Guest Author - Jeff Valentine
The decision to bring music to war is a personal one. Just as personal as the choices in the type of music, and the bands brought along for the ride, whether they know it or not. Every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine has THE album or THE song that gets him or her through tough days and sometimes-tougher nights.
Most people probably don't realize that those songs change with the person listening to them. A lyric's meaning for a soldier before the war may mean something completely different during and after combat, regardless of what the song writer and band preferred the song to mean.
During war, music becomes a muse AND a wooby; that comfortably blanket one turns to as a child. In this case it's a blanket of sound, an escape, a way to pump yourself and your compadres WAY up for whatever mission is coming. It's a solace, a good friend from far away, and an outlet for the fear and the rage and the confusion and the reality of death, destruction, reality, loss, and victory. Yes, that's not a mistake...the reality of reality.
Once the war is over for the individual, that music can still provide these things. Or it can be a direct pathway to sights, smells, thoughts, feelings, and experiences that might have been dormant; for better and for worse.
The music I brought with me to Iraq was an eclectic mix. I often would find myself listening to the same CD over and over for weeks at a time. There were a few different CD's that enjoyed this heavy rotation.
Just today I listened to an album that I hadn't heard since my time in Iraq. It happened to be "Beautiful Midnight" by the Matthew Good Band.
The emotions were unexpected.
As soon as I put the music on I was transported back to Baqubah, Iraq.
It was hotter than Hades there (I once saw 152 degrees on my Suunto watch). The dusty sand was so deep near the airfield that it would often reach over the tops of my boots. I had never sweat so much in my life up until that point.
Baqubah was my introduction to the real war. The unit next to mine was callsign
"DeathDealer". This was the place where I was first shot at. This was the place were I was first mortared by the enemy. This was the place where I discovered anger for the nameless and faceless people trying to kill me.
It was in Baqubah that I worked with some of the most squared away, rock solid professionals that I have ever had the honor to work with, before or since. There were some morons, too. There always are. Most of these people are still living and breathing, and some of them are back in Iraq again, years later as I write this. Others are dead, and hopefully peace has found them at last.
And through it all was Matt and his Band with their 'Beautiful Midnight'. The titles of his songs and the accompanying lyrics somehow jived perfectly with my surroundings:
"Hello Time Bomb"
"Load Me Up"
"Let's Get It On"
"Going All The Way"
"A Boy And His Machine Gun"
"The Future Is X-Rated"
"Born to Kill"
"Running For Home"
To name a few.
"Suburbia" seems to get to me the deepest. Now as I write this and...then, in the shittiest place I could imagine, sitting in a hot tent on a cot with ravenous white flies and alien inspired camel spiders.
"You can stay alive and wait for me...
there ain't nothin' here at all...
another month a year, that's all...
who's coming with me....
someday this place is gonna burn...
it's your life in there waiting...
someday the heads are gonna turn...
Now...I don't know exactly what Matt and the Band thought when they wrote and recorded their album years before my war, and I even think that Matthew himself is not a supporter of the war, but the lyrics spoke to me as much then as they do today.
I only ended up staying in that god-forsaken place for a month or so. My fellow soldiers rotated in and out for the rest of the next year.
My thanks to them for their sacrifices.
Thanks to the Matthew Good Band for getting me though a challenging chapter in my war and my life, whether it was by fate or by accident.
This soldier turned to music while at war. Maybe you or someone else you know did the same. I encourage you to send me your song or band or album that saw you through combat...or is seeing you through combat as we "speak".
Don't hesitate to add to the Veterans Forum at http://veterans.bellaonline.com or email the Veterans Editor directly.
Enjoy the music out there.