The longest stretch I get to listen to music these days is on Sunday morning, when I make pancakes for a certain toddler who seems to recoil when I try to play anything I love from Radiohead or Bettye Lavette in the living room. Happily, I make those pancakes in the kitchen, and before I measure out even a teaspoon of flour, I turn the radio on to WKCR to hear some gospel. This weekend things will be a bit different, not just because it’s Shavuot—I’ll be at my sister’s in Jersey, natch, where I don’t control the audio—but also because Memorial Day is upon us.
Here’s a playlist in honor of the American soldiers who have given their lives in seemingly countless wars:
We begin with what is surely the cheeriest song having anything to do with battlefields—“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” made famous by The Andrews Sisters. Here’s a version that was popularized by our very own Divine Miss M.:
And here’s the funkiest war-related number (as odd as that may sound), Edwin Starr’s “War:”
From there, Memorial Day-related songs take a dire turn, as perhaps they should. Here’s Bob Dylan, arguably one of our greatest contemporary sages, warbling his classic, “Masters of War:”
And music obsessives might enjoy Pearl Jam’s riveting take on Dylan’s classic:
“Masters of War” isn’t the only swing Monsieur Dylan has taken at the military-industrial complex. For example, there’s also “Two Soldiers:”
And “Blowin in the Wind:”
It’s clear to me, that if anyone was an inspiration to Bob Dylan other than Woody Guthrie, it’s got to be Pete Seeger. Among other classics, here’s Seeger’s sob-inducing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?:”
Indulge me. Let’s jump the pond for a moment and head to Belgium, where singer-songwriter Jacques Brel gives us “Au Suivant.” In it, Brel, an immense talent, describes soldiers queuing up at Army whorehouses. Mort Shuman and Eric Blau provide a riveting English translation, as “Next.” Listen here.
Brel is also the genius behind “The Port of Amsterdam,” interpreted by his excellency Mr. David Bowie:
Consider this: poetry is a form of music. So Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est,” will break the strong man at the circus with its graphic depictions of the brutality of war. Listen to it here.
And if you want to read a war poem, give e.e. cummings’s “next to of course god America” a try. I had to memorize this poem in High School and I haven’t forgotten it. Read it here.
And finally, there’s Suzanne Vega’s “The Queen and the Soldier.” Her song depicts the cruel fate that befalls so many soldiers as if it was all a terrible fairy tale:
I’ll listen to this playlist some time on Monday, which is Memorial Day, and likely when I’ll be cleaning up after dinner when all young children are sound asleep. Of course, you can listen—or read—whenever suits you: while getting ready for your picnic; driving to visit the graves of fallen soldiers; or sitting around contemplating your own blessed existence while weeping for all those who’ve died far from their families, and far from peace.
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