1917

Some weeks ago, I was listening to the great 1999 album by Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris called Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions. The fifth track on the album was described by the respected website AllMusic.com in this way:

“The album’s best track, ‘1917,’ was written by folk singer David Olney. It’s impossible to imagine anyone else singing this haunting tale of soldiers and women in World War I. Fragile and breathtaking, Harris’ voice is buoyed by the angelic harmonies of Ronstadt and Kate and Anna McGarrigle.”

I always find it extraordinary haunting.

Here’s the fourth verse:

They die in the trenches and they die in the air
In Belguim and France the dead are everywhere
They die so so fast there’s no time to prepare
A decent grave to surround them
Old world glory old world fame
The old worlds gone gone up in flames
Nothing will ever be the same
And nothing lasts forever
Oh I’d pray for him but I’ve forgotten how
And there’s nothing nothing that can save him now
There’s always another with the same funny bow
And who am I to deny them

Here’s a live version of the song 1917, also from 1999.

On Veterans Day, let us not glorify war, but always remember its horror.

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3 thoughts on “1917

  1. I was taken to see a live performance of Oh What a Lovely War when I was teenager and during the songs, various statistics were flashed on a screen. The one that really stuck in my mind was that the life expectancy of a machine gunner in action was two and a half minutes. I don’t know if that is correct, but it is a sobering stat.

  2. We only hear battlefield accounts from the survivors, and almost every authentic account sounds like the soldier walked through a series of absurd adventures that almost magically did not touch him. We never hear from the millions of individuals who did not enjoy such rare luck, the ones who were cut down within seconds.

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