For Our Fathers …
… and those who loved them.
On December 13, 1967, my father was killed in Vietnam. He had been a career soldier, but was still a young man at the time of his death, only 34. I’d like to think I have long since recovered from the trauma I felt as a ten year old boy, but perhaps we never heal completely. Certainly, from time to time there are reminders.
Fast forward to 1991. I myself was 34 and working for Elektra records at the time and there was an artist by the name of Billy Bragg on the label. I was working a Billy Bragg show in Denver when I first heard him sing “Tank Park Salute”. I remember standing backstage, listening to Billy’s lyrics and his moving, subdued presentation. My eyes swelled and I became very emotional, so much so that I had to retreat to the shadows for nearly half an hour before while I composed myself. It remains the single most intense reaction to art that I have ever experienced. I have since listened to the song hundreds of times, and I always think about my Dad and that night more than 18 years ago.
Fast forward again to just a few days ago, when I learned that my friend Ian’s father had succumbed to cancer. I didn’t know Alf but I can tell you he did a bang-up job raising Ian. The son offered a simple, understated tribute to the father, with a link to “Tank Park Salute”, yes, the same song that has moved me so many times during my lifetime. Please take a look and have a listen here.
I am often asked how it is I came to be in China. Of course there are many reasons but one thing I have come to realize is that I am exorcising some demons here. Something to do with dad and Vietnam and communism and religion and probably twenty other somehow related things. I think, for the most part anyway, it’s working.
For the fathers from the sons …
Tank Park Salute
Kiss me goodnight and say my prayers
Leave the light on at the top of the stairs
Tell me the names of the stars up in the sky
A tree taps on the window pane
That feeling smothers me again
Daddy is it true that we all have to die
At the top of the stairs
I closed my eyes and when I looked
Your name was in the memorial book
and what had become of all the things we planned
I accepted the commiserations
Of all your friends and your relations
But there’s some things I still don’t understand
You were so tall
How could you fall?
Some photographs of a summer’s day
A little boy’s lifetime away
Is all I’ve left of everything we’ve done
Like a pale moon in a sunny sky
Death gazes down as I pass by
To remind me that I’m but my father’s son
I offer up to you
I offer up to you
This tank park salute