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Spotify Playlist – Veteran’s Day Poppy

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on November 11, 2009

Remembrance Sunday and the eleventh of November are days that evoke conflicting emotions in me. I’m pretty much an absolute pacifist, so you’d expect me to disapprove of them, but at the same time the *reason* I’m a pacifist is because I don’t like seeing people go and get killed (or kill others), and I have nothing but respect for those who fought (and often died) for causes they thought were right, even when (as has so often been the case) they’re led by psychopaths. Those people DESERVE remembrance, and respect. They went through things that none of us who haven’t been in a war can possibly imagine, and many of them behaved with far more decency than their commanders (I’ve read studies that show that in war, even when afraid for their own lives, 85% of soldiers unconsciously shoot to miss, because even in that position they can’t bring themselves to kill – something borne out by stories of people like Harry Patch, the last British soldier from WWI who died earlier this year, who had made a pact with his friends never to shoot to kill, but to aim for the enemies’ legs.)

I also don’t wear poppies, partly because I don’t wear anything like that – no breast cancer awareness badges or make poverty history wristbands, but also because the poppy as a symbol has become incredibly politicised in Britain recently, and it’s increasingly become a symbol of support for a particular right-wing form of patriotism. That said, I do think it’s hugely important to remember the sacrifices people went through for causes both noble and otherwise, so I’ve put together this spotify playlist. A lot of these songs are angry songs, because people should not have to travel thousands of miles to kill or be killed unless there’s a good reason, and often there isn’t. I find it very hard to remember those who died, or those who were maimed for life, without also remembering those who put them in that position. Never again should mean that…

One song I wanted to include was Armistice Day by Paul Simon, which he titled that for reasons much like those in this Vonnegut quote:

I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.
So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.
What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.
And all music is.

However, Armistice Day appears to be one of the few Paul Simon songs *not* on Spotify. So it goes.

The songs I have included are:
Veterans Day Poppy by Captain Beefheart (mislabelled as Apes-Ma – all the songs on this album are mislabelled). Sometimes Beefheart’s lyrics are difficult to understand, so here’s a transcription:

I cry but I can’t buy
Your Veteran’s Day poppy
It don’t get me high
It can only make me cry
It can never grow another
Son like the one who warmed me my days
After rain and warmed my breath
My life’s blood
Screamin’ empty she cries
It don’t get me high
It can only make me cry
Your Veteran’s Day poppy

Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914) by The Zombies is written and sung by Chris White, and his more fragile voice suits this deeply disturbing song much better than Blunstone’s would have.

Any King’s Shilling by Elvis Costello is a reminder of some of the more recent conflicts. “Stay at home tonight, if you know what’s good for you/I can’t say more, it would be telling/But if you don’t, what will become of you/Just isn’t worth any King’s shilling”.

Shipbuilding by Robert Wyatt is another Costello song (co-written), and possibly the saddest song ever written, about the hope a war brings to an economically depressed town – “It’s just a rumour that’s been spread around town/A telegram or a picture postcard/within weeks they’ll be re-opening the shipyard/And notifying the next of kin once again”.

Some Mother’s Son by The Kinks is from Arthur, the last of their incredible run of straight masterpieces in the mid sixties. “Some mother’s son lies in a field/Someone has killed some mother’s son today” I’d have liked to pair this with the other WWI song from the same album, Yes Sir No Sir (“Give the scum a gun and make the buggers fight/just be sure to have deserters die on sight/If he dies we’ll send a medal to his wife”) but that’s not on Spotify.

Song For The Dead by Randy Newman does a pretty good job of this though – a song from the point of view of a soldier in Vietnam burying his dead comrades and saying ‘a few words on behalf of the leadership’. At once utterly vicious and cynical about the motives of the leaders who start wars, but still recognising the real horror their decisions cause to those who have to carry them out.

Rich Man’s War by Steve Earle continues along these lines – “Somebody somewhere had another plan/Now he’s got a rifle in his hand/He’s wandering Baghdad wondering how it got this far/He’s just another poor boy off to fight a rich man’s war”.

Little Boy Soldiers by The Jam – “These days I find that I can’t be bothered/To argue with them, well what’s the point?/Better to take your shots and drop down dead/then they send you home in a pine overcoat/With a letter to your mum/Saying find enclosed one son/one medal and a note/to say he won.”

Where Have All The Flowers Gone? by Pete Seeger is often thought of as a rather twee song. It really isn’t.

And to finish, we have The Last Post.

One Response

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  1. Duncan said, on November 12, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever worn a poppy, and Nick Griffin has usurped it forever in any case – Mark Steel’s column this week is really excellent on the whole thing.


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