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Zippo Songs

Released: 01/01/04





Phil Kline

Zippo Songs


  1. Briefing
  2. Three Rumsfeld Songs: As We Know
  3. Three Rumsfeld Songs: That Many Vases
  4. Three Rumsfeld Songs: Near-Perfect Clarity [ MP3 ]
  5. Incoming
  6. Zippo Songs: Ours is Not
  7. Zippo Songs: Been to Hell
  8. Zippo Songs: Away From You
  9. Zippo Songs: If i Had a Farm
  10. Zippo Songs: We Came Because
  11. Zippo Songs: My Dead Ass
  12. Zippo Songs: You've Never Lived
  13. Fever Dream
  14. The Funeral of Jan Palach


A deeply moving and intense look at the poetry American GIs inscribed on their lighters in Vietnam. Kline has set these profound and desperate poems with a calm and sacred spaciousness, echoing through the listener as if the soldiers themselves were singing to us from the afterlife. Coupled with Three Rumsfeld Songs ("As We Know," "That Many Vases," and "Near-Perfect Clarity"), Zippo Songs is Kline's statement on war and the politics of war in a fresh, new take on the age-old tradition of the protest song.

Best of 2003; "Phil Kline scores an experimental winner."
-K. Leander Williams, Time Out NY

"It all makes for a confused, unsettling and often dizzying atmosphere, surely appropriate to the texts and the times."
-James R. Oestreich, The New York Times

"A moving and memorable suite."
-John L. Waters, The Guardian

"Running an emotional gamut from anxiety to ferocity, from long-distance desire to helpless despair."
-Alan Lockwood, New York Press

"Some of the most disturbing and compelling [songs] I've heard in ages."
-Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/21/03

"Eloquently hits the mark."
-Seattle Stranger

"It is memorable stuff with a pointed sense of humor - almost cinematic."
-Tucson Citizen

About the Music

A few years ago I read a story about the poems that American GIs inscribed on their lighters in Vietnam. It seemed to me that buried somewhere in this small body of literature was the basis for a song cycle. Since military issue Zippos are highly collectible they were easy to find and there were hundreds of poems to work with. It was a matter of culling them. Of course, a poem on the side of a lighter can only be so long, two or three lines, a dozen or sixteen words, and one can only extend them by theme. Two or three poems about hell became one lyric, four or five poems about dying became another. Zippo Songs then began to take shape as a sequence of varied moods and activities, getting bummed, getting high, getting horny, getting bored, dying, finding god.

In this era of recalcitrant 60s radicals, it feels all the more necessary to admit that my earliest goal in life - formulated during a 1968 trip to San Francisco with my parents - was to be a hippie. Subsequent visits to my aunt's Ann Arbor commune only confirmed this aspiration, which was only later replaced by the marginally more respectable goal of composition. That being said, it's clear to me that almost everything I've done that's been worth doing musically.. was made possible by the period. Among other things, everyone who was anyone was reaching out to non-western music - not just Stockhausen and the Beatles but also such cultural luminaries as B.J. Thomas and the Partridge Family, who were using sitars and tablas in their music. Much of my work is built around the anomalies and contradictions of cross-cultural exchange, but this piece attempts to pretend there are no such problems. It combines gestures from a variety of genres as if all that were needed to make them get along were good will and positive energy. Would that it were so...

- Phil Kline

The Zippo Texts

Three Rumsfeld Songs

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

It's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase and you see it twenty times and you think, my goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?

Things will not be necessarily continuous.
The fact that they are something other than perfectly continuous
Ought not to be characterized as a pause.
There will be some things that people will see.
There will be some things that people won't see.
And life goes on.

I think what you'll find,
I think what you'll find is,
Whatever it is we do substantively,
There will be near-perfect clarity
As to what it is.

And it will be known,
And it will be known to you.

The Zippo Songs

Ours is not
To do or die
Ours is to smoke
And stay high

In life we
Often have to
Do things that
Just are not
Our bag

Always ripped
Or always stoned
I made it a year
I'm going home

No hope without dope

Been to hell
Lived to tell

Yeah though I walk
Through the valley of
The shadow of death
I fear no evil for
I'm the evilest son of
A bitch in the valley

Death is my
And business
Has been good

If you don't
Know what
Hell is like
Fuck with
Me and you'll
Find out

Let me win your
Heart and mind
Or I'll burn
Your hut down


My beloved wife

Away from you
I so much hunger
For your touch

When the
Power of love
Overcomes the
Love of power
The world will
Know peace

If I had a farm
In Vietnam and a
Home in hell I'd sell my farm
and go home

If I had a
Farm in hell
And a house
in Vietnam
I would sell
Them both

Don't tell me
About Vietnam
Because I have
Been there

When I'm dead
And in my grave
No more pussy
Will I crave

When I die bury
Me face down so
The whole world
Can kiss my ass

If you got
This off
My dead ass
I hope
It brings you
The same luck
It brought me

When I die
I'll go to
Heaven because
I've spent my
Time in hell

When I know
I'm dead I'll fear
No war no combat
No fighting because
The god appears
Behind me

We came because
We believe
We leave because
We are disillusioned
We come back because
We are lost
We die because
We are committed

We are the unwilling
Led by the unqualified
Doing the unnecessary
For the ungrateful

You've never
Until you've
Nearly died

You only live
Once when you're
Born and
Once when you've
Looked Death in
The face

Yesterday is
Tomorrow is
A mystery
Today is the
Golden Age

For those who have
To fight for it
Life has a flavor
The protected will
Never know

The Funeral of Jan Palanch
By David Shapiro

When I entered the first meditation,
I escaped the gravity of the object.
I experienced the emptiness,
And I have been dead a long time.

When I had a voice you could call a voice,
My mother wept to me:
My son, my beloved son,
I never thought this possible,

I'll follow you on foot.
Halfway in mud and slush the microphones picked up.
It was raining on the houses;
It was snowing on the police cars.

The astronauts were weeping,
Going neither up nor out.
And my own mother was brave enough she looked
And it was all right I was dead.

For more information about the composer and performers please visit the artist pages of Phil Kline and Todd Reynolds.