We Gotta Get Out of This Place
The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War
Author Doug Bradley, Craig Werner
Narrated by Sean Runnette
Publication date June 6, 2017
Running time 10 hrs 12 min
Courtesy Tantor Media
When I was in 10th grade, around 1977, there was a substitute history teacher for one semester. She was younger than most teachers at the school and very cool. For two weeks, we did nothing but listen to music. She checked out a turntable and brought in a bunch of her albums. She played various songs for us and then we talked about them. After my classmates and I commented on the beat or the singer’s voice, she would chide us, “but what about the lyrics?”. She taught us to critically analyse the lyrics of music. What she was playing for us were protest songs. None of us ever knew you could protest other than carrying a sign when the local teamsters were on strike. It was a powerful lesson. One I taught my children using music from each period of history we studies in their pre-college education.
We Gotta Get Out of This Place The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War by Doug Bradley and Craig Werner presents the role of music in the lives of those fighting, working in support roles and protesting the war. For many a particular song was a link to their far away family and home. Other songs gave them a way to express their fear for their lives and their anger at being in a situation that made no sense no matter how it was viewed. The book does a good job of including women who served in VietNam in the discussions.
The authors also explore how the different types of music exposed the racial divide among the troops. Some soldiers found the different music as a way to learn more about each other while others used it as barrier to keep other the “other”. As the Armed Forces Radio refused to allow many popular songs to be played on their network, a string of underground radio stations sprung up with GI’s sharing their own albums over a radio frequency. The tent with the turntable and albums was the most popular tent in the evening.
Many bands from Japan and the Philippines came to VietNam to tour doing concerts for the troops. Soldiers remember the band members only knew the English lyrics to the songs. One of the unique aspects of the book are the “Solos”. A Solo is an extended quote by one of the soldiers about a particular topic. It is not just a line or a paragraph. It is longer and more in depth. It is an excellent way to allow the veteran to really tell their own story.
The last section of the book deals with the role of the same music after the soldiers returned from VietNam. It was a way of connecting with the memories of the friends they lost and those still overseas. As PTSD was finally recognized as a legitimate condition, the music became a way for veterans to connect with each other. It also provided a way to ease into the discussion of difficult topics.
Sean Runnette does a very good job narrating the book. He has a pleasant voice. When he is narrating a soldier’s memories, he conveys their emotions well, especially the individuals with a sense of humor. I would seek him out as a narrator again.
Throughout history music has provided a lens through which to view events. Ken Burns is premiering his newest documentary this fall which happens to be a VietNam. Now is the time to list to this amazing book. It will enhance your understanding of the soundtrack Burns uses and your understanding of the power of music in the lives of those who served in VietNam.