Zippo Songs

Phil Kline

A deeply moving and intense look at the poetry American GIs inscribed on their lighters in Vietnam. Phil 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 KnowThat 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.

"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


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