My nephew Ben the scientist and musician gave me War on Drugs “Lost in the Dream” for Xmas. The card referenced “the eighties”. The original war of drugs was a Reagan-era effort to social engineer but backfired and enabled the organized crime syndicates, without doing much to help the junkies. It helped the prisons, and the private investors in such, I’m sure.
Maybe Adam Granduciel (Granofsky) is the voice of his generation, closer to Ben’s than mine, as I still look to Adam Duritz or John McCrea (more than Les Claypool) as people who epitomize the part of me that does not want to be co-opted, although I am getting a lot of mileage in recent times re-visiting Bob Marley and Nina Simone. And a bit of red herring but I finally bought Dennis McNally’s 2003 account of the full history of Grateful Dead. (Oddly my dad, 90, asked me the other day if I had ever presented GD; no, Dad, that was Bill Graham. I had Papa Mali sing a Jerry cover in Palo Alto once, and tried to do a listening party for an unearthed Mother McCree Uptown Jug Champions tape, but otherwise was late to party to cash in on Jerry).
There’s also a sixties era pun, the war, on drugs, which to me conjures the FFC version of Vietnam War, with the troops on drugs.
Meanwhile, coinkydinky or providence, I was in Mitchell Center using the share system and trying to screen or research the Bob Marley chestnut “War” which it turns out is a near-verbatim, literally, transformation of a Haille Selassie speech. Until we get beyond judging people by the color of their skin, and I am paraphrasing, there will be war. (War on bigotry, war on injustice). (And yeah, I’ve met the odd Eritrean who thinks of Selassie as a despot; it’s a big world).
As I sussed further, I realized that the famous or infamous Sinead O’Conner meltdown on SNL, where she offended Catholics by denouncing the Pope, actually featured a version of the same Marley song.
An overly pushy librarian castigated me for playing the song on my feeble smart phone; then I noticed an elder with a WWII cap with medals on it and and I chatted him up a bit; this, too, drew the ire of the librarian. No one was complaining, mind you, just he liked to enforce his rules. I felt the elder, given his service to our country, deserved better than the scolding.
My views on war are complicated and nuanced, but generally speaking we undervalue the effect of the war; why are there 7,000 Americans dead over Iraq and Afghanistan?
Until there is peace on earth and prosperity for all, we say war.
Here is WOD live on KEXP, same song, “Suffering”. My quick take is that they are from Philly and Brookly, Secretly Canadian, booked by Ryan Craven and maybe have some connection to UArts Philly which reminds me of Man-Man but this band is more mellow. like Dog or whatever. Last Drop. They have a list of guitar stores in their liner notes: Main Drag Music, Brooklyn; Richard’s Music, Lawrence, KS.
This is their fourth album and has 141 reviews on this site:
The music critic for the local Inquirer had it number one on his Top 10, while my favorites Spoon were only honorable mention: The year saw no better argument than this for the power and potential of the album as a musically cohesive piece of work. You don’t have to be a Philadelphia homer to put Lost in the Dream on top of your list. Adam Granduciel’s ebbing and flowing tour de force expertly moves from interior turmoil to the adrenaline release of the open road, drawing equally on classic-rock touchstones such as Dylan and Dire Straits and the trancey motorik beat of German bands like Kraftwerk and Neu! Album of the year.
War On Drugs is more of Nixon era mindset than Reagan, deeper rooted:
The War in Vietnam
From 1963 to the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, marijuana usage became common among U.S. soldiers in non-combat situations. Some servicemen also used heroin. Many of the servicemen ended the heroin use after returning to the United States but came home addicted. In 1971, the U.S. military conducted a study of drug use among American servicemen and women. It found that daily usage rates for drugs on a worldwide basis were as low as two percent. However, in the spring of 1971, two congressmen released an alarming report alleging that 15% of the servicemen in Vietnam were addicted to heroin. Marijuana use was also common in Vietnam. Soldiers who used drugs had more disciplinary problems. The frequent drug use had become an issue for the commanders in Vietnam, in 1971 it was estimated that 30,000 servicemen were addicted to drugs, most of them to heroin.
If this is not too big a pivot or reach here is the 1963 text of speech to UN by leader of Ethiopia that became years later a Bob Marley joint:
That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil. – Haile Selassie I
And here is the Marley’d version of the same set of i and i ideas:
Until the philosophy which hold one race superior / And another / Inferior / Is finally / And permanently / Discredited / And abandoned / -Everywhere is war – / Me say war.
That until there no longer / First class and second class citizens of any nation / Until the colour of a man’s skin / Is of no more significance / than the colour of his eyes / – Me say war.
That until the basic human rights / Are equally guaranteed to all, / Without regard to race / – Dis a war.
(compare to both “not one of my seed shall sit on the sidewalk and beg your bread” and “I feel like bombing a church, now that I know the preacher is lying”)
And I do not know if it is totally normal or a coincidence that as I clicked on this youtube video it offered me an advert for War On Drugs the same cd I am trying to review or gloss here. (And also, less than 2 months ago, at a panel of people running for Palo Alto City Council, I both read from and later sang a Billy Taylor-penned Nina Simone song: I wish I knew how it would feel to be free).
Sinead’s career basically fell off the tracks because of this, although with the more recent attention and acceptability about the Catholic church and its abuses, she was more like a prophet:
There’s also a riff about Kris Kristofferson standing by her, and singing with her, as she suffered a backlash — at a Bob Dylan tribute concert — and he says “Don’t let the bastards get you down”. I actually met KK’s son and grandson at the same Mitchell Center a few weeks back.
Sinead we learn in 2005 or 20 years later went to Jamaica Tuff Gong Studios and did a group of covers including “War” although it is not obvious whether she used the Marley/Selassie lyrics or her modified “child abuse” ones. Reminds me, if I can digress from further War on Drugs to Bob Marley to Sinead to other reggae RAS, I met Burning Spear in the Kennedy Airport while on tour and chatted him up although I had no idea who he was, I mistook him for the tour manager or personal manager for the band. He was very DIY and like “call me, me” for a gig but I mistook that for meaning that he was the manager. Of course an actual Burning Spear fan would have known him instantly. I think I said something as ridiculous as “I can tell you are a group of reggae musicians on tour, what is the name of your project?” To be clearer: there is no one in Pink Floyd named Pink, but Burning Spear is Burning Spear.
And this is pretty far from War on Drugs — or not – but if I say Man Man above I can say Mau Mau below — Winston Rodney is called Burning Spear in reference to the first president 1964 of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta, while Malcolm Welbourne of Shreveport and Austin is known as Papa Mali thanks to Burning Spear: war, we say war.