The satirical and edgy rock music that Rhoades and his Hahavishnu Orchestra performed during the mid to late ’70s was a biting commentary on society’s greed, lusts and willingness to conform to government leadership. The willingness to obey those leaders sometimes required sending sons off to Vietnam to die in an unconscionable war. Rhoades’ slant on such curious loyalties could make people laugh, even if the joke was on the very people laughing.
Some 41 years after he and the Hahavishnu Orchestra called it quits, Rhoades is still making music and making even more sense. The tracks on his 2008 album, Weapons Of Mass Deception, have the spark and spirit long evident in Rhoades’ music. The songs also possess the biting commentary accompanied by a plethora of instruments, including banjos, saxes, fiddles, dobros and guitars. As with his other releases, on Weapons, Rhoades delivers the music he’s long had inside him. More importantly, he does a great job of conveying what’s on his mind. For starters, the war in Iraq, where our nation still has 5,200 troops. Bewilderment is conveyed when he considers the lessons of the Vietnam experience. The lessons were not learned well enough. That’s the theme of “The Sins of The Father,” one of the best songs in Rhoades’ catalog.
Doesn’t every generation have its unconscionable war to deal with? The most recent entry in that field is the war the United States started against Iraq in 2003. Some reasoned it was a response to the attacks on America on September 11, 2001. A major flaw in their reasoning was that Iraq, as rotten as its leader was, did not participate in the 9/11 attacks. But to some, questioning the decision placing young men and women in harm’s way was treasonous. How dare anyone doubt our president? Some questioned that leadership anyway, although most Americans were still supportive of President Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. They believed invading Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein and confiscate the elusive weapons of mass destruction was vital to our security. People drove to work and their usual destinations with U.S.A. flags waving on the roofs of their cars. The patriotic fervor increased. Even moderate to liberal columnists like Thomas Friedman and Richard Cohen supported this “war of choice.” But overlooked in the desire to make us safer and the insufferable jingoism was the well-being of the soldiers in our all-volunteer forces. Darryl Rhoades addresses the plight of those soldiers on “The Sins of The Father.”
It’s a dark but jaunty song, Appalachian style. The protagonist is headed to Iraq to join in the fight against Hussein, thus defending the homeland. His family home is in rural Alabama. His father served in Vietnam. Grandfather fought in the Second World War. All three of them soldiers and all three of them farmers. As the young soldier serves his country, his family loses their farm. Rhoades explains the song was a reaction to watching the memorial roll call one Sunday morning on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” He says, “I watched it every Sunday I could and on this particular day there seemed to be a higher percentage of casualties from the South.”
Rhoades related to it personally: “My father was a WWII vet with war experiences that were about as bad as they get. I started thinking about the fanfare for the kids preparing to leave their small towns for a world and a battle they had never seen before. Many did and still do it out of a sense of duty like their fathers and grandfathers. We are all products of those that went before us, just like a political figure who may have had a father precede him in a political office.”
The son in the song is not a son of privilege, however. He’s fighting for his life and wonders what will become of his life if and when he returns home. Rhoades says, “I tried to imagine what it was like for a farmer’s son in a desert thousands of miles away that didn’t really understand or question why they were there, like those in Vietnam.” He continues by saying, “The most difficult job a parent can have is losing a child and trying desperately to understand or rationalize the pain away. I saw this first hand with my family regarding Vietnam and when the reality of loss is mixed with confusion or understanding that it was all under a false pretense, it’s a new level of anger.”
Considering some of the advice Bush 43 received, he may have believed he was atoning for some of the sins of his father, Bush 41. The elder Bush called an end to his own war in Iraq in 1991, abiding by the terms he agreed to while making the case for that war. The purpose was to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait, which Iraq invaded the previous summer. In his memoir, Bush 41 explained how difficult and troublesome a committed effort to topple Hussein would be, never mind an occupation of Iraq. Perhaps Bush 43 did not read his father’s memoir. Now that’s a sin.
“The Sins of The Father” is a striking example of Rhoades’ talent as a songwriter. For years it was obvious that he could join funny and acerbic lyrics with a fine melody. It’s also quite obvious that he can tell a heartrending story about lives in America. Hopefully, fathers and sons alike will listen to this song.
(Darryl Rhoades, Thermos Greenwood and other stellar musicians will appear at The Great Southeast Music Hall Reunion at Smith’s Old Bar, August 4. You got to be there.)