By MARC McDONALD
Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.
David Bowie has never particularly been known for being either angry or political in his music. But in "Running Gun Blues," his powerful 1970 song about Vietnam, Bowie got very angry and very political.
Released only a year after the My Lai Massacre became widely known to the U.S. public, "Running Gun Blues" depicts the frightening image of a bloodthirsty soldier on the loose in Vietnam. The song appeared on Bowie's excellent (but poor-selling) The Man Who Sold the World.
I slashed them cold, I killed them dead,
I broke the gooks, I cracked their heads,
I'll bomb them out from under their beds,
But now I've got the running gun blues
Commentators like Noam Chomsky have long pointed out that, for all its notoriety, there was in fact nothing particularly unique about the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. Similar massacres were taking place all over the country at the time.
Today, Americans are starting to get a better grip on just what was done in our name in Vietnam. Nick Turse's new book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam reveals the mind-boggling atrocities that were committed by U.S. forces in Vietnam.
But back in 1970, most Americans knew little about U.S. war crimes in Vietnam, (outside of My Lai, which was regarded as an aberration).
I'd suspect that Bowie had his doubts that My Lai was an "aberration." In "Running Gun Blues," his protagonist has already spilled a lot of blood and now, he's eager to spill more.
It seems the peacefuls stopped the war,
Left generals squashed and stifled,
But I'll slip out again tonight
Cause they haven't taken back my rifle,
For I promote oblivion,
And I'll plug a few civilians.