I don’t think “I Love Little Baby Ducks” (1973) has been played on Ken Burns’ Country Music mini-series, but Tom T. Hall has appeared frequently. That forces me to think of this song.
When the song first came out, I was working at Northwestern University and discovered I was part of a group who couldn’t get the song out of my head once it was played on the radio 100000 times. With therapy, I finally got rid of it. Now it’s come back.
So, I’ve had a relapse. When I told my wife what happened, she said I better not tell her what song it is, or she’ll be stuck with it, too. My hearing is so bad that even if the song had been played on Burns’ documentary, I wouldn’t have been able to hear it. So, I thought I was safe. But then Hall showed up and the song came to mind.
Burns’ documentary does, however, display the song lyrics in its closed captioning. A lot of old memories there from “Ode to Billie Joe” to “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Porter Wagoner looked just as goofy in the old clips as he did in real life when we used to watch his syndicated variety show.
Burns has done a wonderful thing for those of us who like music, who care about it in some depth, including how disparate genres are interwoven.
Now, if I could just take a pill and forget the ducks.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” a story about a 1954 conjure woman fighting the KKK in the Florida Panhandle. The novel is available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardback editions. The audiobook was an Ear Phones Award Winner on AudioFile Magazine.
Like most people my age, I listened to the primary performers covered in Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary as well as the stars who were 15-20 years before my time. Our popular American music is a mix of blues, jazz, folk, gospel, bluegrass, country, ragtime, and rock. I liked everything but rock when I was in high school, but tended toward folk, though it’s hard to say where one form began and another ended.
I liked Joan Baez and Patsy Cline, among others. The episode of Burns’ documentary that ended with the death of Patsy Cline was difficult for me to watch, especially with her voice over the closing credits. I remember when it happened. I took it hard then, and Burns’ documentary brought it all back. When Cline sang, it felt like she was in the room with me. Yes, I know, a million other people thought the same thing because her voice was personal and perfect.
As I watched the documentary, I knew we were leading up to the 1963 plane crash that killed Cline. I hoped they would leave that until the next episode. And I hoped maybe knew evidence would show the crash never happened or, if it did, that everyone survived. No such luck.
No, I didn’t have a crush on Patsy Cline. I just liked her music from her recordings to the shows we heard on the clear-channel radio station WSM from the Grand Ole Opry. My wife and I once heard Gordon Lightfoot sing from Nashville’s Ryman auditorium. He’s a favorite of mine, too. As we sat there in those church-pew style seats, I could imagine what the place would have been like in the days when the Opry originated there.
I’ve listened to the music of almost every performer who’s appeared in Burns’ documentary. Seeing it all again has been a trip back in 4/4 time.
Some said we were killing commies for Christ, some said we were killing babies, some said we were killing civilians in a Sherman-takes-war-to-the-people style, some said collateral damage was to be expected, and some said we should be proud of what we were doing while others said we were supporting the wrong side.
Vietnam was the first war brought into our living rooms. Ken Burn’s Vietnam documentary has brought it back though some people say the war never left us even if we were born years after the April 29, 1975 photo was taken of an American helicopter at 22 Gia Long Street in Saigon evacuating civilians as the North Vietnamese advanced on the city. Some say we killed those we left behind.
Pro-Vietnam war and anti-Vietnam war Americans saw in this evacuation photograph a sad and sobering epitaph for the two million civilians, 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers, 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers, and 58,200 Americans who were killed during the war. The picture smacks of defeat, though the U.S. was not defeated: it left Vietnam based on the 1973 peace settlement. Nonetheless, what happened in Vietnam seemed like defeat because our political and military objectives were not met and, in fact, were impossible to achieve. Much of the anti-war anger comes from the fact that as the United States sent in more and more troops, its leaders knew that losing the war (by whatever definition one chose) was a foregone conclusion.
Those of us who were against the war wondered, with singer Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind,”. . . “how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?”
There’s no point in rehashing the arguments here about whether we should have been there or not. I served two years and three months in the navy before leaving as a conscientious objector. The summer before joining the navy under the threat of being drafted into the army, I was in the Netherlands with one foot on the gangplank of a ferry that would take me to the safe haven of Sweden when I changed my mind and came back to the U.S. I regretted that for a long time. Burns’ documentary, which seems balanced to me, has brought back all the images and doubts and regrets and angers of those days of war and protest.
I’ve never felt comfortable saying I am a veteran, much less taking advantage of any prospective veterans’ benefits, because, while a pacifist, I still experience survivor’s by suggesting that I “fought” in the Vietnam War. I was on a aircraft carrier one hundred miles off the coast, a far cry from the terror and danger of those who served in-country. I was in Da Nang for only 24 hours as I flew back to the states for a change of duty assignment. I feel this guilt all over again as I watch Burns’ series.
Burns takes us back many years prior to the United States’ involvement, background which I think is necessary. He tells us that the U. S. initially supported Ho Chi Minh via covert ops in his fight against the French. I don’t think we knew that during the 1960s. He shows us images we want to forget. He makes us (well, some of us, I guess) wonder just what the hell we were thinking or if going there was really the right thing to do. Either way, we paid for it with a lot of blood.
Personally, I don’t think we’re past Vietnam as a country because we’re doing the same things again in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. I know I might be wrong about all this, but I don’t see the point of it. Ken Burns’ series has added a lot to the discussion about military intervention and national policy even though I could have done without the memories becoming energized again.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “At Sea” based on his experiences aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger during the Vietnam War. His novel “Eulalie and Washerwoman” was nominated for a Readers Choice Award in the fantasy category. Click here to vote.