War Songs: Daniel Somers

While researching music made by service members in Iraq and Afghanistan and veterans upon their return, I learned of the death by suicide two weeks ago of Daniel Somers. Somers was an Army intelligence analyst who after two tours in Iraq settled in Phoenix and began making music as part of an arty post-rock outfit named Lisa Savidge. On the band’s Facebook page, Somers is given credit for “vocals, rhythm guitar, studio mastermind.” Lisa Savidge never broke out of the Arizona indie music scene, but exploring their music on YouTube and elsewhere on the web reveals a band with a distinctive vision and sound. Think, maybe, The National overlaid with Explosions in the Sky-like guitars. So, pretty esoteric stuff, not for the masses, but I like it, and the band is tight and the recording immaculate. Two examples will illustrate:

Appalachachas lyrics are obscure, but some band literature reports they are about the drudgery of touring. The video, which makes use of the Cold War documentary “The Challenge of Ideas,” suggests that the song’s interest is nationalist ideology and militarism. Either way, it is gorgeous.

Fire Exiting, according to Lisa Savidge’s Facebook page, is about the “aftermath of war.”

Which brings us to the long suicide note left by Somers, large portions of which can be found in this Phoenix New Times obituary written by Melissa Fossum. The note castigates the military for first taking him to war and then abandoning him afterwards as he slid into abject physical and mental pain. Fossum writes sympathetically, in part based on her understanding of Lisa Savidge’s interest and importance. In another Phoenix New Times article published two years ago, Fossum and Somers together advanced a claim for how contemporary indie rock informed and defined the Iraq conflict:

Musically, the Vietnam War era is remembered through “All Along the Watch Tower,” “American Woman,” “War Pigs,” and Hot Rocks-era Rolling Stones — the sort of heavily bluesified rock songs you’ll hear in Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. Odd as it may seem, future generations may think Operation Iraqi Freedom sounds like Franz Ferdinand, The White Stripes, and Modest Mouse.

 At least to Dan Somers, lead singer and guitarist for Phoenix indie band Lisa Savidge, who did two tours of duty in Iraq.

“We were literally rolling around lacing people up with a machine gun blasting The Killers’ Hot Fuss,” he says.

Yes, “Mr. Brightside” and all. The irony of fighting a war while indie rock songs like “All These Things That I’ve Done” (“I’ve gooot soul but I’m nooot a sooooldier”) play in the background is not lost on Somers.

“I admit that that’s a little bizarre, but that’s what it was. I hadn’t really gotten introduced to indie rock before that, so suddenly it became this part of my life in the most bizarre circumstances imaginable.”

Indie rock, to include a healthy helping of The Killers, was the soundtrack to my deployment, too, and I’m interested in how and why such music and the war connect.  But Somers’ taste and mine weren’t everyone’s, and in future posts, I’ll describe an Iraq and Afghanistan war musical landscape that also includes country, hip-hop, metal, and whatever else I can find. I also won’t miss a chance to explore the music about the war made by Iraqis and Afghans. But for now let’s pay tribute to a soldier-musician for whom the propulsive beats, edgy vocals, and chiming guitars of modern rock were the best way to make sense of what he had seen, who he had become, and where he wanted to go.

RIP Daniel Somers, survived by his wife Angeline. I wish things had been better for you and thank you for your service and music.

UPDATE: A 23 August 2013 Washington Post article on Daniel Somers

Daniel Somers

Daniel Somers

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