From the way that Vietnam is portrayed in movies,
you might think that every C-130 blasted “Purple Haze” on a loop. But the music from that era was far more than that iconic Jimi Hendrix gem, as an extensive new exhibition at the Newseum reveals. As part of “Reporting Vietnam,” the museum has assembled a kiosk of music from that time. The roster of 40 songs includes the expected songs of protest (Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” Country Joe and the Fish’s “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag”) as well as occasional anthems of support (Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Berets”). Then there are more generalized anthems to youthful uprising (The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” the Beatles’ “Revolution”) and songs of the civil rights struggle (Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” James Brown’s “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud”). But the kiosk also includes titles directly considered part of the Vietnam songbook. Here are 10.
The first hit from the made-for-TV band the Monkees is about a soldier leaving for Vietnam who admits, “I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.”
Buffalo Springfield’s biggest hit was sparked by youth riots on L.A.’s Sunset Strip, though it could be adapted to war protest: “Young people speakin’ their minds, gettin’ so much resistance from behind.”
Pete Seeger’s metaphor of a quagmire to describe the war wasn’t lost on CBS censors, who cut his performance of the song from “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in 1967.
In this popular song from Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, written by Mel Tillis, a veteran of “that old crazy Asian war . . . whose legs are bent and paralyzed” pleads with his woman to stay home.
In this 1969 hit, written by Jimmy Webb, Glen Campbell sings of a soldier’s homesickness for his home town: “While I watch the cannons flashing, I clean my gun and dream.”
This Creedence Clearwater Revival song about privileged people who get out of military service (“I ain’t no senator’s son”) was notably played last fall by Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl and Zac Brown at a Veterans Day concert on the Mall.
Merle Haggard’s hippie-hating tune notes that in their town, “we don’t burn no draft cards” and “we still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse.”
The most recent song in the collection, from Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” addresses the futility of war in general: “We’re only ordinary men . . . it’s not what we would choose to do.”
Marvin Gaye’s enduring song speaks to street justice but pauses to advise LBJ: “Father, father, we don’t need to escalate/ You see, war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate.”
The explosive song from “Band of Gypsys” delivers a visceral sense of warfare and is the sole Jimi Hendrix choice in the exhibition — not “Purple Haze.”
Catlin is a freelance writer.
Reporting Vietnam Through Sept. 12, 2016, at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 202-292-6100. www.newseum.org.