Monday, March 06, 2023

This Year: 1979

"This Year" is a series of weekly posts, each about one song from one year of my life. See the introduction for more.

This is not the first big anti-war song I heard: I know that. I grew up in the '70s, and Vietnam-era music was all around, slowly turning from hot anger into sweet nostalgia. All that was on the radio, all the Fortunate Sons and Alice's Restaurants. I got the Woodstock soundtrack not long afterward, and I'm pretty sure that's where I heard the Fish chant, not on the radio.

Kids are reflexively anti-war, I like to think. They live in a simpler moral universe, to begin with. And, selfishly, my generation was anti-war because we knew the draft was still active and we could see the Cold War heating and cooling around the world - a few years after this, a lot of boys my age thought huge swaths of us would end up fighting and dying somewhere in Latin America, like those before us did in Vietnam and Korea and so on. The fact that it didn't happen doesn't retroactively make anything better, doesn't take away the fear and doom of all the years before.

But that's all background. The point of this song isn't that it's anti-war; it's that it's personal. Sure: personal isn't the same as important, in Pratchett's phrase, but personal can be powerful, especially when the singer is singing his own words.

This song gives me a visceral reaction, even now, even forty years later. I am forced to cry, at least a bit, at the end, every time I hear it. Sometimes even just thinking about it.

For 1979, my song is When the Tigers Broke Free by Pink Floyd, the song that was too personal and jagged to make it onto The Wall record but did get into the subsequent movie. I had it on a single - I have no memory, now, or when or how I bought it, but I had to specifically put that one song on to play, and knew what it would do to me, and yet I did it.

It's a story-song, and I gather that it's basically true: this is what happened to Roger Waters' father, and he made it into a song about what happened to "Pink's" father for The Wall project.

What I've always taken from it is this: even the most justifiable war, even the violence that can't be avoided, even the best possible case for fighting - it all leads to inevitable, wrenching tragedy. No one is whole afterward.

"And that's how the High Command took my daddy from me." 

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