Marine Corps Iraq vet Jimmie Rose tore it up on America’s Got Talent the other night. Pure country from the coalfields of Kentucky–“Four days after high school graduation, I went underground” he puts it–Rose sang a song that didn’t mention the war, but in the accompanying interview he related that he joined the Marines because it couldn’t possibly be more dangerous than work in the mines. Here’s to him, for he’s got a charming “aw shucks” demeanor and a voice to die for. His song, “Coal Keeps the Lights On,” won’t win any kudos from eco-warriors, but amply illustrates the perspective of a demographic that doesn’t have the luxury of picking-and-choosing its means of making a living.
Country is the music of choice for huge swaths of the American military and acoustic guitars by the thousands manage to survive the rigors of travel to help country-loving soldiers while away their deployments. A good example is the following video by Zac Charles, filmed live from a FOB in Paktika Province, Afghanistan. It’s called “Until I Get Home.”
Neither Rose’s nor Charles’ politics are confrontational, but other vets use their music to channel their misgivings about the war, express the pain of their service, and plea for the cause of wounded and damaged fellow soldiers. A good example is Jason Moon’s “Trying to Find My Way Home”:
Some ex-soldiers put their military experience as far in the rear-view mirror as they possibly can. The music they make betrays few traces of their past lives in the military and overseas. Emily Yates, for example, after six years in the Army and two tours in Iraq, moved to San Francisco, hippy-fied herself, and now has filled up YouTube with music videos extolling the greatness of marijuana. We’ll pass on those and post one that actually does have her looking back: her rendition of the 3rd Infantry Division’s great fight song “Dogface Soldier,” done here in an anti-war mode:
After a lifetime of music listening, I can probably name five songs combined by Tupac, Biggie, Jay-Z, and Kanye. That’s nothing to be proud of, but I don’t feel like I’m actually all that unknowing about hip-hop music and culture. That’s because on all my deployments, I’ve been witness to many amazing freestyle spoken-word battles among young (mostly) black soldiers and played plenty of basketball in makeshift gyms with the throbbing beats and ominous lyrical flow of the inner city musical idiom blasting over the sound system. An example of how hip-hop permeates the everyday life of deployed soldiers can be found in the video below. Hip-hop artist Chamillionaire on a tour of Iraq invites Specialist “Rap” Myers to join him in an impromptu performance in a FOB gym or morale, welfare, and recreation center:
The ex-soldier I know of making the most determined effort to turn his deployment experience into a hip-hop career is Soldier Hard. Here’s his most watched video on YouTube, “Combat Veteran.”
To all the soldiers who are also music-makers: Don’t stop.