Know you ain’t going anywhere

Not sure there are any light reads about the Vietnam War.

It’s been years since I read Michael Herr’s “Dispatches,” but I vividly remember that taking forever.

Perhaps it’s the constant reminder — then as now — that there, for the grace of the timing of my birth, go I, and how would I have handled all that. (For the record, I was too young for Vietnam. Saigon fell and the war ended seven weeks before I turned 18.)

My Christmas wish list had two books on it, one of them about Vietnam.

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place book

“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” examines how American soldiers — white, black, Latino, Native — deeply identified with music and used it to cope while serving in Vietnam in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Our Christmas tree is long gone from the living room, yet I’m still slogging through that book. Maybe it’s best read with all those songs playing in the background.

You also bog down when you come to a passage like this, the story of a soldier named Jeff Dahlstrom, who arrived in Vietnam in September 1970:

“Music played a major part in the sensory overload of Saigon, where Dahlstrom went frequently. … No surprise that Dahlstrom’s memories of the Saigon streets were stirred by the appropriately titled ‘Stoned in Saigon’ by a largely forgotten English group named Free.”

Huh?

It’s a simple mistake by the authors, yet a jolt for those who notice it. “Stoned in Saigon” was released in 1970 by a largely forgotten English group named Fresh.

Don’t think anyone would argue that the great English blues-rock group Free is largely forgotten.

That said, Free isn’t among the many artists mentioned by Vietnam veterans and cited by authors Doug Bradley and Craig Werner, both of whom teach at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Little was “All Right Now” about Vietnam in 1970, when that song also came out.

Still, you wonder whether American soldiers heard and identified with another Free song. Especially one that in early 1973, with the war slogging on and American support for it waning, said:

Take off your hat
Kick off your shoes,
I know you ain’t going anywhere.
Run ’round the town
Singing your blues
I know you ain’t going anywhere.

and

Throw down your gun
You might shoot yourself,
Or is that what you are tryin’ to do,
Put up a fight
You believe to be right
And someday the sun will shine through.

and

But I know what you’re wishing for
Love and a peaceful world.

free heartbreaker lp

“Wishing Well,” Free, from “Heartbreaker,” 1973. Also available digitally.

3 Comments

Filed under February 2016, Sounds

3 responses to “Know you ain’t going anywhere

  1. I want to read that book. ‘Dispatches’ is a long-time favorite.

  2. Nice story, Jeff. Have to say I’ve never forgotten Free and their song, “All Right Now.” I had not, however, heard “Wishing Well.” As for Fresh… I can’t recall hearing them or “Stoned in Saigon,” even though I was actively protesting the war at that time.

  3. jb

    I am in the middle of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” right now. I think it’s probably required reading for people who enjoy this blog and other blogs like it. I am learning that the role of popular music in the lives of Vietnam soldiers was a lot more complex than I thought it was.

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