Saturday, June 6, 2009

S - SSgt. Barry Sadler - "Ballads of the Green Berets"

One of the films I received from Netflix today was “F.T.A.”, a documentary of the anti-war show put together by Jane Fonda & Donald Sutherland that toured America & the Pacific Rim, mostly in locations near military bases. Sort of a bizarro world version of Bob Hope’s USO show. Filled with musical numbers, skits, and readings, the show is damn near unwatchable today. The music, mostly performed by some dude in a caftan named Len Chandler, is primarily heavy handed sing alongs testifying to America’s imperalism, racism, & class & gender warfare (like the tender “My Ass is Mine”), and the “comedy” is astoundingly unfunny (especially when rubber faced buffoon Michael Alaimo (a more apt last name I cannot fathom) shows up; even Jim Carrey might refer to Lame-O’s face making, sub-vaudeville style of comedy as “a little broad”.) Throughout it all, Jane, with her shag haircut and huge glasses, grins, gawks, and testifies with the fervor of a closeted Republican congressman; what’s more, she cannot sing worth a damn, and her acting wouldn’t have even gotten her cast in “Soup for President”, the theatrical adaptation I developed for Sister Kinga’s class in 4th grade (it was DAMN good, too). With the exception of an intense reading from “Johnny Got His Gun”, Donald Sutherland looks miserable & stoned out of his mind, probably wishing he were back in Korea with Trapper John instead of stuck in the Philippines with Hanoi Jane. Regardless, beneath the horror that was the “F.T.A.” show, the message seemed to be “support our troops”; mainly by getting them out of harm’s way where they were forced to risk their lives for a cause that was seriously flawed to begin with.

In a remarkable coincidence, the message is the same in the record of the day. Here’s a record made during the Vietnam War, sung by a Vietnam veteran. I’ve owned this record forever (I think Denny gave it me way back when), & of course I’m familiar with the title cut. I’ve always been so put off by the machismo of the song (where the dying soldier’s last request is for his son to become a soldier, & possibly die, too – in order to become a MAN. Thanks, Daddy-O.) that I never realized how UNpolitical the song is. It always seemed to me to be one of the all-time classic raving right wing anthems, but it isn’t. In fact, this album is remarkably non-political. It presents different aspects of a soldier’s life in Vietnam in 1966. One song clearly documents post-traumatic stress disorder before the term existed, another tells of the whores of Saigon & how a soldier is drawn back again and again because they are an escape from the unreal life the soldiers endure, another (the light-hearted one!) is about alcoholism. And in every song, there is death, death, death. Even the patriotic aspect doesn’t beat you over the head. It’s more like “well, I’ve been drafted, it’s hell, but my country needs me. And I can’t wait till I can go home.” I can’t imagine the folks who used this as album as a rallying cry for supporting the war – they must’ve been the same ones who got Reagan to try to usurp “Born in the USA” before Bruce, to his eternal credit, called them out for the hypocritical war mongers that they were.

That said, Sgt. Sadler has a very weak voice (he must've been a true bad-ass, but you’d think that a Green Beret would sound like John Wayne, not Wayne Newton: I wonder what Dave Dudley, Red Sovine, or Red Simpson (truck driving music) could’ve done with this.) Most of the songs follow the exact same pattern: verse/chorus/verse/chorus/narration, and they all sound the same, except for the Roger Miller-esque “Garet Trooper” and calypsofied tribute to inebriation “Bamiba”. Regardless, this record is MUCH better than C Company's "Don't blame William Calley for My Lai - he just pulled the trigger on the civilians, and ordered others to do so, that's all" similar presentation.

This evening’s entertainment has certainly got me a feeling a little off-kilter. I assumed I’d get bludgeoned by the left, then the right, but I’m left hoping to live in an America where in the future soldiers are not put in harm’s way in an attempt to create a one world nation disguised as a democracy (or at least one where, if the government is going to flat out lie and make shit up in order to stir up their own constituents fears enough to start an immoral war of aggression, they’re at least smart enough to cover their tracks a little better.)

Oh yeah, and I also understand why Jane Fonda became a vilified joke in the early ‘70’s. (I liked Holly Near in FTA, though - she was great in "Slaughterhouse Five" - plus she could sing.)

Verdict: man, am I bummed out.

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