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War Songs, Pt. 2: When I’m Gone…

7 September, 2010 Leave a comment

After Iraqi Freedom came Enduring Freedom as the War On Terror trundled on, Op FINGAL became Op HERRICK and our future career paths were mapped for at least a decade. I found myself in Afghanistan with a new trade in a position beyond that which my rank secured and I revelled in it.

This time I believed why we were here, I had a purpose and goals to achieve during the deployment. I had my sights set on promotion, education and experience. I got all 3, although the latter came in ways I’d never expected.

During my tour of duty I made friends with soldiers who faced death every time they left the confines of camp. All of them had experiences they would never discuss, most of them returned home safely with memories they would rather forget and some of them made the journey home under their Nation’s flag unaware they had been carried home by those who honoured their sacrifice. These experiences, and that of losing a friend caused me to write the lyrics to An Ordinary Man on my return. It also made me question my career, my role as a Father, husband and friend.

I’d never heard of 3 Doors Down before my deployment and, had I not worked closely with some US forces I probably wouldn’t have. As it was I received a copy of their album Away From The Sun from the same guy I bought my Ibanez from (yes, I bought a guitar on tour!) and am forever grateful for the discovery.

The straight forward American rock is easy to listen to and original enough prevent it ever sounding stale. The lyrics however, are what had me hooked. This tour was the hardest I’d done so far and, with my doubts over my role, the feelings I had for my family and the thoughts I held regarding all aspects of home they struck a chord. Two in particular seemed to echo my thoughts and feelings at the time, one was When I’m Gone and the other Here Without You. They’re two very different songs, one mainly acoustic, the other much harder and despite the similar sentiments to me they mean very different things. One is full of gratitude for the strength given by someone special and the will to carry on while the other is a promise that, despite all that happens, nothing has changed.  I’ll let you decide which is which…

So hold me when I’m here, right me when I’m wrong
Hold me when I’m scared and love me when I’m gone
Everything I am and everything in me
Wants to be the one you wanted me to be
I’ll never let you down even if I could
I’d give up everything if only for your good
So hold me when I’m here, right me when I’m wrong
You hold me when I’m scared, you won’t always be there
So love me when I’m gone

I’m here without you baby but you’re still on my lonely mind
I think about you baby and I dream about you all the time
I’m here without you baby but you’re still with me in my dreams
And tonight, there’s only you and me
Everything I know and anywhere I go
It gets hard but it won’t take away my love
And when the last one falls and all is said and done
It gets hard but it won’t take away my love

It’s surprising how you can place your life in order through the music you listen to, the effect it had at a particular time and the meaning it inherits from your own feelings when you heard it first. It’s what makes music so special, it’s something different to each and every person who listens.

War Songs, Pt. 1: Shut Up & Sing!

31 August, 2010 Leave a comment
Cover of "Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing (F...

Cover via Amazon

It seems much longer, but it was less than a decade ago that I found myself in Camp Arifjan with a little time to waste before moving on up to Camp Fox and beyond as part of the British contingent roped into Operation Iraqi Freedom (OP TELIC to us)…

As usual our Colonial cousins had established an operational footing far beyond the scope of any that a deployed British force would ever be capable of. Among the Baskin Robbins, Subway, Pizza Hut and Korean takeaway there was a PX store which made every EFI store I have ever come across look like the tuck shops run out of the 4 tonners to boost Sqn funds!

Needless to say I made the most of the situation and purchased DVDs and CDs galore. These were the days before ‘global’ releases so the Americans had films and music we hadn’t been able to get our hands on yet.

As far as I can recall I bought Garfield for the little ones, another DVD for ‘Cole and a CD for Rose, all of which were posted home as we didn’t know when we’d be getting home from this tour. This all sounds somewhat un-memorable however the CD I bought for Rose was one which would widen my musical tastes/awareness and cause more than a little bit of a stir back home!

I’d always related the genre of Country Music with the likes of Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and all those famous crooners which we all know. I’d never heard the terms bluegrass, alt country or the like, or if I had I’d dismissed them off-hand. All that was about to change.

What was the CD I bought? It was ‘Home’ by the Dixie Chicks and remains, to this day, one of my most played albums. At the time I was blissfully unaware of the controversy they had caused (or were about to) and didn’t even listen to the album before I sent it home.

Several months later, once we’d ‘won the war’, and I returned home I was greeted by a tirade of abuse when I asked Rose if she liked the album! Among the gems included on the album was a track called ‘Travelin’ Soldier‘, a song about a young girl who had fallen for a soldier bound for Vietnam and the waited for his return only to hear his name read out in a list of the fallen at a local football game.

All this sounds a little ‘twee’ but unless you’ve been in the situation of a wife, husband, partner, parent or child waiting for news from your loved one who is, as far as your mind is concerned, in mortal danger 24 hours of every day they are deployed you will not feel the emotion the lyrics of this song can stir.

One Friday night at a football game, the Lord’s prayer said and the anthem sang
A man said “Folks, would you bow your heads for a list of local Vietnam dead”
Cryin’ all alone under the stands was a piccolo player in the marchin’ band
And one name read and nobody really cared
But a pretty little girl with a bow in her hair

The song still makes my hairs stand on end, as do several others on the album. I have since become a huge fan of Martie Maguire, Emilie Robison and Natalie Maines, the Dixie Chicks, all the more so because of their stand (albeit unintended) as spokespersons against the Iraq conflict, and their fight to re-establish their position after being ostracised by most of redneck America.

I cannot recommend their music highly enough. Tracks such as ‘Top of the World‘, ‘Godspeed‘, ‘Taking The Long Way‘, ‘Not Ready To Make Nice‘ and ‘Easy Silence‘ are highlights of an amazingly strong back catalogue.

Don’t trust me, check them out for yourself, and if you want to hear the song Travelin’ Soldier in all its glory check out the documentary Shut Up & Sing or the concert DVD An Evening with the Dixie Chicks, you won’t regret it.

And from one of those songs I’d like to send this to my youngest, my son Wilson, who has just suffered his first major loss in life:

The Rocket Racer’s all tuckered out
Superman’s in pyjamas on the couch
Goodnight moon will find the mouse
And I love you
Godspeed little man
Sweet dreams little man
Oh my love will fly to you each night on angel’s wings
Godspeed
Sweet Dreams

It never ceases to amaze me how someone elses words can have such a profound effect on me. It is a gift I admire and one I hope someday to attain in my own work.