November 5th, 2009

nam

32 songs – Steve Earle – John Walker blues

Walker_lindhAfter 9/11 the United States of America seem to have adopted patriotism as the state religion. The propaganda machine was making hours as if the Soviet Union still existed. A new enemy had been found. Cold war is over, long live the new cold war. Up until then the sitting president had been considered one of the weakest ever, now he turned into a freedom fighter and the head of the free western world.

Somehow criticism was out of fashion. It was impossible to say something about the American President, politics, policies or the army, because you’d be labelled anti-American. Even worse, they tried to force the rest of the world to choose as well. "Either you’re with us, or you’re against us", a famous quote by mister Bush junior from those days. The French president, openly John_walker_lindh_custodyopposing the invasions in both Iraq and Afghanistan, raised hell in the US. Eating no more French fries or even calling them Freedom fries, any kindergarten kid could have come up with a better solution. Some even considered returning Lady Liberty, once a gift from Paris.

And then suddenly I hear a song by a singer I hardly knew up until that moment. Copperhead Road, about a decade and a half before that was the only song I knew by him. And he sang a song that remained in my head for ages. It was about John Walker Lindh. An American boy who didn’t believe in the American dream. He was only twenty when they captured him in Afghanistan, 2001, fighting for the Taliban against his native country.

EarleThe world is sometimes a bit more complicated than some politicians make us believe. Not everything is black and white, in between there is a huge grey area. And in that grey area doubt is ruling. Doubt necessary in a fight against extremism. Doubt that made us change our opinion about the world being flat. Doubt, causing the best of inventions. And in the same area sings Steve Earle about John Walker who also doubted and made a different choice. Not the MTV-ads but the word of Mohammed influenced the choices little John made in his life.

Many rednecks in the US criticized Earle since he made the album Jerusalem. Uncritical they follow the course set by their leaders, those who think for themselves are in trouble. I do remember a European country about seventy years ago where many also chose to follow it’s Albumjerusalemdemocratically elected leader.

The line ‘Our hearts were pure and strong’ reminds me of Billy Joel’s Goodnight Saigon, commemorating the Vietnam war many years afterwards. Apparently many Americans need a war to start thinking for themselves. God and Allah both return in the chorus. It is a simple song. Earle only tries to see things from a different perspective. Walker’s perspective. That doesn’t mean choosing one side above the other, it is only looking at things differently.

The song is from 2002, but ever since I’ve got phases in which I have to play the song on a regular basis. Luckily on YouTube there are a few versions to be found like this live version from a concert in Malmö and this cover version from a Dutch band called El Pino and the Volunteers.

The clip with pictures of John Walker impresses me most. Not an official clip off course, but one that makes you realise the insanity of war. Fighting for an idea is never a good idea imho.
 




I'm just an American boy raised on MTV
And I've seen all those kids in the soda pop ads
But none of 'em looked like me
So I started lookin' around for a light out of the dim
And the first thing I heard that made sense was the word
Of Mohammed, peace be upon him

chorus:
A shadu la ilaha illa Allah
There is no God but God

If my daddy could see me now -- chains around my feet
He don't understand that sometimes a man
Has got to fight for what he believes
And I believe God is great, all praise due to him
And if I should die, I'll rise up to the sky
Just like Jesus, peace be upon him

chorus

We came to fight the Jihad and our hearts were pure and strong
As death filled the air, we all offered up prayers
And prepared for our martyrdom
But Allah had some other plan, some secret not revealed
Now they're draggin' me back with my head in a sack
To the land of the infidel

A shadu la ilaha illa Allah
A shadu la ilaha illa Allah



32 songs. Thanks to Nick Hornby. A series about songs that have somehow touched or influenced my life.