfect tenses: “but the bus is here”, “but the baby has been born”. After the “but” in Cooke’s song, however, he is forced to sing about the future. In other words, it’s been a long time coming, but nothing’s happened yet. November 5th, 2008 was the day that a black man was finally able to use the phrase in the way that a white man might.
PS. England’s front page headlines today.
Mr President (The Independent)
Yanks Very Much (The Star)
Gobama (The Mirror)
One Giant Leap For Mankind (The Sun)
America’s Historic Verdict (The Guardian)
A New World Dawns (The Express)
Home Loans: A Slap in the Face (The Mail)
Yep, yesterday will be remembered for the home-loan face-slapping.