We can’t lose ourselves in the suffering of others, but we can’t be blind to it either. We can’t give thugs free reign to torment innocent people, but we can’t step in without a war machine.
How can you and I make sense of war? Can songs help?
My first contact with a war song was John Brown on Bob Dylan’s MTV unplugged album. The simplicity of the protest message hit really hard. All war is bad, a tragic misguided waste. Later, Shipbuilding by Elvia Costello uncovered some deeper layers.
Do you have any songs to share on war and conflict? Any stories about them? How have they changed you?
My friend Martyn Joseph just released a new song that touches something important I was trying to get at with this discussion post.
What do we do with the problem of thugs?
There are lots of anti-war songs critical of Vietnam and western interventions. Peace man, absolutely.
But I think it's important to acknowledge the shadow here. Murderous bullies exist, and sometimes they come for you, or your neighbour. Words and placards won't be enough to stop them. I think it's ok to acknowledge the part of ourselves that wants to meet their violence with ours.
Maybe I’ll cheat here a little and throw in a poem too, Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen couldn’t be more affecting https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46560/dulce-et-decorum-est
I found this on YouTube. Easter Parade at 19:55, quality is ok. My good friend Simon B, who is on this forum, doesn’t get them despite my many attempts to persuade him!!
I could probably find many French songs, but the one I will share, Sambolera, is actually in Swahili.
Khadja Nin grew up in Burundi, a former Belgian colony. Her album was pretty big in France in the mid 90's, and the album's booklet had the lyrics of the songs alongside the French translation. I spent hours reading them, saying them, trying to recognize the words.
The only word in French in the original text is 'Guerre'. 'War'. In the language of the colonizer.
She says the world is ruled by men who believe the world belongs to them. Little has changed here...
It made me see the damages of colonisation through the eyes of the receiver, made me question our history classes and the claims that Europeans were "bringing civilisation where there was none before", and I'm sure it contributed to how I think, of the wars led by "the West"
The first songs to come to mind aren't specifically war songs, but tell stories of conflict in the forms of racism and domestic violence.
Across The Lines by Tracy Chapman hits me hard every time I listen to it - each time I hear it I can't believe it was written in the 80s and still rings so true in 2022. I hope there's a day in my lifetime where this song will no longer feel so present. https://open.spotify.com/track/3XkXJNMHJB0UiKiVz83yD7
Behind The Wall from the same album, on domestic violence this time. Breaks my heart wide open every time. God, this album is so good. https://open.spotify.com/track/00OMaIm4VEsUcXad5Pf1Qe
The Green Fields Of France by The Fureys and Davey Arthur. Everytimei hear it, it breaks my heart. " The fighting , the suffering the glory and pain. The killing and dying were all done in vain". Hope I got that right.
A 'war' song....hmmm. I'd say first real impactful one was Sunday Bloody Sunday (if that counts, though some would say not) or one still as relevant now as was then - Real Men by the great Joe Jackson (a different 'war'!).
Several years ago I wrote a song called Another Stretch in Iraq. For about a year up to that time I regularly visited milblogs and spoke to servicemen, many of who were still in service. They told me what life was like for them and I built a picture that allowed me to create the song.
A few years later I was performing in a 'biker friendly' bar in Longwood, Fl. I sang the song. I will be writing about this in one of my future posts in my Substack. Anyway long story short, 3 huge men came up to the stage with tears in their eyes, and I thought I was about to get beaten up. But no, they said it took them right back to their time in Desert Storm and they loved it. Drinks were on them for the rest of the night.
In about 1984/85 I saw a band called The Faith Brothers support the Alarm at the Hammersmith Odeon (as was). I had never seen before, or since, a support band that received a response like they did. Being a London band there may have been an element of being on ‘home soil’, but boy where they good. Their album ‘Eventide’, released around that time remains one of my all time favourites……could never understand why it flopped. Within the many fine songs is the track ‘The Easter Parade’, their song about the Falklands War. I have it on now, this thread inspired that. Just an acoustic guitar and the brilliant Billy Franks passionate vocals. Give it a go. Sadly Billy died in 2016.
John Brown is a great choice as is Bob's "Masters of War".
I think my first recollection would have been Army Dreamers by Kate Bush, great simple video but striking too.
Of course that was when I was about 10 so a lot of stuff maybe didn't resonate until later, or I didn't discover until later. War Pigs by Sabbath, It's a Mistake by Men at Work and still my favourite R.E.M single Orange Crush are all favourites on that theme.
Although not one versed in the American Civil War history The Band's The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down is great.
For a song about conflict I'd go with The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carol and With God On Our Side both by Dylan, both on the sparse Times They Are A Changin'LP
That's a very powerful video montage you've chosen for the Shipbuilding video Jake. A truly great song. Costello's inimitable lyrical imagery at its finest. Looking forward to seeing you live again soon Jake.