|Download PDF of this full issue: v46n1.pdf (21 MB)|
We Gotta Get Out Of This Place
By John Zutz (reviewer)
We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War
by Doug Bradley and Craig Werner,
(University of Massachusetts Press, 2015)
Music got many of us through the war. It reminded us of home. It helped us maintain. It gave us a place to retreat from the reality of war.
The war in Vietnam had a soundtrack (pay attention to any movie about the war). It gave us a common experience. It soothed us, it excited us, and it united us.
Though the book points out the divisions the music spotlighted, those divisions existed before the music influenced us. Early war/late war, head/juicer, the music differed in some significant ways.
Bradley and Werner briefly mention the beginning of our common musical experience — cadences in boot camp. They mention Jody but pass over many other juicy lyrics, to begin their examination of the sounds of our war.
They fill most of the book with discussions of popular music, and they point out how some popular music, the stuff written by vets, was influenced by their experiences. They highlight Hendrix. There's a nice interview with Country Joe. They do a pretty good job of pointing out those influences, with some oversights (they mention Archie Drell and The Bells' "Tighten Up", but neglect the influence of his Purple Heart).
The book has a few other factual problems (John Lindquist will die when he finds they enlisted him in the Army). Even with those few shortcomings, they give voice to many vets, allowing them to reveal which music effected them, and how.
They allow veterans who didn't have popular success an area at the back of the book. That gives voice to troubadours like Jim Wachtendonk and Lem Genovese.
They post their unscientific "top 20" with "Fixin' To Die Rag" at #2, and "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" at #1. They put Bruce Springsteen's "Born In The USA" at #18, the only tune in their lineup, which came out after the war, in 1984.
The book examines how the music changed during the war, and how the troops changed as well. It gives a number of examples of that metamorphoses. However, they neglect to look at the chicken/egg question: Did the music change the troops, or did the troops change the music?
It's an easy read, and it will bring back some memories. I hope the authors go on and examine the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
John Zutz is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin based member of VVAW.