A delightful study on how to understand a war by listening to the music of the era.
Andresen, a history professor at Lake Superior College, has obsessively collected vinyl records, tapes and CDs for decades. Part of his collection is focused on music about war, supplemented by music not directly about war but played frequently on radio stations during wartime and thus psychologically associated with victory and defeat on the battlefield. Because of his age and personal interest, the Vietnam War became his specific focus. Eventually, he designed a college course centered on Vietnam War music, playing and explicating songs in the classroom. Andresen divides the songs creatively into music of protest, music of patriotism, African-American music (which includes examples of protest, patriotism and in-between), music of combat and music about the war's aftermath. All wars involving the United States have been defined to some extent by music, he says, but music played an especially significant role in Vietnam, partly because of technological considerations such as portable tape players and far-reaching broadcast signals. Andresen subscribes to the belief that Vietnam became the nation's first rock-and-roll war. Throughout this well-organized book, he makes intriguing connections, such as Stephen King's Vietnam novel Hearts in Atlantis being inspired by a Donovan song, or the names of Allied gun ships being derived from Peter, Paul and Mary's seemingly innocuous children's tune "Puff the Magic Dragon." Especially useful is the Discography, listing Vietnam-era songs of overweening importance, organized alphabetically by singer. Though marred somewhat by the author's inclusion of a chapter titled "Travels With Battle Notes"–in which he recounts his travels promoting the book–Andresen redeems himself with an Afterword discussing the controversies surrounding his idiosyncratic song selections.
An original idea well executed by an expert who writes with engaging, accessible prose.