“I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier” written in 1915 and widely regarded as the first commercially successful anti-war song, could attribute much of its chart-topping success to the growing isolationist sentiment of pre-World War I America.
While the “The Great War” was already a nasty business for most Europeans, many pacifists, socialists, feminists, German, and Irish Americans were not yet keen to acquaint themselves with it’s atrocities. Some who voiced their opposition did so with the belief that joining the peace movement might help them leverage support for other causes near and dear to their hearts, such as a women’s right to vote. The majority of peace-lovers though were simply moved by the songs compelling lyric and catchy chorus:
I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier,
I brought him up to be my pride and joy,
Who dares to put a musket on his shoulder,
To shoot some other mother’s darling boy?
Let nations arbitrate their future troubles,
It’s time to lay the sword and gun away,
There’d be no war today,
If mothers all would say,
I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.
The distress of war empathically written from a woman’s perspective had a rallying effect on those opposed to military and economic “Preparedness.” And led many interventionist politicians such as Teddy Roosevelt to attack the song for its feminism, as well as for its pacifism.
Roosevelt was quoted as saying, “Foolish people who applaud a song entitled ‘I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier’ are just the people who would also in their hearts applaud a song entitled, ‘I Didn’t Raise My Girl to Be a Mother’!” And then added, “The place for women who oppose the war is in a harem in China –and not in the United States!” Loaded language indeed from a man who was a lifelong advocate of women’s rights. The “Speak softly and carry a big stick” Roosevelt, did not speak softly at all when he admonished pacifists, isolationists, and the Wilson administration about the disastrous consequences of an America unprepared for war.
Source: Al Pianadosi and Alfred Bryan, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier.”
“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
― Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades
After sacking Troy the warrior king Odysseus, in Homer’s epic poem, “The Odyssey” (8th century BC.), embarked on an adventurous ten-year journey home. Along the way he encountered sea monsters, a Cyclopes, a witch-goddess, and a few seductive bird-women called: “Sirens.”
The Sirens sat on a rocky perch on a Siren’s Isle and lured unsuspecting sailors—like Odysseus—to their deaths with a song so beautiful and seductive, they were at once lulled into a defenseless dream. Asleep, they had no recourse but to shipwreck.
Despite having been forewarned of the Siren’s dangerous intentions, Odysseus was nonetheless curious and thought he might exercise his Captains’ prerogative, and experience the joy of hearing for himself this Sirens’song. He prepared for the encounter by tying himself to the mast of his ship where he instructed his men to leave him, no matter how adamantly he begged to be set free. Next, he ordered them to plug their ears with beeswax, so they would not be lulled and made helpless. When at midday in a windless calm, Odysseus and crew sailed close to the rocky isle, the Sirens strummed a chord and began to work their magic. Odysseus, who was presumably impressed and predictably enchanted, demanded to be untied immediately! But his loyal men, following orders, only pulled the rope tighter. As they rowed out of earshot, a frustrated Odysseus was at last untied.
So it was, thanks to beeswax, a bit of rope, some ineffectual begging, and his men’s ability to follow orders, that Odysseus was able to hear what no living sailor had ever heard. And though there were more strange and dangerous adventures to come, he found himself one beautiful song closer to home.
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the early days of the Great Depression, the image of destitute persons selling apples on street corners proved an enduring illustration of the disparity between the haves and have-nots in many American cities. Considered to be only slightly preferable to panhandling, it was the last resort for many desperate unemployed who could not find work elsewhere.
The popularity of urban apple selling came to a head in 1930, when The International Apple Shippers Association found themselves with more fruit than they knew what to do with. In an attempt to alleviate themselves of their fruit, as well as address the growing problem of unemployment, they came up with an interesting solution. They agreed to empty their warehouses and sell their apples at a discount to those “hungry for work.” This, they hoped, would allow the impoverished to earn a meager living by selling the apples at a small profit. The result meant an influx of apple entrepreneurs crowding every available inch of sidewalk in cities all over America. With over 6,000 vendors on New York City streets alone!
President Herbert Hoover, in denial over the scope of the economic catastrophe, mistakenly explained the situation by declaring the vendors had actually “left” their jobs for the more profitable one of selling apples!
Apparently, apple selling was not as profitable as President Hoover had imagined, because the Apple Shipper’s remedy to the Great Depression lasted only a year. By 1931 the apple sellers were gone, and the Great Depression became greater still.
Art is most effective when concealed—Ovid
This song was one of a cluster of songs recorded at the end of the 80’s. I believe the intention was to try to put together a complete album’s worth of material rather than record just a series of random tracks. In much the same way that a novelist works, I’d begun experimenting with story/songs in which I would inhabit a character and sing from their point of view. The technique was useful in that it expanded my material options, but also, that it changed—in sometimes subtle ways—the way in which I interpreted a song vocally.
The track features David Houston playing the plucky things, and Brent Bourgeois supplying the Stevie-wonderful solo.