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Melodies of Madness: A Soundtrack to The Vietnam War

This is a story by Jeremy Hunter. Jeremy is the "vinyl hound" at Funky Moose Records. If you'd like to contribute a story, please contact us.

John F. Kennedy spoke heavily about wanting no part in the Vietnam War, which may be a leading reason why his own government is rumoured to have had him killed. With the overload of literature which, for the most part, seems to be nothing more than paranoid delusions in regards to who was ultimately responsible for John F. Kennedy's murder, I'm not about to take part in the undying frenzy of false speculation and bore you with yet another, "Forget all about Oswald. This is who really killed, Kennedy!" article. I do, however, want to spend some time talking to everyone reading this article about arguable the most prolific and important period in music; the Vietnam War era.  

The year was 1969, and mid-way into August of that year, the summer of love was underway. The entirety of the U.S. was dealing with three major protests at the time which seemingly are just as relevant today. The Feminist Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and unnecessary conflict fought by the U.S. in foreign territory. The specific conflict I'm addressing is the Vietnam War. The American's who saw through the attempted manipulation and brainwashing of the U.S. government protested the war, and through their endless cries for freedom and peace, celebrities at the time, primarily musicians, began protesting the war which resulted in the creation of some of the most incredible music ever produced. The music had been produced for years leading up to the summer of love, but a majority of the music was ultimately performed at Woodstock.  
Today, Woodstock is commonly remembered as being a psychedelic drug filled haze of topless women and clueless men screwing one another while seeing their behaviour as being a proclamation of love instead of being the exchanging of sexual diseases among strangers. But let me move past the talk of orgies and mind-expanding drugs for a minute. The Woodstock music festival was the ultimate collision of built up aggression and artistic talent brought to a head in a time of need, not only for the troops who fought for nothing in foreign land, or the innocent lives that were cut short by the dropping of napalm on undeserving villages. But more than anything, the festival led to the awakening of the musical world and the revival of the rock genre.
A leading voice among the Woodstock lineup was Joan Baez. Baez gained notoriety in the 1960's through her musical collaboration and romantic relationship with folk music legend and recent Nobel Prize winning poet, Bob Dylan. Baez was the ultimate spokesperson for love and peace, and saw the Vietnam war as being a waste, not only economically, but also socially. The States didn't need another war and this brave woman wasn't about to allow any system of government to convince her or the young, impressionable minds of the country she called home, that war was an answer to anything. She even spent over a month in prison as a result of her protesting back in 1967. Through her rigorous fight to stop the war, as well as to increase awareness of Civil Rights in regards to mistreatment of the blacks in the country at the time, came a multitude of popular songs, arguably her most well-known being the balled; "We Shall Overcome", which was the last song performed on Day One of Woodstock. The song, penned by folk music legend, Pete Seeger, was initially performed years earlier by Baez during the Civil Rights Movement, but had held the same relevance through her protest of the Vietnam War. And could likely have the same effect in regards to protests of today, most notably the "March for Our Lives" protest which deals with gun control and the prevention of mass shootings in the United States.

Day Two of the music festival also had some extraordinary musical talent including Janis Joplin, Santana, Grateful Dead, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane. But the band with one of the most notable Vietnam era songs had to have been Creedence Clearwater Revival, with their hit, "Fortunate Son". The song for me was so symbolic of that period in time that in 2012, I used it as a title for a currently unproduced screenplay I wrote about a womanizing war vet who returns home following his tour of duty in Vietnam only to learn how his father was now on the verge of losing the family farm and his brother had been arrested for armed robbery and second-degree murder. And through all of this he struggled with what is now known today as PTSD. Creedence Clearwater Revival didn't have the same obsessive nature in regards to protesting the war as Joan Baez, but their music still had its power among listeners. The band never actually played the song during the Woodstock festival (due to it not being released as a single until September of that same year) but culturally, it is now considered one of the leading anti-war anthems. A song which opposed U.S. military action in the States at the time. When asked where he got the inspiration to write the song, John Fogerty highlighted David Eisenhower, the grandson of Dwight D. Eisenhower who was given deferment from the military. Fogerty thought the grandson of Eisenhower to be privileged and someone who could use his ancestry to avoid military service. Looking back at that point in time, celebrities also used their title to avoid the draft, although not all were met with the same reaction by the government or the public. Muhammad Ali refused to serve in the military which nearly placed him behind bars after being convicted of draft evasion. Ali also lost three years of his professional boxing career, being unable to participate in a professional fight from March of 1967 to October of 1970. Ali ultimately won his case and also became a leading voice against the Vietnam War in the process. His advocacy against military action had such a strong hold on Ali that he protested most military action from that point forward and spoke heavily about human rights until his death in 2016.  

On the third day of the music festival, one of my favourite bands of that era performed, Crosby, Stills, and Nash (although I was a bigger fan of their music when Neil Young was an included member of the band). The trio served as being the ultimate archetype hippies and took a firm stance against the war. In 1970, however, came their most successful war-time anthem, being the song "Ohio", which was written by Neil Young in regards to the deaths of four Kent State University students who were protesting the Vietnam War and were subsequently gunned down by the National Guard. The song is considered by many to be the most powerful song in protest of the war and helped in cementing Neil Young as a leading advocate for human rights, and basically all political causes which find their way into mainstream media. The bands greatest contribution to the actual music festival had to be their hit song, "Woodstock" which was originally written by Canadian music legend, Joni Mitchell, who had planned on also performing at the music festival but was forced to bow out after being advised by her agent to appear on The Dick Cavett Show instead. This became a decision she later regretted, but fortunately for all Joni Mitchell fans, her greatest contributions to music came in the years following the music festival. My personal favourite being "Big Yellow Taxi" which deals with themes of appreciating what you have while it's right in front of you and the constant pushing of society to take away from nature while allowing infrastructure to replace it at an alarming rate.  

There were many other timeless bands which performed at the legendary four-day concert, likely the most famous being Jimi Hendrix who performed mind blowing magic with his electric guitar to a significantly smaller crowd consisting of less than 200,000 from an audience of over 400,000. This was likely due to the fact that Jimi Hendrix was the last act to perform on the final day of the concert. Bob Dylan was also set to perform, but instead booked a different venue, even though the festival took place in his own backyard on a dairy farm in the Catskill Mountains Northwest of New York City. The Woodstock music festival has gone down in history as one of the greatest outdoor concerts to date, and the Vietnam War eventually came to an end nearly five years later in April of 1975, proving to be a major setback for both the American and the Vietnamese government. The American's lost nearly 60,000 soldiers throughout the course of the war, and Richard Nixon was the first President to resign from office in the history of the United States following the Watergate Scandal. There were also some other great songs performed by artists who didn't attend Woodstock: "Gimme Shelter" by The Rolling Stones, "Unknown Soldier" by The Doors, "War Pigs" by Black Sabbath and many, many more.  
For anyone wishing to relive the legendary music festival without the use of a time machine, or psychedelic drugs, a 1970 documentary titled; Woodstock is a recommended watch which is still considered the quintessential concert movie and one of the greatest documentaries ever made. The film is so highly acclaimed that it won an Oscar for Best Documentary Film in 1970, and made an unprecedented fifty million dollars at the box office on a budget of only six hundred thousand dollars.

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