Saturday, June 4, 2011

War and Memory: Children’s Crusade

Sting: Children‘s Crusade


I can’t say that I know all of the reasons this was such a slow week here, but I do know one reason. Our own Boyhowdy lives in Monson MA, which you may know was hit by a tornado on Friday. He and his family are fine now. Boyhowdy responded to this disaster in heroic fashion, with some of his best writing and by sharing music on his own blog, Cover Lay Down. I know our readers will wish him this best as Monson struggles to regain a sense of normalcy. And I know that I can speak for my fellow Star Makers in adding our best wishes to those.

Meanwhile, I do have one last song for our War and Memory theme. Children’s Crusade is Sting’s take on World War I, a subject Geovicki spoke of so eloquently in her last post. The Great War, as it was called, has left a deep scar on Western culture, particularly in Europe. About 70 years later, Sting is still writing a song about it. Sting equates the loss of young lives in the war to the legendary “children’s crusade” of 1212. According to the legend, tens of thousands of children responded to the visions of a young boy by committing to a journey to the Holy Land to peacefully convert Muslims to Christianity. They marched to the Mediterranean Sea, where they were taken by two unscrupulous sea captains to Tunisia, and sold as slaves. End of Story. So it plays out as a tale of a sacrifice of Holy Innocents, and that is the parallel that Sting wants to draw. That is also what the references to slavery in the lyrics are about.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

War and Memory: And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Eric Bogle: And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda


World War 1 was one of the first modern wars, with its reliance on twentieth-century technology such as machine guns, chemical gases, tanks, telephones and wireless communication, and airplanes. All of the world's great powers of the day were involved, with over 70 million military personnel (including my grandfather). Nine million were killed and many more wounded, like the soldier in this song.

This song, written by Scottish-Australian Eric Bogle in 1971, describes the horror of the Battle of Gallipoli (Turkey), where the combined Australian, New Zealand, and British army suffered a bloody defeat by the Turks. It's a descriptive and bitter recollection of the battle, its cost in human life, and the ultimate pointlessness of war.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

War and Memory: Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town

Mel Tillis: Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town

[Out of print, it seems]

“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” was a hit for Kenny Rogers and The New Edition in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War, and so was perceived by many to be about that conflict. When country singer Mel Tillis, who wrote the song, first released it in January 1967, the “old crazy Asian war” he was referring to was the Korean conflict of the early 1950s.

The storyline is simple: a man returned from doing his “patriotic chore” without his legs, and his wife Ruby is sleeping with other men while he is cooped up at home. And she doesn’t care about how he feels at all. No wonder he has fantasies of putting Ruby into the ground.

Tillis, who released the song in January 1967, said he based the lyrics on a couple in his neighbourhood. In real life, the man was wounded in Germany in Word War 2, not in Korea. Tillis spared us the bitter end of the story: the ex-GI killed his straying wife and then himself.

Mel Tillis re-recorded the song in 1976 with an outstanding banjo solo. It is worth seeking out.

Song Chain => War and Memory: Born in the USA

Richard Shindell: Born in the USA


From transformative covers of songs with California in the titles, it’s not hard to get to another transformative cover. This one also kicks off a week of songs about people affected by wars, both soldiers and those who waited for them at home. It’s all in honor of Memorial Day, but I hope this theme resonates for our readers in countries other than the United States as well.

Here then, is Richard Shindell’s version of Bruce Springstein’s Born in the USA. The lyric presents a portrait of a man who served in Vietnam, and now he is trying to make it as a civilian, while still holding on to the memories of the men he served with. Springstein’s original recording was a rock anthem, and people latched onto it as a patriotic song. But for me, Shindell’s version does a better job of focusing on the lyric, and therefore brings the protagonist to life more vividly. Springstein is an artist I have a great admiration for, but this is one time when his performance did not best serve his lyric. I’m sure any number of Springstein fans will disagree with me in the comments; I would ask that you do so respectfully.