Fighting Songs and Warring Words: Popular Lyrics of Two World Wars Hardcover – May 24 1990
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About the Author
Brian O. Murdoch is Emeritus Professor of German in the School of Languages, Cultures, and Religions at Stirling University, Scotland.
Brian Murdock was born and raised in Connecticut. For the past fifteen years he has lived in Spain and currently teaches english at a private school. When he's not teaching, Brian devotes much of his time to writing and discovering all he can about Spain. He lives in Madrid with his wife and their two daughters
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I grew up being familiar with traditional soldiers’ songs, and home-front songs, such as “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”, “Pack Up Your Troubles in an Old Kit Bag”, “Mademoiselle From Armentieres” and so on. I thought (if I thought at all) these were songs of World War II, recently finished. They were familiar, also in classic World War II films of the 1950s.
Imagine my astonishment, seeing the Richard Attenborough film of “Oh What a Lovely War” (based on an equally amazing, and profoundly bitter and satirical stage musical), to see these familiar songs, and many more, set in the trenches of World War I, in my soldier-grandfather’s era where they first came to prominence.
Imagine, also, my profound sadness at the end of Stanley Kubrick and Kirk Douglas’s astounding World War I film, “The Paths of Glory”, when a helpless German girl is forced to stand on the table in a French inn (estaminet) near the Front, and sing a song – such a sad, moving song, at the end of a bitterly sad film – to entertain the suffering French poilus who have witnessed the cruel execution of comrades (on trumped-up charges of cowardice in the face of the enemy to encourage the others!), and are themselves about to go back into the trenches.
All of this sets the context for appreciating Brian Murdoch’s book, Fighting Songs and Warring Words: Popular Lyrics of Two World Wars, that thoroughly, sensitively, and insightfully, collects the front-line, barrack-room, and home-front songs of World War I and World War II, with suitable acknowledgement of songs from earlier wars and other places (such as the American Civil War, vaudeville, music halls, cabarets, black-and-white minstrel shows, and the like).
Hooray for Brian Murdoch!
His (dare I say, “definitive”) collection ranges across songs in English, German, French, Polish, and much more, in compiling and comparing what soldiers, and their communities sang during these dark days.
Much of Murdoch’s commentary is descriptive and comparative. Rightly so, in my opinion.
That is all that most readers need. We need no academic gloss, no theorising about WHY soldiers sang this way, or WHAT they sang.
There is little need to add details about, for example, the horrors of Verdun, or Les Chemin Des Dames, or the Argonne Forest. Almost anyone who finds some interest in these songs will be familiar with the grinding, bloody, brutal slaughter across August 1914 to November 1918, and September 1939 to August 1945.
Almost any reader will be equally familiar with the complex politics that led to the start of both World Wars: the bitter challenges of conscription versus volunteering; massed slaughter by high explosive artillery and machine guns and gas; the stalemates of trenches and barbed wire; and the political arguments for THIS campaign or THAT military disaster, or SOME OTHER change in political allegiance, and conflict between allies, on either side.
The issues of the common foot soldier, versus the aloof officer class, and the distant generals and staff officers; the challenges of capitalist industrialism versus socialist idealism and the brotherhood of the (often, peasant) armies; the appalling experiences of the civilians in occupied territories under brutal shell-fire and aerial bombardment, suffering hardships of rationing and naval blockades – all of this will be, or ought to be familiar to readers, without needing to rely on extra analysis and theorising by Murdoch.
What we have are the songs, the commonalities on each side of the fighting, the hardships, mateship, boredom and death and savage injury. The longing for peace, loved-ones, or just a little consolatory loving. The bitter acceptance of fate. The savage satire of the top brass, and the politicians, and the heartless civilians in government.
Through the songs we glimpse the men (and their women), their lives, suffering, and death.
World War I is famous for its war literature novels and memoirs by, for example, Sassoon, Graves, Hemingway, Blunden, Remarque, Barbusse, and many others – AND the poetry!
World War II is famous for its novels and memoirs.
Both wars are known for their music hall nostalgia and troop entertainments – such as, George M. Cohan, Ivor Novello, the Andrews Sisters, Marlene Dietrich (and “Lili Marlene”), Noel Coward, Glenn Miller, and Vera Lynn.
What is much less well known is what the SOLDIERS themselves sang, and, especially, how they TWISTED popular song to express their own thoughts, fears and innermost feelings.
Brian Murdoch’s book reveals this, and is highly recommended!
John Gough – Deakin University (retired) – email@example.com
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