Two caterpillars were crawling through the grass one warm summer's
day. Suddenly one of them scraped to a halt and flipped his
antennae skyward. "Look up there," he said excitedly to
his companion. High above them a beautifully-colored butterfly
was circling in majestic grace. "Very pretty, very pretty,"
droned the second caterpillar, "but you'll never get me up
in one of them things."
In every age there have been a few groaners
for whom flying was strictly for the birds. But man's desire to
free himself from the bondage of gravitation is as old as his
tribal memory. Daedalus wasn't the first man with both feet on
the ground who endeavored, at the same time, to maintain his head
in the clouds.
One would expect, therefore, that the opportunity
to achieve this ancient longing would cause the aviator to compose
countless eulogies and paeans. Instead, the Air Force Songbag
is revealed as a bawdy vintage in which the gripes of wrath are
Try to keep in mind that this fruity form
of expression is standard operating procedure for men at war.
A normal man generally restricted to the company of other men
begins to see womankind in a very special light-the kind of light
that sometimes shines brightly behind a pretty girl in a filmy
Freed from the familiar injunction to "watch
your language," the wayfarer begins to adopt oral patterns
of unspeakable intensity. Soon he finds himself trying to impress
his companions with his masculinity by intoning such inanities
as: "So I walked down the frigging street, and I seen this
frigging girl and I took her by the frigging arm and we went to
her frigging room and we got on the frigging bed........... and
then made love."
Other standard gambits in the folklore
of the soldier, landlocked or airborne, include the complaints
about the food.
When Caesar's men traveled on their stomachs
it's likely that at least one noble Roman scratched out a message
home to the effect that the chow was poison-and not enough of
it. And the dangers of war did not go unnoticed in the ranks.
How many variations do you know of the story of the soldier on
the field who tried to resign explaining, "You can get killed
And, of course, target for tonight and
every night is the officer, traitor to humanity and bootlicker
to the high command. And the officer, too, has his natural enemy
-- the hated upper echelons, the big brass, any part of the monolithic
chain of command that remains above him.
Perhaps there were a few inspirational,
patriotic songs constructed, but self-consciousness edged them
into obscurity. America's male population can face any danger
save the peril of being considered a sissy. An Air Force St. Exupery
could fly a hundred missions and still be looked on as "queer"
if he sang the mystic beauty of the skies. As for patriotism,
that is still considered the refuge of scoundrels and civilians.
Consequently, these songs are a bawdy,
gusty, griping lot. We could have bowdlerized them, edited them,
needled them up with lofty sentiment and enervated drool, but
we didn't. Frankly, we didn't have the guts necessary to alter
the sentiments sung by thousands of the finest fighting men this
country ever produced, men whose mission it was to fly and die
to keep our country free.
RECORD. I knew there
were Air Corps songs. I had even recorded some of them.
But I was unprepared for the thick volume of material which
one day came in the mail. It was the result of a short correspondence
with Capt. William J. Starr, stationed at the time at Cannon Air
Force Base in New Mexico. "Are you interested in Air
Force Songs?" asked Capt. Starr. "I am," I answered.
The hectographed folio was 122 pages long
and contained 238 songs and snatches. Half of them were
standards-bawdy songs familiar to soldiers and sailors for centuries.
A few were poetic banalities trying to pass as respectable folk
music. But there were enough honest-to-badness lyrics to
light up even my jaded young eyes. I strung them along on
my guitar for a while and then realized that I should be sharing
them with the unsuspecting world.
Even before I knew of the existence of
the material, I had promised an album of the sort to Jac Holzman
of Elektra. When he saw the material and heard the songs
I knew by heart, he decided to make the album. When I diffidently
asked whether I should set about laundering the material, he was
indignant. "Let's make it honest," he said .
. . fighting words apt for a military document.
The music was easy, since, as has been
the usual custom with war songs, well-known parodies predominated.
Where I didn't know the song, Capt. Starr supplied the melody
for me by way of taped recording. And, during the recording
sessions, spectator Jerry Newman, tape specialist, and Dave Jones,
Elektra chief engineer -- both former airmen -- made a great number
of suggestions and emendations.
The recording was made at full throttle
and we were really flying from beginning to end. We tried
to keep in mind the mad ebullient spirit so beautifully expressed
in the old song:
"Twas a hell of a war as I recall,
Twas a hell of a war as I recall, Parlez vous
Twas a hell of a war as I recall,
But still it was better than none at all,
Hinky Dinky Parlez Vous."
- OSCAR BRAND
OVERCAST OF CHARACTERS - the Roger
OSCAR BRAND. Director of Folk Music for
New York City's Municipal Radio Station, Oscar Brand has been
broadcasting every Sunday at 6 pm since 1945. His folk song book
for Knopf, Singing Holidays is a standard in libraries
and schoolrooms around the country, and some of his forty-five
film documentaries are part of America's classic motion picture
archives. Unlike most folk music authorities, Oscar has been singing
his collection around the country, beginning with the children's
songs he learned in Winnipeg, Canada as a boy. He presents the
material in this album not as a musicologist, but as a balladeer
from the ranks-having spent "twenty miserable years"
from 1942 to 1945 as a member of America's Armed Forces.
DAVID SEAR. An excellent. soloist in his
own right, David Sear's galloping five-string banjo has galvanized
lethargic audiences in clubs and concert halls throughout America.
Featured appearances on CBS-TVs "Camera Three," and
other top-rated TV and radio shows have further earned him the
reputation for first class folk singing, and accompaniments.
BRADLEY SPINNEY. Percussionist par excellence,
Brad Spinney has played easy to get for aggregations ranging from
Spike Jones' madcaps to the Philharmonic. His musical box of tympanic
tricks enables him to produce lions' roars, train whistles, plane
crashes, and police sirens, all the while maintaining an impeccable
beat on the big bass drum and snares.
BILL SMITH. Bill Smith's been so busy these
past few years playing wild music on the bowed bass in nightclubs
and cafes that he almost forgot he could play the guitar skillfully
and saw out a beautiful descant on the violoncello. But he had
performed these demanding tasks years before on Oscar Brand's
radio show, and a simple reminder was all he needed to revive
his remarkable talents.
DINNY THOMAS. A clarinetist whose dulcet
melodies have sparked many a dance hand aboard cruise-ships and
ocean liners, Dinny Thomas has one of the few genuine basso-profundo
ranges available. Since it was difficult for him to sing and play
the clarinet simultaneously, it was necessary to divide him up
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