By Terese Schlachter, Recon Producer
If you watched Recon: Lives & Lyrics, you heard some songs written by service members and performed by professional singers/songwriters. They were created at a Lifequest’s “Music Camp”, held in Colorado Springs, last January. We couldn’t work all the great songs they wrote into a whole hour of “Recon” so we’re bringing you more in “Recon Extra”.
Sometimes, maybe because I’m a writer, I actually think about the motivation behind song lyrics. Did one of the members of Train wake up one morning with an actual lipstick stain on the left side of his head, inspiring the lyrics for “Soul Sister”? And even after Steven Tyler openly dissected the creation of “Sweet Emotion” in his book, “Walk This Way”, I’m not sure I get it. Still, I know the lyrics and like millions, sing right along in the soundproofed quarters of my car.
Conversely, I was able to spend a couple of days in the presence of real songwriters, witnessing real stories from service members, and watch them turn hours of conversation into sometimes snappy, sometimes mournful lyrics. The songs have turned in my head for several months now, so I know a lot of them by heart. The come to me at various times during the day. But in these cases I know the people who collaborated to write them and I understand the motivation. It’s been fascinating.
For instance, Angel Gomez’s traumatic brain injury requires that he think carefully before he speaks. He labors over certain words as he tells songwriter Georgia Middleman how he loved driving his seven ton truck through the Iraq desert. He recalls the time he slowed down to let the infantry out the back so they could engage the enemy. Then he grabbed his M-16 and started shooting out the window.
“ I shot my gun at the enemy
And they paid me back with an IED…”
So goes the second verse of the song called, “I’m Still Here” which was inspired when Georgia first met the former Marine that January weekend in Colorado Springs. The scar across his scull says it all. He told Georgia about learning to walk and talk again, regaining his hearing, balance and sight. Then he added, “But I’m still here, I guess that’s good!” His smile makes you so glad he is. And the song Georgia and he wrote together sums it all up in a hippy hoppy nutshell.
“I had to learn my ABC’s
All over again
But that’s fine with me
Cuz I’m still here…
I can see
I can hear you
I am free
I assure you
My body’s been through hell
But I served my country well.”
Soon your toes are tapping and you’re humming along with Angel’s story. It’s become Angel’s song.
Songwriter Radney Foster described Sgt Kenny Sergeant as a guy “who’s never met a stranger, and could talk a tree right out of the ground.” So you could understand how a ride in a medevac- as a broken back caused his legs to slowly numb – might have been a lonely one. And you could understand how he came up with enough lyrics to write three songs with songwriter Darden Smith.
“I can cry on my way back
In a freedom bird or a medevac.
I been hit a time or two
But I still got a job to do
It is what it is
And I do it all for you…”
Music camp is a way for us to turn these soldiers’ stories into songs,” says Smith. “I’m always looking for songs – this is like a gold mine of stories.”
Sergeant Nick Denning has come out of three deployments as a combat engineer fairly physically unscathed, having survived seven explosions and a sniper’s bullet. But his friend, Sergeant Matt Ingraham was killed when an IED blew up the truck Denning was driving. In the song he and Radney Foster wrote, called Faded Glory, he compares himself to a tattered American flag.
“… just like the flags tattered by the wind
Black bag flutters from the black hawk spin
My brothers lifted to the heavens as the rotars wail
Woulda called me a hero, but I feel like I failed.
Like the colors left out in the rain
All my heart knows is pain
Where Old Glory once flew so high
Now it’s all but passed me by…
Nick has two sons for which he wrote another song called, “A Little Boy’s Prayer”. It’s so touching and moving that Smith can barely perform it without choking up. And now it’s something Nick can pass on to his boys.
The talents of the songwriters, Middleman, Smith, Foster and Jay Clementi are apparent when you hear the songs. The stories behind them might not be so obvious. But they are real and true and worth considering, maybe even eventually hollering-out-on-the-highway worthy, especially for other service members with whom the songs will likely resonate.