Top 5 Anti-War Songs

December 27, 2017

I’ve never been the “pro-war” type. I think there’s only been once or twice when it was truly justified (World War II, for example). And it’s always controversial.  As well it should be. But with growing tensions around the world due to a hawkish president throwing hissy fits over everything, it’s obviously been on my mind a lot, causing me to reflect on some of my favrotie anti-war tunes.

1. “Too Many Puppies” by Primus (1990)


This is an intense, heavy, freight train of a song. It’s chugging base line has the rhythm of marching feet, for obvious reasons. It’s a real “pump you up” kind of song. The type of shit you can lift weights to. But for all of its feeling of masculine aggression the song has a pacifist message to it. Now just what in the hell do “puppies” have to do with war? Let’s take a look at some lyrics. Here’s the second verse:

Too many puppies are taught to heel
Too many puppies are trained to kill
On the command of men wearing money belts
That buy mistresses sleek animal pelts

“Puppies”, in this case, is obviously referring to soldiers. In particular the ages of soldiers, especially enlisted soldiers, whose ages are often between 18 and 20. You’ve heard the expression “dogs of war”? This song turns that phrase on its head by calling them “puppies”. Puppies are young, impressionable, and easy to train. The song is about how young men are sent to die for the benefits of the wealthy. It’s about the loss of innocence, and how the “men” being sent to fight and die “for their country” are, in the grand scheme of things, still just kids. And what they're fighting for is really more about lining pockets than protecting freedom.

And if that doesn’t drive the point home, the music video is a teenager in a diaper getting his head shaved in a plain white room and then acting more and more animalistic. They’re not even being subtle about it.

2. “Hell Broke Luce” by Tom Waits (2011)


Poetic as usual, Tom Waits’ criticism of war focuses on the impact going to war has on a soldier’s thought process. The lyrics and music call to mind a cadence, each verse describing a horror witnessed and experienced during war. The dissonance of the music adds to the song’s central theme: PTSD. It talks about losing ones hearing because of a bomb, a friend forgetting to put on kevlar, and digging graves. It also delves into the impact of returning home, alludes to drug abuse and self medication, and being forgotten by the politicians who started the war and have used it to boost their own status.

One of the coolest elements of this song is the word play. The narrator is having independent thoughts, thinking about home and such, but a “connecting word” brings them right back into the war, and a mentality of following orders.. The opening line of the song, for example:

I had a good home but I left
I had a good home but I left, right, left

A later verse does a similar play:

Can I go home in March?

Every time they think about home, their mind is brought right back into the war. The thought process of who they were before the war is constantly interrupted by the “following orders” mindset. Another aspect the song focuses on is trying to come to grips with who you are after going to war, because it’s often not the same person you were before.

What did you do before the war?
I was a chef, I was a chef
What was your name?
It was Geoff, Geoff

The fact that these lines are in the past tense is devastating. Especially the second stanza. “What was your name?” Fucking brutal. “What did you do? What was your name?” This about coming to terms with what you’ve seen and what you’ve done, and trying to come to terms with how much those have changed you. Are you even the same person anymore? And what does the president give them in return? A fucking parade.

3. “Let’s Go” by Ministry (2007)

This song is… damn. It’s a bit different in that, unlike the other entries so far, it’s extremely tongue-in-cheek. It’s fast, intense, driving industrial metal. It’s a soundtrack for a killing spree; the type of song you might hear in the background of an ultraviolent action scene. Just hearing the song without listening or taking lyrics at face value you’d never guess it was an anti-war song. “Let’s Go” is the opening track off 2007’s The Last Sucker. The entire album was a savage criticism of the Bush administration in general. So there’s a lot to choose from on this album, and that larger context of the album’s concept makes it more obvious that the song is ironic. Also how over the top the lyrics get should be a bit of a clue. Such as:

Let's go for the final attack
Let's go for a war in Iraq
Let's go for starting up World War III

Also, unlike the rest so far, this mentions a specific war. But what the song is about is the general concept of dehumanizing the enemy and, in the process, one’s self. The song’s refrain “Let’s go insane” is about disconnecting from the logical mind, cutting loose, and cutting the enemy down.

The lyrics take the point of view of soldiers pumping themselves up before battle. It starts off basic enough. “Let’s go faster” “Let’s go at ramming speed.” But it escalate until it gets so intense it even makes me blush:

I mean, look at the third, and final verse. Jesus Christ:

Let's go for the ultimate crime
Let's go for the end of time
Let's go for an ethnic cleansing spree
Let's go for the final battle
Let's slaughter them all like cattle
Let's go to our graves in victory

I mean, goddamn, is that brutal or what? The reference especially to “slaughtering them like cattle”  shows directly that in war people stop seeing the other side as human. In this case, cattle. Animals. Not just animals but “cattle;” which has a very specific connotation: mindless animals whose purpose is to die. There’s few words that can be applied to other living things that is a detaching as “cattle”. When we stop seeing others as human, we stop being human ourselves.


4.”Let Them Eat War”  by Bad Religion (2004)

The always political Bad Religion also released this song during the Bush administration. It shouldn’t be surprising that some of my favorite anti-war songs were written about wars that occurred during my lifetime. This song stands out from the previous two entries by focusing on the homefront and the reasons for going to war, more than the experiences and mentalities of soldiers. This is more about the citizens. The song suggest that the reasons a government goes to war has more to do with distracting citizens, than protecting them from anything.

From the force to the union shops
The war economy is making new jobs
But the people who benefit most
Are breaking bread with their benevolent hosts
We never stole from the rich to give to the poor
All we ever gave to them was a war
And a foreign enemy to deplore
Let them eat war
Let them eat war
 That's how to ration the poor

The song talks about problems at home. Jobs, income inequality, and a government bowing to lobbyists. So a country goes to war to give the people “a foreigner enemy to deplore” to keep them from fighting or rising up against the enemies at home, or even focusing on domestic issues. It’s a strategy right out of 1984. With America’s wealth inequality being larger than France’s in 1776, when they revolted for pretty much that reason, and tensions with North Korea escalating, this song is as relevant in 2017 as it was in 2004. But even if you go back to well before the song was written, or hear it in another 50 or 100 years, it will still have a point. War is a shiny object, it is misdirection.

5. “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye (1971)  


This song stands out in several ways from the rest on the list. Other than being a soul/motown number on a list of mostly hard rock and punk songs. The song focuses on the anti-war movement itself, and the impact war has on families. And while the other songs are about how awful war is, this song actually pleads for peace.

Father, Father
We don’t have to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate

So that’s pretty straight forward. I don’t think those second two stanzas need further analysis. However, those first two lines stand out. Throughout the song there are numerous references to family.

Mother, Mother
There’s too many of you cryin’
Brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dyin’

The first line obviously conjures the image of mothers who have lost their sons to war. But the use of “brother” in this case, doesn’t at all suggest a biological “brother.” Since it’s a song by a black artist in 1971, some might conjecture that he means “fellow black man.” However, I posit that he means everybody. “My fellow man.” Everyone is his brother. We’re all human, we’re all connected. We are all brothers and sisters to one another. The “father” he implores not to escalate, is also not biological. It refers to someone in a position of power, the ones who make the decisions to go to war. But, again, he sees everyone as essentially being family. Because if everyone sees each other as family, it brings about the love needed to conquer hate.

The song also references picket lines and long hair, obviously referring to the hippy movement at the time. So, rather than being about the horrors of war, or the manipulative reasons people go to war, or the psychological impact it has one those who fight it, this song talks about the war at home. Not just the mothers weeping, but the fight for peace by the anti-war movement.

One Last Meal

December 8, 2017

For the last three and a half years I’ve fronted a punk band called Food for Worms. And while I had always had starting a band while in Korea at the back on my head it took me about a year to finally start doing something with that idea. I was galvanized by a show that I saw on April 12, 2014 at Jeng-iy, a dive-bar with a stage that hosted live music in Daegu, South Korea. The line up featured Dead Gakkahs, Colours, and Genius. And I want to say The Plastic Kiz.

By that summer I had a band, and we had some songs. But this isn’t about the history. That’s another story for another day. This is a sentimental rant about how fucking much this has meant to me. And while I’m trying to swear less, I don’t think I can accurately reflect the importance of this band in my life without the use of casual swearing.

And tomorrow (Dec. 9th, 2017) we play our last show. We’ll spend the afternoon in the studio recording one last EP to be released posthumously, then take the stage at Club SHARP around 10pm. People often say “I promised myself I wouldn’t cry.” But I make no such promises.

Michael, Paul, Stephen, and Yu-Shin have become brothers to me. And there’s not much I wouldn’t do for any of them. There’s something about creating things with people that bonds you to them. As a writer I’ve worked mostly on individual projects. So my creative life, in the past, has been a lonely one. And other than the handful of times I’ve done theater, I’ve haven’t done much with collaborative creativity. But creating these songs, and putting on shows and working in a medium of artistic expression that I never have before has been amazingly enriching, and I couldn’t have been more fortunate than to have worked with these guys. The process was always one of encouragement and collaboration. It was always about how can we make this song better. There was never a real sense of fighting over creative control. It wasn’t a group of people working towards one person’s “vision” or any of that. I’ve read a lot of rock bios and band histories over the last few years and I realize, looking back on the last few years and realized that a Food for Worms biography would be a really boring read. And I don’t see that as a bad thing at all. There was never any major drama. There were no scandals. Nothing to tarnish it.

Through being a band frontman I gained a long dormant confidence. Although, I do sometimes feel like very much a different person on stage, almost to a disembodying degree,I never played a character. It wasn’t a performance so much as unleashing another part of myself, and letting that run wild. I’ve often said, “This isn’t a hobby. This is therapy.” and it’s done more for my mental health than counseling or SSRIs ever could.

I lost count of how many shows we did. But I loved every one of ‘em. There’s ones were were were on fire, and ones where we were a bit off. There were ones where I was sloppy drunk, and other where I was stone sober, but each time I was intoxicated. Fueled by whiskey, espresso, and carbohydrates.

10 Reasons Patti Smith Has Still Got It

May 6th, 2013

I had the opportunity tonight to see Patti Smith, the Godmother of Punk herself, at the Vic Theatre in Chicago tonight (May 6, 2013) and she did not disappoint. She's definitely still got it. And here's ten reasons why:

1. She's got the coy and charming smile of a teenage girl.

2. She feeds off the love of the audience and gives it back just as sincerely.

3. She fucking swears a whole fucking lot. Seriously. Holy shit.

. A heckler shouted out that it was their birthday. So Patti Smith and her band sang "Happy Birthday" to the "Dear Unknown Interrupting Stranger." 

5. Since she was born on Chicago's north west side she told the story of her birth. (Which involves a snow storm, a 4 day steam bath, and Logan Square)

6.  She braided her own hair while singing at one point.

7. Her life affirming, philosophical rants. "Our enemies!?? What the fuck is an enemy!?! We're all human beings!"

8.  She made self deprecating comments about why she doesn't plug in her own guitar, "Because I can't. I'm afraid of being electrocuted. I don't even plug in my own toaster. I hire a cockney maid to do it..."

9. I didn't think she was gonna do "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger" but then BAM! SICK! an encore! (In the context of the song the word is used as a general term for outcasts, and is about taking pride in being rejected by mainstream society.)

10. By the end she was elated. "What's wrong with me? I'm HAPPY!"

Good night, Chicago!

You Should Be Listening To: Murder By Death

     Murder By Death has been consistently one of my favorite bands since my good friend Amanda Clifford introduced me to them back in 2003. Their sound has changed a little over the last 13 years. Hell, listen to their first album Like The Exorcist With More Breakdancing (2000) and then 2008's Red of Tooth and Claw and you'd take some convincing it's the same singer. But it is. Frontman Adam Turla just has that much range.

     It's tricky to pigeon hole them into a genre. Not that I'd want to. But the best way to describe them is “Johnny Cash composing the soundtrack for a gothic horror spaghetti western.” Gothabilly? Some songs are hauntingly beautiful (“Intergalactic Menopause,” “Lost River”) while others could be the background music for a bar fight (“Comin' Home”, “Brother” which features a bar fight in the video) Turla's baritone is such a dead ringer for Cash it's nigh on unsettling. I've played “Shiola” from In Bocca Al Lupo (2006) for people and had them convinced it was an unreleased Johnny Cash song. It's not just Turla's vocals. The song structure and lyrical style are unquestionably a nod to The Man in Black.

     A central element to the MBD sound other than Turla's voice and hollow body guitar is the mind and heart shaking cello courtesy of Sarah Balliet. It ties the whole thing together and brings a gothy element to the alt-country/rockabilly core and makes it something truly unique. It's mesmerizing to watch her play live. Seriously, if I die I want to come back as Sarah Balliet's cello.

     Murder By Death has a few concept albums under their belts. Their sophomore release Who Will Survive, and What will Be Left of Them? (taking its name from the tag-line for Texas Chainsaw Massacre) tells the tale of the Devil unleashing his vengeful wrath on a small town in Mexico after being shot in a bar fight. He lights the desert on fire, turns children into zombies, and lets loose his minions upon the townsfolk who try to rally to fight him off. In Bocca Al Lupo is a sort of modern day Dante’s Inferno and consists of multiple stories about the sinners in the various circles of Hell. Sticking with the ancient literature theme,  Red of Tooth and Claw is a retelling of The Odyssey. Only the protagonist is a vile son of a bitch journeying home from his nasty, evil business.

     The band self-produced and funded their most recent album Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon through Kickstarter, a fundraising website that lets the person or group offer incentives to donators in the form of increasing awesome prizes based on the amount donated. If you donated a certain amount of money you could submit a request for them to cover a song of your choosing and record it. It took them a while to obtain the rights, learn them and record them. But the result of this labor of love finally launched last week. As You Wish: The Kickstarter Covers features 15 tracks from a wide variety of artists ranging from Elliot Smith to Motorhead. From Kenny Rogers and The First Edition to The Misfits. There’s two schools of thoughts on cover versions. There’s the “Spot On School” and the “Reworked to the Band’s Unique Style School.” As You Wish is the latter. Which I tend to prefer. Spot on ones are better reserved for cover bands, as opposed to bands with over a decade’s worth of original material and an established unique sound. The variety here is wild. Other than the ones mentioned before Louis Armstrong, Murder City Devils, INXS and even more get the MBD treatment here. They even somehow manage to make Elliot Smith’s wrist-cutting “Needle in the Hay” more dark and depressing. While the Murder City Devils really emphasize the organ on “Rum to Whiskey” Murder by Death replaces it with their signature cello. Turla’s smooth, deep baritone is so starkly different from Spencer Moody’s raspy, swaggering growl it’s a bit striking at first, but great nonetheless. And being about whiskey, it’s far from outside Murder by Death’s wheelhouse (whiskey and devils are kind of reoccurring themes). Armstrong’s beloved “What a Wonderful World” sounds like musings from a death bed and should put a lump in even the most guarded of throats. It’s a bandcamp exclusive. So rush over to and drop the $10. It’s really a helluva deal for 15 tracks.

     After over a decade on the scene playing small to mid-level venues (and numerous street festivals) they’ve never quite found mainstream success (I guess gothic-rockabilly-Americana just isn’t what the kids are listening to these days). But they’ve developed a dedicated fan base, of which I am a happy ass member. As well as a reputation of being one of the friendliest bands to tour with. And as Adam Turla said at the Do Division Fest in Chicago (June 1012) they’ve finally reached a point where they can make a living just playing music. It’s not a rockstar life style. But it’s enough to be living the dream.

Check out now. Thank me later.