Protest Songs

upsidedownflagAs I flipped on the news today, I heard yet another story about the war.  This one was all too familiar in it’s ending, it involved a double Afghan agent, a bombing, a local Massachusetts man among multiple dead, and a wife and children left behind to cope. This story got me to thinking about the family left behind and then I was reminded of a song.

If I were to ask a question about music in contrast with the topic of war, I think most people would first conjure up protest songs. Songs from Dylan, Lennon, Neil Young… 4 Dead in Ohio, Eve of Destruction, etc. Perhaps, they would answer songs from Toby Keith, who would like to put a boot in the ass of somebody ‘Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue’. Maybe, just maybe… they would associate it with a pro-war song, Over There,  written by George Cohan,  a call to arms song for men to Europe and do their duty.

Jason Isbell (formerly of the Drive By truckers) recently reminded me of another type of song about war, and that is about the personal one: the human cost of war and it’s impact on those left behind. It is a strange phenomenon and a great feat to write a song that is filled with such honesty and emotion about a topic  so sad, that the song in itself becomes beautiful. Jason Isbell has accomplished this with his song Dress Blues, a tribute to his friend Matt Conley who was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol in Iraq.

Jason is one of the most original songwriters I have heard in recent years. His work, while a member of the Drive By Truckers, contain some of my favorite songs from the group. I look forward to hearing more of his work and to share this song and artist with you.

The purpose of this posting was not to bring protest to the war, but to highlight an artist that has tackled a difficult topic with music that is poignant and perhaps also healing. I challenge you to try and keep a dry eye while listening to this song. If you would like the back-story you can click here: Matt Conley

Dress Blues - Jason Isbell

What can you see from your window?
I can’t see anythin’ from mine
Flags on the side of the highway
And scripture on grocery store signs

Maybe eighteen was too early
Maybe thirty or forty is too
Did you get your chance to make peace with the man
Before He sent down his angels for you?

Mamas and grand mamas love you
‘Cause that’s all they know how to do
You never planned on the bombs in the sand
Or sleepin’ in your dress blues

Your wife said this all would be funny
When you got back home in a week
Turn twenty two and we’d celebrate you
In a bar or a tent by the creek

Your baby would just about be here
And your very last tour would be up
But you won’t be back, they’re all dressin’ in black
Drinkin’ sweet tea in Styrofoam cups

Mamas and grand mamas love you
American boys hate to lose
You never planned on the bombs in the sand
Or sleepin’ in your dress blues

The high school gymnasium’s ready
Full of flowers and old Legionnaires
Nobody showed up to protest
Just sniffle and stare

There’s red, white and blue in the rafters
And there’s silent old men from the Corps
What did they say when they shipped you away
To fight somebody’s Hollywood war?

Nobody here could forget you
You showed us what we had to lose
You never planned on the bombs in the sand
Or sleepin’ in your dress blues
You never planned on the bombs in the sand
Or sleepin’ in your dress blues

Here is a gut-wrenching, solo, acoustic performance from Austin, TX:

One Response to “Protest Songs”

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