Author and Vietnam veteran Doug Bradley has written a book about how popular music of the 60s impacted and related to those serving in Vietnam. Bradley will discuss his book: “We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War.”
Ted Simons: The music of the '60s to many was the sound track to the Vietnam War, especially to American soldiers turning to music to help cope with combat [Song Plays] And that last song by the Animals inspired a title for "We Gotta Get Outta this Place." It was named Rolling Stone's best music book of 2015. Joining me now is author and Vietnam veteran Doug Bradley. I've gotta say I was a kid in that era and the songs mean so much to me in some ways but for you guys, they really bring back memories, don't they?
Doug Bradley: That's what we've found, Ted. One of the sad legacies of the war was a lot of the men and women were never welcomed home properly or welcomed to talk, listened to their story. We found if we asked about a song that would enable them to talk about the experience and hopefully in the course of that get back home. And it was a marvelous experience for us.
Ted Simons: And we talked about the title of the book "We Gotta Get Out of this Place." Everywhere you go, this song really was it.
Doug Bradley: And it was never intended that way. It was the Righteous Brothers, it goes over to England and gets picked up by the Animals and becomes our anthem in Vietnam, go figure.
Ted Simons: Eric Burdon says veterans come up and tell him how important that song was.
Doug Bradley: As one of the people in the book says, it's our national anthem.
Ted Simons: We think about Vietnam protest songs, the Green Beret, some of the protest songs, they weren't necessarily the biggies, were they?
Doug Bradley: No, they weren't. Radio was our internet; we all listened to the same music. But you're right, it was more about longing, sickness, if your wife's name was Gloria, that was your favorite song.
Ted Simons: And "My Girl," and "The Letter" by the Boxtops.
Doug Bradley: Mail call was huge, we couldn't text, we didn't have the internet.
Ted Simons: Talk about the different eras. The Gulf of Tonkin seemed like kind of the dividing line but talk about early on and once things escalated, kind of moved things into a different gear.
Doug Bradley: Absolutely. Early on a lot of people in Vietnam were enlistees, people in the military, maybe career soldiers, they wanted to be there. Some of the music then was fairly patriotic. "The Green Berets," Johnnie Wright's "Hello Vietnam." There were groups formed by G.I.s, they would play rag and protest songs. But then you're right, things got a little tougher and rougher and the music was mirroring the change in America and in Vietnam. The soundtrack began to change. You started to have division in terms of some people liked the harder rock, some stayed with soul, and some stayed with country.
Ted Simons: Interesting. Early on you write there were still remnants of big band and Pat Boone, a biggie over there.
Doug Bradley: Tony Bennett.
Ted Simons: Yes.
Doug Bradley: It's funny to watch that change over time. By the time I'm there in '70, 1971 we had the Doors, the Cream, Iron Butterfly, a different sound track.
Ted Simons: One of the soldiers said, we had the Beach Boys, how could we lose? That was before things got hairy.
Doug Bradley: And singing about change, Beach Boys go from "Fun, Fun, Fun", to "Good Vibrations". Something's happening there musically.
Ted Simons: "The Ballad of the Green Berets", did it strike a chord? Was there a dividing line?
Doug Bradley: It's interesting, it did both. We have great stories from people who that song stayed with them, it was motivation for them to be there, while they were there, a little disillusioned. People in the military don't like it when one branch is more puffed up than any other. We find so many versions by Marines, pilots, we can't repeat on air. It's interesting.
Ted Simons: As a soldier, I would expect, and you wrote about this a little bit, folks may come in as a country music fan. They had never heard different forms of rock and roll, soul music; you were exposed to it all, weren't you?
Doug Bradley: Absolutely. That's one of the great things that happened. We became connected through the music. A guy from northern Wisconsin lived on his farm his whole life listening to polka and country music. He gets there, Sam and Dave, the Chambers Brothers, stuff that's a little further out there.
Ted Simons: The racial element of the soldiers' music, how much did that play a part and did it cause problems?
Doug Bradley: It did. I hate to say it, if you look at the issues and the tensions in America at the time with black power and civil rights, they were mirrored in Vietnam. And there were points where sometimes music would become the flashpoint. I'm sorry to say it caused a little tension.
Ted Simons: Country music would have a similar reaction but from a different angle.
Doug Bradley: There were fights over the jukebox. He tried to figure this out. Colin Power gave the black G.I.s' music 40% of the time and the white G.I.s' music 60% of the time.
Ted Simons: Creedence Clearwater Revival throughout the book, a variety of songs. It's interesting. Why?
Doug Bradley: It's really kind of funny. It's not just one song. It's all of Creedence's stuff. Everybody talks about fortunate son, you played bad moon rising, proud Mary. Two of the band members were in the reserves. They understood the military, what it was like. But they also had the soldiers' backs. They were sort of there with them. "Fortunate Son" was a real slam at people making the decisions weren't sending their sons and daughters there.
Ted Simons: You mentioned two of the band members there, Creedence had some military experience. John Fogarty and the drummer. Country Joe, of Country Joe and the Fish was a veteran?
Doug Bradley: First thing he said to us was I'm a veteran first and a hippie second. He was in the navy before Vietnam.
Ted Simons: Most folks that are Jimi Hendrix fans, guy was a paratrooper.
Doug Bradley: If you listened to the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, you hear helicopters and weapons fire.
Ted Simons: When you hear Purple Haze, I think of the '60s as a kid, seeing this, must be a drug reference there.
Doug Bradley: It is a drug reference.
Ted Simons: But that can be different if you're in the field.
Doug Bradley: We had guys tell us one of the colors of the smoke grenade, popping the purple smoke grenade and waiting for a helicopter to come and rescue them.
Ted Simons: Aretha Franklin, "Chain of Fools".
Doug Bradley: If you're black in America it's a civil rights song. If you're black in Vietnam, it's about a chain of command.
Ted Simons: Yes, yeah. The irony is later in the book you talk about music, music, but once you are in combat, once you are in the field, no music.
Doug Bradley: Silence.
Ted Simons: Perfect. And you need it, hearing a twig, hearing a sound was what you needed. But we have some interesting stories from guy saying sure, we didn't have any music in the field but some said they had the music in their heads. One guy tells us the story that he had "Judy's Turn to Cry by Leslie Gore in his head, and he had to be attentive.
Ted Simons: That was good stuff.
Doug Bradley: I still have my equipment that I ordered when I was over there. There's a great book called Armed with Abundance. The army wanted us to stay involved so they gave us as much -- especially guys like me in the rear. They gave us as much comfort as they could. We had cassettes, reel to reel; we had James Brown coming over. Music all the time, they thought it would keep our morale engaged.
Ted Simons: One of the higher-ups talked to him and said you've got a problem here and you don't even realize it.
Doug Bradley: James Brown could see it from the stage.
Ted Simons: The fact that he had a white musician in his band tour there I think sent a message to the audience. Especially the black soldiers, at that point, after MLK's assassination, were kind of fed up.
Ted Simons: This music takes me to a certain place. But for a Vietnam veteran it takes them to a very different place. What kind of reaction are you getting?
Doug Bradley: The reaction has been incredible. People are grateful, thankful, engaged. They feel they can maybe share their story and put up the website. Some people, the sad reality is they still can't go there. They will start to tell us something and they will say, I can't talk.
Ted Simons: Too much. Congratulations on this book, it is really a fantastic read, quite the success.
Doug Bradley: Thank you so much.
Ted Simons: Thank you for joining us.
Doug Bradley: Appreciate it.
Ted Simons: And Tuesday on "Arizona Horizon" we'll look at a new poll on the upcoming Arizona Presidential Preference election and columnist E.J. Dionne will join us in studio to discuss his new book on the rise and fall of political conservative. That's on the next "Arizona Horizon." That's it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.