Saturday, June 6, 2009

C - "C" Company featuring Terry Nelson - "Wake Up America!"

On March 16, 1968, Charlie Company of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division, United States Army, was flown into the hamlet of My Lai in South Vietnam with the expressed purpose of burning down the huts, destroying all livestock, polluting the water wells, and “clearing” out all suspected Vietcong. Led by 2nd Lieutenant William Calley, members of the 1st platoon (&, later in the day, the 2nd & 3rd platoons) of Charlie Company followed their orders well. Oh, except that the hamlet was populated by civilians, mostly females, their children, and the elderly. Anywhere from 350 to 500 civilians died in one of the more shameful episodes in American military history. The massacre was whitewashed for a year or so until a few conscientious (& extremely brave) soldiers talked enough to bring the whole thing into the open. 26 American soldiers were charged with war crimes; only one, Lt. Calley, was convicted of premeditated murder, and sentenced to life in prison. (Oh, except 3 weeks later, the sentence was reduced to 20 years, then 10, then Calley was released after being under “house arrest” at one of the forts after 3 ½ years.) News of this tragedy tore the country further apart in regards to support of the Vietnam War. Lots of Americans saw this as a reflection of the insanity of the war, but lots of other Americans were more appalled by Calley’s conviction & sentence: one was then Georgia governor, later Nobel Peace Prize winner & great humanitarian Jimmy Carter, who instituted “American Fighting Man's Day” in Calley’s honor; another was Alabama DJ Terry Nelson (who sounds like a church singer 2 days into a bender), who quickly had some faceless writers whip up a bunch of tunes, rounded up some faceless musicians, whom he dubbed “C Company”, and recorded “The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley”. Its success on the charts (#37 in the Billboard Top 100) prompted them to cash in…I mean, pay further tribute to America during wartime by recording a full length album, which it the record of the day.

Oh, Henry…

(strange interlude: I kinda have a phobia about “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” which goes back to seeing the Abraham Lincoln exhibit at the Chicago Historical Society around 1977-78. They had set up all these life size dioramas depicting important moments in Lincoln’s life that you were supposed to walk past while a faceless voice overhead narrated what you were seeing. The last diorama was the life sized moment where John Wilkes Booth puts a derringer bullet into Lincoln’s brain, and thus sets the US back at least 50 years as a result. It was creepy enough to see this as an 7 or 8 year old (at the time, I wasn’t seeing homicide reduced to a plot device on TV every night. I was watching “Happy Days”), but for me, as an already avowed presidential weirdo, seeing Booth frozen in motion, his gun pointing at the head of Lincoln, WHO WAS STILL ALIVE ENJOYING THE DAMN PLAY, was a bit much. But a little bit more much was the narration, which became increasingly solemn in announcing the murderous act and declaring Lincoln’s death – all the while, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” played in the background, getting louder and louder until the narration concluded, when it BOOMED “GLORY GLORY HALLELUUUUUUUJAH”. It so freaked me out that every time we would go the Historical Society (& it was fairly regularly), I would go through the diorama and then RUN past this scene as quick as possible. To this day, I can’t hear “Glory Glory Hallelujah” without subconsciously hearing the preceding words: “….and Abraham Lincoln…was DEAD.” Do I digress? Very well, I digress. I am huge. I contain multitudes.) (Actually I still haven’t regained all the weight I lost on the master cleanse. Pretty cool, eh?)

I got this record off Ebay in a package deal with about 12 other country LP’s (mostly truck driving songs); a few of the records, like this one, were unopened. (I won ‘em cheap, too! Imagine that.) Though I’ve played my Dave Dudley albums often, this one I’d not listened to until today. My anticipation as I opened the shrink wrap was double sided: though I was hoping for bizarre, John Birchesque right wing justifications put to music, it’s a fact that, in music, more often than not, the more zealous the politics in either direction, the more flat out dull the records are. There are a few that are so out there politically, socially or morally they make your mind explode, but most of the time, the preaching gets pretty tedious.

This record is pretty tedious. The songs are all lame jingoistic babble that incorporate as many patriotic public domain songs as possible to make the songs go at least 2 minutes. The C Company has songs about the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, WW 1 & 2, & Korea (what – no Mexican or Spanish American war songs?), yet finds a way in most of them to present Vietnam as a logical progression from all those wars of freedom. There are 2 songs (“Mr. Sherman’s Army” & “Johnny Reb”) that are from the South’s point of view during the Civil War that essentially say “okay, maybe their cause wasn’t totally right, but BOY HOWDY they were tough heroic patriotic Americans anyway!” Well, this LP WAS recorded in Alabama, after all. (Note: I absolutely LOVED driving through Alabama. The scenery was wonderful, and nowhere is the “duality of the Southern thang” (copyright Patterson Hood) more apparent than in Montgomery, where you can see the Civil Rights Memorial, then walk 2 blocks down to the 1st White House of the Confederacy; both locations are equally advertised tourist spots.) Only 2 songs jump out as memorable: the aforementioned tribute to the American war criminal (after all, he was simply a good soldier who was just following orders. Now, while that argument didn’t fly at Nuremburg, DJ Drunk feels that we Americans are nothing but honorable and loyal. And right. Every time.), and the downright appalling “Buffalo Soldier”, which is like a sick answer record written years before Bob Marley’s more familiar tune of the same name. In the song (which opens with “the Battle Hymn of the Republic” (damn it) and a drum roll, (like almost every other song on the LP)), Mr. Nelson slurs about the western Indian uprisings in the early 1800’s, and how they were defeated by a different kind of American soldier: “black, robust looking, with thick wooly hair”, which reminded the Indians of buffalo (An group of patriotic Americans reduced to an animal analogy, and then going on about how proud we should be of our animal-like compadres? Bravo, Mr. Nelson.) Apparently, though most wanted to desert, they felt compelled to stay and fight “for their freedom”. Um, okay, what now? By killing Indians, they were free? This was the kind of tripe that is reprehensible yet memorable, & stands out in an LP full of lightweight junk.

Verdict: too bad I broke the seal – it was a lot cooler unopened.

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