Thursday, March 17, 2011


Watching a TV history program about "barbarians," there they were, re-enacted -- Romans and Huns and Saxons and Vikings and everywhere a call to arms, to victory, to plunder, and, yes, to glory. And although the program did not include any musical depictions of those ancient battles, still it put me in mind of a song we used to sing in grade school, an energetic and heroic song that referred to the the seven-year-long siege of Harlech Castle in Wales between 1461 and 1468. Men of Harlech remains a marching song with a lot of different lyrics so many years later.

Was there ever a conflict in which someone did not apply music, whether as advocate or opponent? Music, the stuff that opens the heart that longs to soar, then invites it to soar ... onto the battlefield where its singers lie mangled and buried? As I watched the program, although there was no music, still it made me think that music was a horrific bait-and-switch ... hum the tunes that bring smiles to the face only to find that face later, mangled beyond all recognition.

More recently, the Germans, the English, the French, the Americans ... who does not have a rousing chorus?

Here, for example are a couple of songs remembering the Spanish Civil War (17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939). The war was the darling of those who opposed fascism ... a battleground littered with fighters from many nations ... and a place where the Nazis practiced bombing and bombarding prior to the outbreak of World War II. 1. John McCutcheon's "Abraham Lincoln Brigade"
 and 2, the closer to the time rendition of La Quince Brigada  by Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers.

Rousing, haunting, critical, full of piss and vinegar ... who doesn't have such songs? Who could do without such uplifting and obscuring and melodic smoke?

Since I love music, I find something utterly human and utterly obscene about the connections -- the glory, the bait-and-switch offered to the human heart. I find it utterly revolting and simultaneously cannot condemn it or find it unusual. Covering up or elevating or misdirecting ... in what way is any of this unusual? But also ... how can the heart be peaceful when camouflage is the diet of choice?

I don't mean to pick on U.S. forces when adding an American song from the Vietnam War -- The Ballad of the Green Berets.
Not for a minute do I imagine that other countries can't sing similar songs with similar encouragements, similar pride, similar swelling hearts. Friends, enemies, allies ... all have their music.

I just wish, somehow, that they didn't.

No comments:

Post a Comment