Look Away was written by David LaMotte, for his 2022 album “Still.” This video, co-produced and directed by Hannah Garrity and David LaMotte, was released in the summer of 2023. Garrity and LaMotte made very intentional production choices in order to support the tone and theme of the song, and included many images that may benefit by further explanation and more context. This page offers some of that context and description.
My grandfather’s own grandfather
Walked home from the Civil War
From Virginia to Columbia, SC
I don’t know what made him join up
I don’t know what he believed
But his legacy has passed right down to me
Way down south in the land of cotton
Stories here are not forgotten
Except when we’d prefer to look away
Rules were written to advantage
So the playing field was slanted
And that’s how it is still working to this day
Look away, look away
I can’t look away from history anymore
You can claim all is forgiven
You can tie a yellow ribbon
But that old oak tree is rotten at the core
So the monuments to generals
Are all covered up in canvas
And some people say that’s history they’re hiding
But those statues tell a story that I cannot celebrate
Treating people like those horses they are riding
I must listen to my sisters if I want to understand
Though the story is a painful one to hear
If there’s any hope of healing, there’ll be hurting on the way
I think maybe we should start right now and here
Look away, look away
I can’t look away from history anymore
You can claim all is forgiven,
You can tie a yellow ribbon
But that old oak tree is rotten at the core
Genesis of the project:
Hannah’s comments below are in purple, while David’s are in green.
I asked Hannah to work with me on this project not only because I love her art and aesthetic sensibility, but because I deeply value and respect her analysis of this particular moment in history and the powerful dynamics at play. She has been a wonderful partner in this effort. Both Hannah and I have deep Southern roots, and are authentically Southern in ways that aren’t always portrayed in media representations of the South. I wrote the song in a conscious effort to be a bit subversive — the song says things and questions narratives in a way that is seldom heard in a Southern Rock song. In the end, though, it’s just my own story. I feel compelled to address racial issues in the U.S. because I love people who are damaged by toxic and prevalent narratives. I also wanted to be authentic and clear about the fact that there are many stories that are not mine to tell, but my own story and my family’s history can contribute to the conversation, and hopefully to some form of further understanding and healing, as well.
David and I were working on another project and began talking about our awareness of the power of creative work. I was pivoting toward more time in my schedule to create. I was simultaneously realizing that I was truly motivated toward projects that were intentionally bringing about the beloved community concept that John Lewis so wisely re-introduced to the American mainstream conscience during the end of the last decade. In an age of extreme and overwhelming propaganda, it is important to me that I use my artistic skills in ways that oppose propaganda of harm. The “noble lost cause” narrative is one of the most effective and subtle forms of propaganda. One of the important aspects of this song is that it meets my yearnings for the nostalgic genre of Southern Rock with a message that disrupts the conventional message of the genre.
The song was born from the astounding realization that the anthem of the Confederacy, Dixie, actually says the quiet part out loud. I was well into my adulthood before it clicked for me that in singing that song, a singer says the words “look away” over and over. And that’s precisely what we have too often done — looked away from uncomfortable truth. It does not seem to me that this approach has served anyone well, so I wanted to write a song that encourages folks to make the opposite decision, and look right at this history and current reality, though “the story is a painful one to hear,” as the song says.
I had no idea that Look Away would continue to take on more relevance as book bans and content censoring continue to ramp up across many states in the U.S. I am convinced that we can only learn from history if we face it honestly, and this song and video are a part of our effort to make that case. It is literally illegal to talk about things that make people feel uncomfortable in many classrooms in the United States. In other words, it is illegal to teach history. In addition to working to change those laws, I think it is important to have the conversations that are being censored.
General notes about production choices:
In his pitch to me for this project, David explained the ways in which he had combined musical instruments and sound structures to create the song in the Southern Rock genre. In concert with the concept, I researched Southern Rock music videos to explore the visual aspects of the genre. What drew me in? What made me want to watch? Why did these videos feel like a throwback to a time and place I wanted to revisit? What images, filters, cuts, and fades were in use?
As Hannah and I began to work on this project, it became clear that the almost constant dissolves in the video were serving our purposes quite well. The dissolves, often with three or even four images layered at once, can give the viewer a sense of being a bit off balance. That is appropriate, as that can be a familiar feeling when engaging with the history and current realities of race and racism in the United States. There are so many overlapping stories, and the constant re-evaluation of what we thought we knew is both difficult and necessary. There are also quite a few images in the video, often subtly included, that hold particular personal significance to Hannah and me. Because of that, it seemed like a useful idea to offer some annotation and context to those who might be interested in it.
Annotated Video Notes:
0:00 I love how the pedal steel fades in on this song, and it seemed right to fade up from black against that aural backdrop.
0:05 The visual idea here was to set the place. Where were we? Close ups of grass fade into a sunrise silhouette.
0:10 The almost constant dissolves throughout the video mean that there are almost always three things on the screen at once, and always at least two, except for one scene. That’s not too far away from how Hannah and I experience conversations about race and racism. It seems like there are always multiple layers, and the work of healing is messy and sometimes disorienting, as we come to understand things we thought we understood in new ways.
0:10 As I began to overlay video, I found that we really resonated with a perpetual reminder of those natural elements of earth and sun. Here the background video looks up at the sun through the trees, giving a beautiful sense of texture.
0:15 This is the classic farm frame, the sun shining into the shot as it emerges over the horizon.
0:17 We shot most of this video right after sunrise or right before sunset. It was cold, but the light was beautiful. We also wanted the video to have a sense of place, and the fence gate and mountain ridges set the tone right away.
0:20 I love how the fret board spins across the frame into the first line of the song.
0:23 I was glad to have this microphone from Trumpet Labs for the video. It’s not old, but it’s designed to to look that way, and it served us well visually (the audio is all from the studio recording, so the microphone wasn’t plugged in to anything).
0:25 One thing we talked about throughout the shoot was the way the guitar hanging down could look like a soldier carrying a rifle. Literal illustrations become trite when used too often, but this silhouette was stunning against the sunrise.
0:28 Since the lyrics in this section are about my great great grandfather walking home from war, there is a visual echo here with my guitar neck looking a bit like a gun.
0:30 The trading post background on the camp property provided an excellent replacement for the back of the pick up truck band scenes in country rock videos. David had this really cool old timey microphone that brought an extra layer of nostalgia.
0:35 To me, this line is one of the most powerful of the song. In a time when so many White Southerners would like to move on, and back into comfort zones, David writes this line acknowledging the concept of White Southern legacy, a story line that both our families share. The video fades into the fretboard glistening in the sun as our soldier walks on.
0:44 The William Black Lodge in Montreat provided the perfect porch for the image we were looking for. Big thanks to Tommy Brown for welcoming us to shoot video there.
0:45 When I think about family storytelling I think about rocking chairs on porches with tea and cookies. My family did not drink sweet tea, but it represents a nostalgia for the American South. Shooting on this porch was a really important aspect of the visual story.
0:46 My family drank (and still sometimes drinks) a LOT of sweet tea. 🙂
0:50 When George Zimmerman was set free after murdering Trayvon Martin, I collaged the articles from the newspapers of the day. This artwork sat waiting in my studio since 2016. It fit perfectly here as a component of the video paired with the line, “rules were written to advantage.”
0:51 Yes, I really love how this piece that Hannah created years ago fit perfectly here.
0:55 I love how the sunlight shines so brightly here with the horses in the background.
0:55 Horses (at Camp Grier) make their first appearance here. We were consciously playing with some visual tropes that evoke the South, like horses and fields and rocking chairs, common in Country music videos, but saying things not often heard there.
1:00 This stunning shot was on top of Craggy Gardens pinnacle. We basically ran up from the parking lot to catch the sunset. Throughout the video we come back to this location, setting us in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, which we both love.
1:09 It was so cold and windy, but I love this series of shots of the Appalachian horizon. It was worth it.
1:15 I love how the fretboards overlap here. One motif that was a constant among Southern Rock music videos I watched was this idea of the fretboard close up. Here, it intersects with the main image creating a duality.
1:24 Thomas Jefferson LaMotte is the character in the first verse, a Confederate soldier who was my grandfather’s grandfather. This stained glass window is in a Methodist church in Columbia, South Carolina. The fact that the sun flare obscures his first name as the window appears briefly erases the line between him and me, and then it appears. That makes sense to me, too. In some ways, we can separate ourselves from our ancestors. In other ways, we can’t.
1:25 In ministry settings I spend a lot of time thinking about the ways in which southern White pulpits have woven theology to enable Whiteness to retain the most powerful spot in the post colonial pigmentocracy. In our ideation phase this stained glass window image came up and we added it here as a lead in to the monuments. These stained-glass memorials are intentionally subtle, promoting a sense that Whiteness is linked with the divine.
1:35 During the season of protests in the summer of 2020, the Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis monuments on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va, were graffitied before they were taken down. My family and I joined the protests. These images were taken by my husband and I as we walked down Monument Avenue. Art is a conversation. During this time, the monuments were briefly pieces of art representing the cries of generations growing up in their oppressive shadows.
1:40 When I first heard the lyric, I really appreciated David including the monuments specifically. It is truly incredible in a negative way, the power that the Noble Lost Cause narrative had in upholding the lies of Confederate greatness and sowing confusion about the reason behind the Civil War.
1:50 I love how the sunlight spins out of the frame here as the mural emerges in stark contrast to the monuments.
1:52 This mural, by Puerto Rican artist Don Rimx, is in Old Fort, NC, about ten miles from my house. I was part of a team of folks who helped make it happen, but that effort was led by Lavita Logan and other local African American women in Old Fort. The mural honors some important Civil Rights history in their small town. There is more information and a short documentary about the mural and the events that inspired it at www.oldforttogether.com
1:55 These are images over the last century—first Black students in protest, then White people joyfully attending lynchings. It was the subtleties of the Noble Lost Cause narrative that allowed for people to go along with the horrific, murderous atrocity of lynching. They looked away.
1:59 This is an actual photo of a children’s protest in Old Fort in 1953, one of the two events commemorated in the mural, at the center of this small Southern town. The lyric here is “I must listen to my sisters if I want to understand, though the story is a painful one to hear.” That has been my experience, in this mural effort and others.
2:05 This couple are great family friends with David. He was taken with their joy in dance. With their permission, we included it in the video. I adjusted the speed of their waltz to time with the beat.
2:10 My friends Benni and Lucia came to visit a few months before we shot this video, and on a hike one day, I gave them their first waltz lesson, and shot a bit of it on my phone. Hannah and I felt that it was important to have some positive images in the video, and Benni and Lucia were happy to provide that, in their joyful and beautiful love for each other across several dividing lines, including race (they got married shortly after this video was shot).
2:20 Here the intersection of our widepan shot from Craggy with the chorus, visually suggests the introspective requirements in being willing to deeply explore and come to terms with our complicity in a subtle legacy of overt hate. Charles Blow spoke in Montreat a number of years ago. He brought up the idea that a new sidewalk on one side of town is a Black body face down on the other side of town. He was referring to police funding quotas in practice.
2:25 I love the way the sun gleams in the center of this overlay as the two shots meet.
2:27 It’s coincidental that I grew a beard around the time we were creating this video (I didn’t grow it for the video), but it seems like it worked pretty well for this purpose.
2:30 Here we return to the porch motif on “I still love a good long story, I still love a cold sweet tea.” It is the perfect setting for a Southern nostalgia that I share. One thing that David and I talked about during this project was that these nostalgic sounds and images are ones that we resonate with having grown up in the South. There is so much familial love and tenderness associated that it is perpetually devastating that these motifs are so often used to promote a sense of White supremacy.
2:30 I hope that the lyric here makes clear that this song is not intended as a take down of the South (or of the U.S., for that matter). It is my home, by choice and birth, and I love it here. Many of the finest people I know are here. It’s also important to say that the South has no corner on racism, though it has been codified here in a way that is unlike the Northern U.S. To be honest about our history is a way forward, not a dismissal or an insult. In fact, a project like this one is inherently hopeful and respectful; there would be no point in doing this if we didn’t believe that we can do better. We know we can do better, because we see people doing it all the time. And the fact that there is such organized resistance to any discussion of painful things needs to be addressed. This song is my way of weighing in, through the lens of my own very particular story.
2:34 This doubled video of Benni and Lucia pushing Mason on the tire swing was not shot to be included here, but it seems to provide good visual context for lines about the people who “raised and nourished me” (and yes, I know that an English teacher would correct that to “reared”, but that’s not how we really talk). The doubling of the video started as an accident, and we liked it that way, again referencing different perspectives and memories of the same events.
2:40 “but my people told a story and that story was a lie.” Here Jefferson Davis’ statue in Monument Avenue is covered in bubblegum pink paint just days before it was toppled to the earth.
2:42 This old black and white photo is of my grandfather as a child, his brothers, his father, and “Morrie”, a Black man who worked for the family, standing beside a tree off to the side.
2:45 We redid this take a few times in an effort to get David’s powerful expression here. This line is so critical to the overall message once we had this, I knew we were going to be able to create something really visually effective.
2:50 We didn’t have the electric guitarist available for the shoot, but the triple overlay of the fretboard here with the sun shining through gives enough visual energy to match the musical phrase.
2:51 After the line “If we’re ever gonna heal this, we gotta look it in the eye,” we have the only scene in the whole video that is briefly on its own, with no other overlaid video.
2:55 This was incredible luck! The horses happened to be walked through the shot. Through all of the editing, I made sure to keep this moment visible.
2:57 More horses and a brief growling steel solo, with a brief appearance by my “Stand Against Racism” t-shirt.
3:13 Another piece of painful family history, this time on the other side of my family, pans through the back of the shot — my other grandfather’s membership card for the KKK. This project is a part of my long reckoning with that family history.
3:20 Here, we have two sunsets, Craggy and Grier. Only miles apart, these locations place us squarely in the mountains of North Carolina, a place that is dear to our hearts.
3:25 The first images were shot at sunrise, these are from the sunset. The bookends tell the story of time passing through the song.
3:30 Mason did an incredible job shooting with the drone. He steadied it as David sang the last line, then flew it up, looking down. Then he lifts our eyes to the sunset at the perfect time to drop the curtain.
3:35 We have spent a lot of time on past generations here. A generation in the other direction, my kid, Mason, shot this last scene with a drone as the sun went down. I would like to think that Mason’s generation will have a more elevated view of this history, personal and public. To my eye, they seem to.
3:40 I love the way the camera blinks in the sparkling sun.
Words and Music by David LaMotte (Dryad Publishing Inc/ASCAP)
From his album, “Still” 2022
Written in June, 2021
David LaMotte – vocals, acoustic guitar
Michael Hynes – bass
Doug Pettibone – slide electric guitar
Jeff Sipe – drums
Produced and Directed by Hannah Garrity and David LaMotte.
Video released July 8, 2023.
Edited by Hannah Garrity
Videography by Hannah Garrity and David LaMotte
Drone Footage by Mason LaMotte
Special Thanks to:
Shot on Location at: