Glen Campbell

I’ve never been much of a country music fan, but I was saddened to read this today:

Glen Travis Campbell brought country music to new audiences. He found success as a session musician before embarking on a solo career that included smashes Gentle On My Mind, Galveston, Wichita Lineman and Rhinestone Cowboy and that landed him in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Campbell died Tuesday at 81, according to his Universal Music publicist Tim Plumley.

‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ Glen Campbell dies at 81 after Alzheimer’s battle

Lone soldier on guard, Vietnam, 1967

PFC John Sizemore, Co C, 1st Bn, 8th Inf, 1st Bde, 4th Inf Div, stands guard on Hill 742 as the sun sets in the background. Nov., 1967. Image credit: U.S. Army/Wikimedia

For me, Campbell’s hit Galveston will be the one I remember him by. It starts out sounding like a song about a man missing the place he grew up and a girl he used to know there. It’s not until the second verse:

While I watch the cannon flashing
And I clean my gun
And I dream of Galveston

Jimmy Webb – Galveston lyrics

that you realize it’s about a man who has gone away to war. Released in 1969, the song spoke to a generation of young men and women who were either involved in the Vietnam War, or worried they were going to be there soon. Unlike America’s recent wars, Vietnam was fought by draftees, men who were sometimes there because they had no choice.

According to the Wikipedia entry Galveston was meant as an anti-war song by its writer, Jimmy Webb. Even as Campbell sang it, though, Galveston was about the price of war on a personal level, and clearly from the point of view of a man who didn’t want to be there. For some of us, Galveston was about what it meant to fight for your country in a far-off place. For others, like me, it was a reminder that there is a terrible cost to war, and that we ought to be sure it’s worth that price before we send our young people to fight one.

Decades later, I still don’t think we’ve learned that lesson.

But we should thank Glen Campbell for trying to teach it to us, anyway. For that song and all the others he sang, he will be missed.


“I’ll Fight ‘Em As An Engineer”

Folk musician Pete Seeger died yesterday:

Pete Seeger, the man considered to be one of the pioneers of contemporary folk music who inspired legions of activist singer-songwriters, died Monday.

He was 94.

Seeger’s best known songs include “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)” and “If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song).”

But his influence extended far beyond individual hits.

Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger dies at 94

He inspired an article last July Fourth, which featured a video where he and some other musicians sang Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land Is Our Land“, including the more subversive verses that most people don’t get to hear. Thus, it’s perhaps not surprising that his passing inspired another one. Of the videos people have passed along to remember him by, this is the one I like best:

Can you guess why? Well, that, and many of the most important people in my life are women. They deserve the same breaks I got, if not more. Plus, anyone who has read what I’ve written about the economy in the last few years ought to know I appreciate the sad irony of the song’s author being hired because she would do the job for less than a man would. I think that one of the reasons, as that CNN article says, Seeger’s influence went far beyond his hit songs is that his humanity made him feel that way, too.

So long, Pete, we’ll miss ya.

Afterword/UPDATE: Maybe the most “influential” thing Pete Seeger ever did was to refuse to testify about his relationship (if any) to the Communist Party during the bad old days of the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC):

MR. SEEGER: I decline to discuss, under compulsion, where I have sung, and who has sung my songs, and who else has sung with me, and the people I have known. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American. I will tell you about my songs, but I am not interested in telling you who wrote them, and I will tell you about my songs, and I am not interested in who listened to them.

When Pete Seeger Faced Down the House Un-American Activities Committee

Those words took real courage to speak, the kind where he had to decide who he was and defend what he believed in, despite the very real risk of prison, or worse. He was sentenced to as much as ten years for refusing to answer questions that shouldn’t have been asked of him in the first place (see the article link for details of the sentence). The only good thing he knew would result from his testifying is that he had a better chance of looking himself in the mirror. Contrast that with faux progressives who whine about how tough it all is or billionaires who express fear that protesting their wealth will lead to fascism, and you realize that our public discourse, bad as it could be back then, has devolved even further since.