My Attempt To End War Like Arlo Guthrie

This key statue, called Canada Bereft, confirms Vimy’s sense of “never again” and not of “glory.”

This is Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans’ Day in the States. If you’ve never seen the Canadian monument at Vimy Ridge, it is an enormous, beautiful, monument that pays tribute to the courage of  the Canadian and allied soldiers who died there 100 years ago in and around deep trenches fighting the Imperial German Army. I visited it in 2009 and took the above photo. Then, it was about “never again.” Now we have politicians using Vimy to glorify Canada’s coming of age. Having “come of age,” Canadian troops are  part of a super-aggressive NATO in – wait for it – Latvia. Latvia, for Pete’s sake! ‘Nuff said here. I digress.

Anyway, this post is about a song I wrote in 1983, when I learned that the Russians  had so many ICBM missiles pointed at them so close that a Russian human could never respond to an American first strike in time to retaliate.

Vulnerable because of this proximity, Russia was forced to develop a computerized “launch on warning” system that would virtually, for them, take the decision out of human hands. Very scary…

The Nuclear Doomsday Clock got to 3 minutes before midnight in 1984.

So, to “save the world” like Arlo Guthrie, I wrote this country blues song called Radiatin’ A-bomb Blues and started contacting publishers. In those days we mailed them cassettes

In 1984 this light-hearted song was pitched by Mark Altman of Morning Music to Doc Watson for his Sugar Hill blues project, but it was heard too late to be considered. I performed it also live on the CBC’s Metro Morning radio program and was interviewed by its host Joe Coté, one of my all-time favourite CBC Radio people.

Then by 1991, the Cold War over, the Doomsday Clock had been moved back to 17 minutes before midnight.

I stopped singing this song, and look whats happened since!

Its now two and one half minutes to midnight, just 30 measly seconds farther than the closest it’s ever been!

So here is my 1983 song, which I sang again on Thursday. I asked the audience to sing the chorus with me and they DID. One of my listeners reminded me that Arlo said “If you want to end war and stuff, you gotta sing LOUD.”

So it would be lovely if, while you’re listening to my song you can sing along as loud on the chorus as you can:

I got the low down, radiation’ A-bomb blues…

Sing anything you want. Just sing, and LOUD…

Here’s Arlo’s Alice’s Restaurant

And Eric Bogle’s And the Band Played Waltzin’ Matilda is, to me, the finest anti-war song ever written. Have a listen…

 

Ram Goat Liver

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Leighton “Pluto” Shervington

Born in 1950 Jamaica, a talented bass player and songwriter, Pluto Shervington, had this really big hit song, Ram Goat Liver, in the mid 1970’s. It is one of my favourite Jamaican songs and I occasionally do it for some of the people I sing for in the local hospital. It gets anyone within earshot moving and, if they know it and some do, singing and smiling along.

The song’s “singability” (making its composition seem deceptively effortless) and Shervington’s gift for telling a superb, hilarious, naturally colloquial story, set it apart for me.

It took him a week to write, after getting the idea from a fellow Kingston songwriter, Ernie Smith, who had already had a couple of hit songs of his own. On his way to the old Federal Records studio Ernie had watched a minibus hit and kill a goat on the road.  A fellow observer said, casually “All we need now is a pound of rice…”

Verse one really pulls me in:

Sunday gone I jump on a minibus; I really late but it’s not my fault

An as we nearly reach by de terminus, I feel the bus come to a halt…

‘Ee lick a ram goat down by de roundabout, an’ just as if dat would not, suffice

A bredda run through de bus an’ start to shout

You shoulda dead mek we buy a poun’ of rice!

Then the chorus:

Ram goat liver good fi mek mannish water.

Billy goat teet’ mek de earring for your daughter.

Curry goat lunch put de bite in your bark;

It mek your daughter… it mek your daughter walk and talk.

Like many songs from the West Indies, there’s some double entente in the chorus. For example, mannish water is considered a male aphrodisiac.

Anyway, in the song a cook-up actually occurs, and the storyteller ends up suffering some discomforting embarrassment after consuming some of the pot’s contents:

Before too long you no ha fi ask – a runny belly like a Judgement Day…

You can find the YouTube version with lyrics here.

Another hilarious song from Pluto: Your Honour. In it he is in court for “fooling around” in the wrong bedroom. His defence:

Me two hands dey was occupied: me shirt in me lef’ an’ me pants in me right!

And why not check out his 1974 hit, Dat, about a poor Rasta who could only afford to buy pork at the butcher shop but has communication problems because he will not let the forbidden word pass his lips…

Lili Marlen 1915-2015

Photo Credit - Corey Padgett
Photo Credit – Corley Padgett

This video, Lili Marlen 1915-2015,  is my new, and lyrically different, English version of the hugely iconic song, originally recorded in German by Lale Andersen in 1939. Her recording was much loved by soldiers from both sides in World War II and became the sign-off song for Radio Belgrade in German-occupied Yugoslavia.

The song was originally a 1915 poem written by Hans Leip, a teacher who was conscripted into the German Imperial Army. It was set to music in 1938 by Norbert Schultze. It was so loved by soldiers from both sides that Andersen recorded it in English in 1942.  Soldiers relate deeply to this wistful, iconic song.

The version I offer here tries to be faithful to the original German lyric, though I have modified it slightly for poetic and other reasons. It is quite different from Vera Lynn’s English version and, I think, has a better resonance with what Hans Leip originally wrote 100 years ago. This version also tries to completely express a broader set of the subtle complexities associated with precarious, long-distance, wartime relationships.

I didn’t start out to write yet another version of this piece, already done by stars like Vera Lynn and Marlene Dietrich. It just happened. Here’s how…

I sing songs in different languages and just wanted to know the meaning of the German words. A patient in a local hospital sang it for me in German while I accompanied her on the guitar… M’s performance moved me very much and I wanted somehow to honour what she had felt. I had trouble finding a literal translation, and entering it whole left Google Translate, and me, thoroughly confused. After a long time “parsing” each individual word the stuff started to make sense and making it rhyme accidentally became part of the process. Listening to the German performance by Marlene Dietrich was very helpful, as I had not yet found Lale Anderson. Happy with the result, I recorded it and asked Corley Padgett (Flicker: hornedfrog4life) if she would let me use her superb, copyrighted photo as background for the lyrics. Corley immediately agreed to help, and the rest, as they say, is history.

And, speaking of history, 2015 is the 100th Anniversary of the writing of the poem.

Lady – Lyrics and Chords

For this song, another great one by Lionel Ritchie that was requested by a patient at the hospital where I volunteer, I owe the excellent chording to this great link on the ultimate-guitar.com website. All I did was do a little editing on the lead sheet (minor changes and placing the chords as close as possible over the syllables that match the changes – plus changing the font to Times New Roman – the genius here is in the work shown on ultimate-guitar.com. It saved me a lot of work on a beautifully arranged piece made famous by this masterful interpretation by Kenny Rogers.  You can play along with Kenny if you capo up one fret:
LadyHere’s another great performance of the song by Lionel and Kenny – there’s a wonderful, hilarious prelude on how the song was written told by Kenny, who appeared to be roasting Richie on MGM’s Red Carpet.