Friday, July 20, 2018

July: Mama Bake a Pie (Daddy Kill a Chicken)


Tom T. Hall has been called the Nashville Storyteller.  To me, he’s the last great storyteller Nashville will probably ever see.  There is a significant difference between a songwriter and a storyteller.  A storyteller, in three to five minutes usually, can make you care deeply about the characters in the song; whereas a songwriter can bring the world in different ways, with the art of wordsmithing.  Tom T. Hall has many song hits to his name, whether recorded by him others, and an each single one, I have cared deeply about those characters.

The first time I heard "Mama Bake a Pie (Daddy Kill a Chicken)" was on an album of oddities and b-sides by The Drive-by Truckers. I even assumed they wrote it. That’s the problem with digital music, there is no glorious artwork to pull out, with wonderful liner notes for one to peruse at their pleasure.  When I first heard it, I knew Patterson Hood was busily beating his anti-war drum because Iraq was going hot and heavy.  Honestly, I didn’t think much of it then, but it steadily grew on me.  When I discovered Hall wrote it, I was instantly over the moon, especially as I listened to the words more and more.

Tom T. Hall wrote it in protest of the Vietnam War. That was his intent and it is clear, as plain as day.  Vietnam has always loomed large in my life.  I don’t know why.  The war ended the year I entered it and none of my immediate family ever served in Vietnam. I think there might be a connection there.  My father served in the Guard and stayed in college, hence he had a deferment.  Maybe there is some lingering residual guilt there, to be honest, however, in that place in time, I might have done the same. Vietnam was weird for our country. First modern loss.  First time seeing body bags on the runway from a war. First time seeing the glaring duplicity of the draft.  First time seeing young men and women being spit on, all for serving their country, so the very people protesting them had the right to protest.  First time a sitting president made sure his family made millions upon millions, by supplying weapons to the very soldiers who were dying by the scores, just to keep that war humming.  The first time an incoming president sabotaged a peace treaty, just so he could get elected.  Out of all this madness and chaos, however, came some the best music this country has ever produced.

I would place the song in either the early days or about halfway through the Vietnam War.  The reason why I’ve assumed the time, is because there is no all out bitterness at those who have served, like in the latter years.  It’s about a good old boy who lost his legs in the war and is traveling home on a plane.  A man asks him if it was worth it and stewardess inquires if he was scared. The soldier responds in the manner that is expected of all who serve, whether if they believe it or not.  The story continues about all his fears and worries awaiting him ahead.  The parents, the former girl, the family and a July fourth parade.  

Tom T. Hall may have been going strictly for antiwar, but I took other things away from the song.  The shock of returning someplace without mortars, automatic fire, mines and grenades.  In WWII they called it shell shock.  In Vietnam it was the thousand yard stare.  Now we simply call it PTSD.  Adjusting to that must be horrendous and have it fall on anybody, especially young, healthy Americans, well that is the biggest heartbreak of all.  Another thing was the young soldier anticipating all the problems at home.  Parents heartbroken, girl no longer his, and just what was he going to do with the rest of his life.  Countless young soldiers deal with this upon coming home.  You would think the land of milk and honey would have a program/programs to help these men and women adjust, instead spending money to send more off to war, wouldn’t you?  I keep returning to that bottle in his lap.  It haunts because I have struggled with my own demons.  Whether it be drink, drugs, or anything else, nothing will stop those demons and nightmares from coming out to play, except maybe love.  

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