Veterans Day Music and the Culture of Convenience

Today is the Veterans’ Day holiday in the U.S. For much of the Western world, yesterday marked Remembrance Day or Armistice Day. It was particularly moving to see the cricket match between Australia and South Africa stop at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month to commemorate the end of the World War I and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

In keeping with this theme, I thought I might offer a few songs appropriate for reflecting on the horrors of war. No list of anti-war songs is complete without reference to the Pogue’s version of Eric Bogle’s “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, which is perhaps the most depressing song ever written. New Order’s “Love Vigilantes” from their album Low Life is also pretty taxing. For something with a more upbeat sound, one could do far worse than Jimmy Cliff’s “Vietnam”. Almost any track on PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake album would work, but I really like “On Battleship Hill“. Finally, a list of anti-war songs should always include Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side” which blends a depressing litany of American wars with a cynical view of the future. 

I have most of these stirring anti-war songs cued up on one of my various Spotify playlists (and a couple of them on good old-fashioned CD). Yesterday I read Mike Spies short article on how Spotify has changed the way that we listen to music. The convenience has not only made me forgiving of its somewhat degraded sound quality (which is evidence even when I listen to song saved in “offline” mode), but made me nearly addicted to the easy access to almost any song from any album. (In fact, I sometimes get frustrated when an album takes longer than a day to appear on Spotify). The days of special ordering an obscure blues album from the local record store or flipping through rack after rack of CDs to find an album or – even worse – a particular song are certainly over.

Reflecting on our culture of convenience is certainly striking on Remembrance Day when we look back over almost a century to the immense sacrifices made in war. Our culture today fixates on the smallest moments of time and the smallest sensations of pleasure or pain that most of us can barely imagine the experiences of soldiers today, much less a century ago. So maybe my bizarre and slightly irreverent juxtaposition between war and convenience can help us reflect on our priorities on a day when we think about people who sacrificed so much.

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