Mudcat Café message #1549564 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #55265   Message #1549564
Posted By: YorkshireYankee
25-Aug-05 - 01:14 PM
Thread Name: Lyr Req: Soldier (Harvey Andrews)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Soldier (Harvey Andrews)
"And the Irishmen threw down their young and stood before their wives"

That has to be the most insulting sentence I have ever had the displeasure to read

Can you explain what possessed you to write that line, Harvey?

You don't strike me as being a blatant propogandist.

What point am I missing here?

Surely not the same point that all the squaddies who love this song, miss?

Very possibly it is...

I believe Harvey's point "was about the senselessness of violence, applied on a personal level". (see below for origins of quote)

I've been part of a group Harvey discussed this song with; he mentioned that it has often been misunderstood. People (on both 'sides') frequently pick up on certain bits & don't seem to notice other bits (often in keeping with whatever view(s) they hold). I believe this song is one of those songs where a person's interpretation of it may well tell one more about the person it belongs to than it does about the song (perhaps a bit like a Rorschak(sp?) test)...

I think the problem with 'Soldier' is the off-handedness of his treatment of the other victims of the bombing.
And the latent accusations of cowardice he levels at them.

I have to say that the line you quote (in bold, above) does not strike me as being at all insulting to Irishmen -- are you sure you've understood it correctly? As people have mentioned above, this line is saying that the other men there (who -- it seems safe to assume -- were all/mostly Irish) put themselves between the bomb and their loved ones. I don't consider that cowardly -- the thought anyone might consider it cowardly has honestly never occurred to me (before now). Or am I misunderstanding why it offends you?

As far as the "off-handedness of his treatment of the other victims of the bombing" goes, I don't think he's trying (in the song) to 'dismiss' or disregard the other victims, but this song focuses (as so many do) on one person, i.e., "the senselessness of violence, applied on a personal level". The "personal level" (IMO) is precisely what makes this song (and many others) so powerful, and why so many people feel they can relate to it.

That song fuelled many's a squaddie before he went out on foot patrol in the North of Ireland in the early '80's (which, as I say, was the first time I came across the song).

There are many inaccuracies in the song, which (whether you like it or not) causes a certain slant to the message that he obviously is trying to make.

This being so, it really behooves "...the songwriter to be sure of what he's saying and how he says it."

Harvey was not trying to say/show that British soldiers are wonderful and the Irish are cowards (although no doubt many soldiers may have read it that way); he wanted to get across the irony/tragedy of people jeering -- based on erroneous assumptions -- at a man who had just sacrificed his life for people on their own side (and without worrying about which 'side' the lives he was protecting belonged to).

It's true Harvey has taken 'poetic license' to make the song more dramatic and moving. I would object to that if he represented the song as a factual account of a historical event -- but he doesn't give names or dates. Apparently he "was so struck by the incident that he wrote the song to make the point that soldiers, too, are human." (Quote is from this post by Susanne (skw) in the "Origins: Harvey Andrews' 'The Soldier'" thread.)

Susanne's post (you'll need to scroll down below the words of the song) also includes a couple of other quotes that seem pertinent here:

[1972:] If you can con an ordinary man into protecting your interests, he gets done when the crisis comes, not you. Many soldiers are not professional killers, they're kids who couldn't get a job, and as unemployment has soared, recruiting for the army has increased by over 60% in three years. The average soldier is unimportant in the final analysis, it's the ones who shelter behind him that count [...] and they always seem to survive! (Notes Harvey Andrews, 'Writer of Songs')

[1979:] His next major song, however, inadvertently created a controversy which, for a while, clearly damaged Andrews' standing and viability. 'Soldier', in spite of an unambiguous sleevenote, was widely interpreted as a pro-establishment glorification of military heroism and, therefore, by left-wing logical extension, of authoritarian violence; whereas in fact it was a simple (if lyrically somewhat overwritten) story of a young man caught in an impossible situation. The song was neither for the British authorities nor against the Irish rebels; it was about the senselessness of violence, applied on a personal level. [...] Harvey Andrews' Belfast song ('Soldier') was not a lasting success (though it remains popular, for obvious reasons, with army audiences in Ulster and Germany). (Woods, Revival 115f)

This post (by Rick Fielding, to the same thread) might also be helpful; here's an excerpt: "Harvey performs for a wide variety of audiences, and in the two concerts that I've attended, appears to have no other agenda than his own personal one, namely: "telling a story" from his point of view, in the most literate way he can. ... "The Soldier" is not his only song that's ruffled a few feathers. His use of irony has at times meant that some missed a song's meaning entirely! C'est la Vie."

Anyway, I hope you will not feel I've been at all unfriendly in what I've written above. I've been waiting for Harvey to pop in & answer this himself, but I think he may well be on the road & without Mudcat access at the moment, and since I've been in the position of hearing him speak very frankly about this song and what his intentions were, I thought I might be able to post something helpful.