SBA/RR Challenge, Music, "The Music of Vietnam, 1970-71

I had hoped to record something that I had performed for the Music section.

Unfortunately, I got a new laptop last week with Windows 10 and I haven't been able to make a video using it.

So, here is a musical memoir of my Vietnam experience.

A recent conversation with an old friend in which she didn’t know the meaning of, and had never heard the slang term, “Jonesing”, set me to thinking about how different our life experiences were.  We knew her present husband long before they married and are friends with both.  She wanted to meet at what can only be called a Roadhouse that is about halfway between their home and ours which makes it about a fifteen minute drive for each.  It is a dive that is called "The Dive".  They have really good pizza, burgers, wings and cold beer.  When we arrived the jukebox was playing George Jones" "He Stopped Loving Her Today."  Not the same Jones, but that gives you the flavor of "The Dive".

She and her now deceased husband were neighbors in the early ‘90s.  He was several years older than I, and Em was five years younger.  She went to Columbia College, danced to “beach music” and pretty much escaped the ‘60s unscathed by the music or the protests.

I went to Vietnam.  Her brother may have been in the military, but no one went to Vietnam.

Her idea of a hard drug was a classic martini, I estimate that a quarter of our unit in Vietnam was using heroine daily.  I've seen withdrawal and overdoses, some fatal.

Ken Burns did a good job in his series about the Vietnam war not only in retrieving video footage and finding veterans – American and Vietnamese from both sides – but matching the action to the music of the time.

Good Morning Vietnam in which Robin Williams played the part of a real D.J. on Armed Forces Radio who changed the format from classical interspersed with messages from the military, to a sort of soft rock, harmless rock format attended by actual commentary on the situation was a good depiction of the radio that we all listened to in 1970.

In the year that I was there – October 1970 to October 1971 – I had three separate musical experiences.  Everywhere, in the background, coming from transistor radios that the various Vietnamese workers on our base played while they worked came music like this.  This is actually much more western sounding than most of what we heard.  The Vietnamese conversational and singing voice was about an octave higher than Americans, and singing through your nose seemed to be entirely acceptable in popular music.

Almost all, perhaps all, of the workers on the base were young women.  My “hooch maid” “Fawn” (Fong) was a beautiful young woman who was married to a lieutenant in the ARVN (Army Republic of Vietnam).  “Bea” whose real name was Be with a housetop over the e and actually pronounced something like “beh” kept our dispensary clean and neat.  They showed up on time, worked hard, took a break at noon to cook their pot of rice over a sterno burner, and went home in the evening.  They all dressed alike in black pants and white top, flip-flops, and the ever present cone shaped straw hat.

I grew to like their music.  Its pentatonic scale and the warbling vocals necessary to give meaning to words in a tonal language came to sound normal.

Armed Forces Radio during that time played “soft rock” like the Carpenters, “We’ve Only Just Begun”, and Bread’s hit, “If”.  They played it so much that much to my dismay I found myself singing along.

I’m not going to put the Carpenters up, but “If” had some meaning to a young man in his twenties with a wife and one year old child at home.

What we enjoyed more were the mainstream rock songs by bands like Three Dog Night.  This one came to mind when I was thinking about Em and her “shagging on the strand” music.

And then there was the third category of music we listened to, in the evening in our hooches, on our cassette players.  It was harder, more blues oriented, and varied with the person.  One pilot gave me a Grateful Dead bootleg cassette.  I thought it was awful and told the pilot that the band didn’t seem to be able to stay on tune or keep rhythm.  He told me that I needed to be taking the right drugs to appreciate it.

Eric Clapton had moved on to Derek and the Dominoes, but we listened to albums by Cream from a couple of years earlier.  I liked The Doors and their album with the side labeled Morrison Hotel was some of the best Doors music.  This one seemed appropriate thinking about our meeting at The Dive.

And, I can’t leave Pearl out.  Janis Joplin was spinning out of control, and some of my favorite songs were made before 1970, but she came out with “Me and Bobby McGee” at the time I was in Vietnam.  It was a big hit and I really liked it, but I have to post one of her grittier pieces.

Everything felt more real, more intense in Vietnam.  There was something ridiculously paradoxical about listening to music from back home, talking about what we wanted to do when we got back to “The World” in a setting where at any moment you might be shelled, or ambushed.

Perhaps the song that most clearly in my mind represented the disconnect in Vietnam was Credence Clearwater Revivals song, “Proud Mary”.  Every Vietnamese cover band knew it and did a really good job copying all of the licks, but could not pull it off because they said “reeber” for “river”.  “Big wheel keep on turnin’, Proud Mary keep on burnin’. Rollin’, rollin, rollin’ down the reeber.”

During the year I was in Vietnam things were changing rapidly at home.  The combination of social protest, the war, and drugs had their effect.  In the year that I was in Vietnam, Pearl, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix all died as a result of flying too close to the sun.

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Comment by Rodney Roe on May 14, 2018 at 5:13am

I saw that there was a lot of pushback against the "challenge" so I gave it a long break.  I think that the only category I haven't done is Art/photography.  I have something cooking for that that I will get up before the 15th (or not).

Comment by koshersalaami on May 14, 2018 at 6:19am

Thank you. Great post. The Vietnamese video is interesting, though I see what you mean when you say it’s Western in that I don’t hear pentatonic in this. Roadhouse Blues is decent for Doors even if they do stay on one chord for most of it -the sound itself is really good. The Joplin was a revelation. I assume you know Blinded By the Light was written for Manfred Mann by Bruce Springsteen. 

I’ve known a lot of Deadheads. Having never dropped acid, I don’t get the devotion. A few months ago, some local musicians recreated a Dead concert that took place here note for note. That borders on necrophilia and is the exact opposite of the spirit in which the music was played, which is an unusual amount of improvisation from everyone, frequently at the same time. In my band in NC we played a lot of Dead and I got to enjoy it, mostly not the mainstream stuff, though I eventually got them to do Truckin’. They had problems with one dissonant vocal harmony so I just supplied the note on piano and figured no one would notice. I like material like China Cat Sunflower (we didn’t play that though I’d have liked to) where a complex riff is played against the vocal melody. Last year when we did the annual local music festival for the food bank, local ordinances required us to stop loud playing at 11:00, so we continued with a mostly acoustic set which ended with Ripple way after midnight. In that environment under those conditions it resonated completely, not the words but the feel. 

Music sure has a way of evoking place and time. 

Comment by koshersalaami on May 14, 2018 at 6:20am

Pushback against the challenge was ultimately silly. No one held a gun to anyone’s head about participating. 

Comment by Rodney Roe on May 14, 2018 at 7:09am

I've had a lot of exposure to the Dead.  My daughters were Deadheads and on tour for a while.  You mentioned that they all (the Dead) improvised at once which is the thing that I found unpleasant.  Somewhere, for me, there needs to be a framework to improvise against.  I enjoyed the Jerry Garcia/ David Grisman work more than I did the Dead.  Your comment, "That borders on necrophilia and is the exact opposite of the spirit in which the music was played." is funny and true.

I had forgotten that about "Blinded".  I listened to Bruce Springsteen's version once and felt it was a good thing he gave it to Manfred Mann.  There has been so much collaborative effort in music.  Watching a piece about the early Eagles, Jackson Browne told of talking to the Eagles about a song he was stuck on.  "I've got this line but i don't know where to go with it.  It goes, "I was standin' on the corner in Winslow, Arizona..."  To which came the immediate reply, "Such a fine sight to see.  There's a girl, Oh Lord, in a flatbed Ford slowin' down to take a look at me."  And there it was;"Take it easy."

Comment by Rodney Roe on May 14, 2018 at 7:13am

WNCW, a western North Carolina NPR station used to have an eternity of Grateful Dead improvisation on Wednesday nights called "Dead Air".  Someone in the pottery studio where I worked at night tuned into that and left it there.  I felt like I was going to suffocate.

Comment by Anna Herrington on May 14, 2018 at 7:18am

Really enjoyed this post this morning! and I'm still participating in the challenge too, just having started new job it might take me awhile to get them going..... 15th? tomorrow? not so sure about that, as far as my postings go... I mean, I'm sure I won't make any 15th deadline but hopefully still in May I'll post. If there was pushback about the challenge I missed it or forgot it already (thankfully).

This brings back so much as it does for all of us, no doubt, all the songs that accompanied your Vietnam experience were the songs of my childhood, the songs that raised me I often think as the lyrics of these songs and some others were my adult 'wisdom.' No one was home at my house except me (and Bobby McGee.... ha!). My brother was in Vietnam at the same time you were, but longer, another brother in California watering Joni Mitchell's plants while she was on the road, doing lighting at Monterey Pop a couple years earlier, playing music with The Beach Boys pre-fame, cooking at The Troubador - my sister in college. My siblings would send home albums. My 'parents.' : )

You give a good sense of the era here, I laughed at the skipping of The Carpenters. Thank you.

My husband is a Deadhead, I didn't get it either, until one show we went to together long past his heyday of endless Dead shows and cassette recordings. That day the music snaked into and up my spine and I suddenly 'got it.' No drugs were involved..... but a certain letting go was necessary, a letting go most never do...including me.

Glad you made it home.

Comment by Rodney Roe on May 14, 2018 at 7:31am

As far as Roadhouse Blues is concerned, someone taught me to do the 'blues shuffle' at some point.  It creates a tension by creating a hybrid chord suggesting that you are going somewhere, but then you stay on the same chord.  Often times you don't even go to the turnaround chord.  It's not my 'fave' but it works for some blues.  That may be what the Doors was doing.  They were an interesting group of musicians with varied backgrounds.  Apparently, they came to practice, someone said I've been working on this and they developed it without a lot of internal conflict.  Morrison, though, was a charismatic loose cannon.

Comment by J.P. Hart on May 14, 2018 at 7:33am

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

― G.K. Chesterton

Learned at the Captain Lance P. Sijan Memorial Plaza . . .

Comment by alsoknownas on May 14, 2018 at 7:39am

I spent more time in the 70's listening to and learning to play music from 20 to 40 years old, and don't get nostalgic at all for the music of that era.

I did see the Eugene favorites in concert several times and walked out bored each time. It was the over the top self absorption that got to me.

oh well...perhaps that was silly too. Nobody made me listen and for that I am grateful. I prefer my own beat.

Comment by Rodney Roe on May 14, 2018 at 9:52am

aka, I confess to not knowing what or who the Eugene favorites are.

I played with two other guitarists for five years.  We had three different styles and played swing and western swing.  I learned a lot from them and then Eddy died and that ended that.  The music from the 30s and 40s was fun to play.  Playing has always been a hobby for me, and the most I ever got paid was a bottle of wine.


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