It gets obscured by beach vacations, cookouts and patriotic bombast, but it’s a question worth asking: Is there a darker national holiday than Memorial Day?
After all, we’re commemorating soldiers who died fighting for the good ol’ US of A. It’s a subject that’s been covered by popular music for years. These might not be the tunes you’ll want to queue up for your big barbecue, but then again, that’s kind of the point.
1. “Travelin’ Soldier,” The Dixie Chicks — This gentle, folky country song from 2002 tells the heartbreaking story of a young love cut short when a young man doesn’t come back from the war: “Two days past 18/ He was waitin’ for the bus in his Army green.”
2. “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)” — It’s only mentioned abstractly in its largely incomprehensible, acid-drenched lyrics. (“Somewhere, inside something there is a rush of/
Greatness, who knows what stands in front of/ Our lives, I fashion my future on films in space”). But when the song is staged in “Hair,” the “American tribal love rock musical,” it accompanies the death of Claude Hooper Bukowski, one of the show’s protagonists, who’s gone off to fight in Vietnam.
3. “Dress Blues,” Jason Isbell — The Alabama country singer strikes a powerful chord with this thoughtful weeper: “You never planned on the bombs in the sand/ Or sleepin’ in your dress blues.”
4. “Ballad of the Green Berets,” Barry Sadler — Listen to it once, and you’ll be humming it for days. This patriotic, endlessly catchy marcher has a Marine “who has died for those oppressed” asking his widow for “one last request”: “Put silver wings/ On my son’s chest.”
5. “The Unknown Soldier,” The Doors — This dark but swirly and psychedelic tune takes an ironically ecstatic turn, with singer Jim Morrison shouting exuberantly, “War is over, baby!”
6. “The First Vietnamese War,” The Black Angels — This bluesy indie rock stomper draws angry parallels between the wars in Vietnam and Iraq: “You gave a gift to me/ At my young age/ You sent me overseas/ And put the fear in me.”
7. “Born in the USA,” Bruce Springsteen — “I had a brother at Khe Sanh/ Fighting off the Viet Cong/ They’re still there/ He’s all gone”
— John Staton
(c)2016 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.) at www.starnewsonline.com
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