Rock and roll and politics @ the RNC
“Fighting soldiers from the sky, fearless men who jump and die, men who mean just what they say, the brave men of the Green Beret.”
Those words belong to Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, whose 1966 “The Ballad of the Green Berets” honored Green Beret James Gabriel, Jr., the first native Hawaiian killed in Vietnam.
Fans of the song said it sent a positive message to soldiers and supporters of the Vietnam War, coming at a time when some historians suggest that political strife in the U.S. was at its highest.
Well, political strife is rampant during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week, as protestors by the thousands demonstrate outside the Quicken Loans Arena.
But for three Republican delegates from South Carolina – Kathy Davis, Suzettte Jordan and Linda Garner – visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum on Wednesday morning and listening to Sadler’s lyrics was a time to contemplate the political discord of a half-century ago.
“It was telling the story of war and how many Green Berets did not get to come home,” Davis said, reflecting on her memories of America’s reactions to the Vietnam War.
Sadler’s song is part of a joint exhibit by the Hall of Fame and the Newseum of Washington, D.C., called “Louder Than Words: Rock, Power & Politics.” The museum, which has drawn more than 10 million visitors in its 21-year-history, is welcoming the influx of people in town for the Republican National Convention.
Delegates, guests, media, and convention goers have taken advantage of the free admission that the Hall of Fame is offering during this convention week.
The lyrics of “The Ballad of the Green Berets” are just some of several songs highlighted to represent the divisiveness of the Vietnam War. Others include Edwin’s Starr’s “War” (1970), Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” (1970), and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” (1969).
Todd Mesek, vice president of marketing and communications for the museum, said the Vietnam showcase is one of the most powerful in the exhibit.
“When you look at what happened in Vietnam, everyone knows that the Vietnam War has a connection to music,” he said. “It’s easy to look back 40, 50 years and say that the history books have been written on the Vietnam War. It was a bad idea and it wasn’t a shiny moment for the U.S.
“But at the time,” he continued, “you would talk to people and it wasn’t so clear--people were polarized, people were on the opposite sides of the aisle.”
Mesek said that today’s America isn’t so different.
“You have artists like Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) and Chuck D (Public Enemy) playing last night and protesting against Donald Trump, but you also have artists like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kid Rock who are advocating for the conservative side, for the Republican side,” Mesek said.
According to ethnomusicologist Kathryn Metz, the exhibit attempts to disprove the notion that rock and roll is dominated by left-leaning artists and lyrics. It lays out artifacts and memorabilia by presidential administrations, not events or themes.
“Rock and Roll really has been political from its inception, regardless of what side you’re on,” said Metz, who has worked at the Hall of Fame for eight years as manager of education outreach.
The exhibit includes item’s such as the guitar used by John Lennon in 1969 to record “Give Peace a Chance” and the outfit worn by Bruce Springsteen on the cover of his “Born in the U.S.A.” album in 1984.
Joyce Chandler, a native of Grayson, Georgia, and guest of a delegate, was exploring the exhibit Wednesday and said that she thinks that what musicians and songwriters do aligns well with what politicians do.
“I think music should play a role [in politics] because music expresses feelings better than just words,” she said. “I think of the political arena is as something where people involved have a lot of very strong feelings.”