Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
On January 27th 1973, I was five years old, and we had this huge black and white TV, you know the type that had those humongous whicker speakers on each side. The news announced the Paris Peace Accords. I turned to my mother and I asked why the soldiers had to leave Vietnam?
It’s March 29th 2017, and I am 49 years old and live on a goat farm in Oregon and I am trying to make sense of the world that is on my computer screen. Time Magazine’s cover asks “Is Truth Dead?” People I respect, who decried the acts of previous administrations from the pulpit are now justifying sin, and I just wonder how we got where we are, and did this all happen before?
When I was at UCLA, I toyed with the idea of getting my masters in history. My thesis would have been how music changed society during the Vietnam War. Though I didn’t go past my bachelors, I still love the music from that era, and I feel that it is as relevant now as it was then. I think it both captures a moment it time, but also showed us our future.
What it’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield 1966.
Stephen Stills wrote this song about the Curfew Riots in LA, but it is often associated with the Vietnam War. Many people thought it was about the Kent State shootings, but the song actually predates that event. This song is seen by many as a story of a wiser experienced sage sharing a warning with the younger generation.
Here is The Voice’s Team Adam (I don’t even know what that is) version from 2016
We Got to Get Out of this Place Eric Burton and the Animals 1965
Written by American Husband and wife writing team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, this song was pretty much absconded with by the Animal’s manager. Many people felt it perfectly captured the depression in 60’s industrial England. To American soliders in Vietnam it became ‘the unofficial national anthem.” In its core it is a song about a man who has no options, in fact all he has is his love, and she inspires him to carry on it and hope for a future, when the present is so bleak.
Australia’s Angles 1998 version.
Paint it Black Rolling Stones 1966.
This classic Stones song was the first number one hit, to feature the sitar (thank you Ravi Shankar). It is about a lover at the funeral for his partner. But almost from the beginning it was associated with the mental status of those coming back from the war. It was the original open song for the Vietnam era TV show Tour of Duty. In 2012 the Department of Defense admitted we have lost more soldiers to suicide than in combat in Afghanistan. These men and women are not week we are asking them to do so much, we owe it to them support and help as much we can.
Veteran’s suicide prevention number: Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800–273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Ciara’s 2015 version, I love this song from a feminine perspective.
Won’t be Fooled Again. The Who 1971
Taken on its words alone this song seems to be counter-revolutionary. It can be taken in many ways. One is a warning not to let your politics surpass your person beliefs and spirituality. Pete Townsend said this about the songs meaning. “Don’t expect to see what you expect to see. Expect nothing and you might gain everything.” Remember The Who grew up during the time of the IRA, they saw what damage believing in something so strongly could bring forth. It was written during a time that Townsend was trying to acquire a personal spirituality. To me it is a warning to temper passion, beliefs and trusting a higher source rather than political causes.
Here is Van Halen’s take
One Tin Solider Coven 1971
All right I know that one shot wonder Coven covered this from the obscure Canadian rock group The Original Caste (1969), I also know that it gained fame for being in the movie Billy Jack. A movie where Native American (played by white boy Tom Laughlin) martial artist/ex-green beret defends a hippie school against a bunch of racist towns folk. (Trust me it actually works) But to me it will also be tied to the animation I saw as a child when Cher sung it on the Sonny and Cher Hour.
The song is about greed, hatred, and wanting more than you have, and you are wondering why I think it applies to our time? On youtube I found a the S&C animation with the original version.
And now for a modern take Me First and The Gimme Gimmies.
Eve of Destruction Barry Maguire 1965
I was driving from Idaho to Oregon on December 20th 2012, the day before the Mayan predicted the end of the world and the radio played this song. Well we survived that one, yeah us. But let’s face what Barry sung about in the 60’s is just as real as it now. Do you know where the hands of the doomsday clock is right now? (11:57 30 seconds PM) Still not convince this song is talking about us. In 2008 after becoming a born again Christian Bobby re-released the song replacing the words Selma Alabama with Columbine Colorado.
And in case you wondered what an Irish punk rock band would do with this song I give you the Pouges.
Sky Pilot The Animals 1968.
Sky Pilot in military jargon is a Chaplin. This song tells the story of a chaplain, fighting to keep his faith during the harsh realities of war. Again we see the themes of personal spirituality during times of conflict. We think of the hippies as a free love free drugs movement, but there was defiantly a spiritual searching there. Maybe it isn’t your type of spirituality, maybe it isn’t my type of spirituality, but there is yearning there. To grab on to something bigger than yourself, to believe is something. That by focusing on this high thing whatever it might be, we can lift ourselves over the strife of our time.
The song was so long the record company broke it into part 1 and 2.
The Ballad of the Green Beret SSrg Barry Sadler 1966.
This song was never meant to be anything more than a novelty act, but spent five weeks on the Billboard Top 100. Its import to remember not all Vietnam era music was anti-war. What this song is at its core is an attempt by a solider to explain his point of view to America. To explain what he felt and experienced. I think it is important that we take time to appreciate that point of view. I may disagree with the politicians and leader who send our troops in to harm’s way but I think it is import that the men and women who do fight our wars get a chance to share their experiences.
This is Johnny Cash’s take (Johnny boy was btw an Air Force code breaker)
The Revolution will Not be Televised. Gil Scott-Heron.
Before there was rap there was Gill Scott-Heron. He masterfully combined the revolutionary feelings of 70’s urban America with cultural icons of his time. As a pop culture guru even I have to ask sometimes are all these things just distracting us from the real world and what is really important? Also with all due respect to G S-H, I think that with our cell phones the revolution will be televised, and I am afraid that the fact that we can have so much data and noise that it is going to distract us from the time when we have to say enough with this BS, it is time to do something.
Now compare the original with a poem by the same title by the late poet Janet Whitley Sylvia Martin, as read by a robot voice.