Thanks to an endless stream of news documentaries from the era, as well as movies like Apocalypse Now, we have a pretty good idea today of what our soldiers listened to back in the sixties to help them get through the Vietnam War.
Hendrix, or maybe The Doors anyone?
But while we have it ingrained into our collective subconscious that artists like that — along with the protest songs of people like Dylan, John Lennon, and the Buffalo Springfield — provided the soundtrack to that unpopular war, few of us have any idea how our boys escape through music in today's Iraq. Body Of War: Songs That Inspired An Iraq War Veteran, is a double disc set that provides just such a peek into the iPod of one Iraq veteran, Tomas Young.
Young's story is also the subject of a new documentary film — also called Body Of War. In the film, produced by Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro, we learn how Tomas signed up to defend his country in Afghanistan days after the 9/11 attacks, only to be shipped instead to Iraq.
Five days into his tour of duty there, Tomas was shot through the collarbone while on a mission in an uncovered, unarmored truck. There, he suffered a severed spinal cord which left him paralyzed from the chest down. The film chronicles the aftermath of this, as Tomas deals first with the depression, pain, and debilataing effects of the injury, and then eventually discovers new purpose as a voice against the war.
As something of an unofficial soundtrack to the film, Body Of War: Songs That Inspired An Iraq War Veteran is described by Tomas himself as a collection of the music that got him through the experience — from the combat he saw, to the physical and psychological aftermath. Every song that appears here was selected by Young himself.
The music on this collection cuts across a variety of genres, and even several time periods. Much of it is also music that will be recognized, such as John Lennon's Vietnam era protest "Gimme Some Truth," Bruce Springsteen's haunting "Devils And Dust," and Pearl Jam's live version of Dylan's "Masters Of War." There are also more modern antiwar anthems represented here in the form of Neil Young's "Restless Consumer" (from his infamous 2006 album Living With War), Bright Eyes' "When The President Talks to God," and Public Enemy's "Son Of A Bush."
Somewhat less known, but no less incendiary are songs like Lupe Fiasco's "American Terrorist," and Talib Kweli's "Bushonomics" performed with Princeton scholar Cornel West. Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder contributes a song written specifically for the documentary, "No More," which is performed live here with Ben Harper. Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello shows up here in his alter-ego as The Nightwatchman for "Battle Hymns." There are also brand new voices represented here such as singer/songwriter Brendan James, whose "Hero's Song" appears as the very first track on the collection.
From Tom Waits to System Of A Down to Bad Religion to Against Me!, this two CD set stands as a broad, genre-spanning collection of great music in its own right. And for anyone who wonders where are our own modern version of the sort of angry, indignant, and compelling protest music that energized the Vietnam generation is today, look no further.
Proceeds from Body Of War: Songs That Inspired An Iraq War Veteran will be donated to Iraq Veterans Against The War (IVAW), a non-profit organization founded in 2004, giving voice to Iraq veterans opposed to the war. Sire Records, the label who released this great, timely collection has also made a donation on Young's behalf of $100,000.