Back From The War

All songs go through transformations. From conception to final product there is a string of changes, edits, choices and decisions. Even in moments of inspiration when an artist says a song comes out “fully formed” they often mean the lyrics, or melody. Maybe the chords and basic structure or form. But there are still a slew of arrangement and production choices to make before the song is released, and each one has its effects. After release a song can continue to morph. Alternate mixes, re-mixes, radio edits. Sometimes artists change the words over time. A lot of songs are performed differently live than how they are recorded. 

I think of recordings like a photograph, a record of a specific moment in time. But the songs themselves remain fluid. We tend to identify them as the version most generally presented to us, even so, in their “finished” state, songs continue to have the potential to change. Every person we know is the same way. 

Back From The War was originally titled “Leslie”. It was my middle aged guy with long hair and a guitar war protest song. I liked that version, a lot. It was about how we glorify war, making it something heroic when the reality is that it is horrific. Leaving the world and the soldiers who wage it forever altered, and not necessarily for the better. And how, when it comes to the people sent to release this hell on their fellow humans on behalf of politicians and corporate interests, we don’t see the effects on them until they come back. If they come back. It’s an important message that has unfortunately become a trope since mankind is apparently unable to live and let live. 

As I said, I liked the song. But there was something about “Leslie” I felt was unfinished. I couldn’t put my finger on what bothered me about it and that gnawed at me. 

One day a dear friend of mine invited me to meet for a conversation. They divulged to me that they decided to embrace who they truly are and were done living behind partial truths and outright lies about their identity. It was time for them to fully accept themselves. They were excited to remove the burden of self denial. And terrified. Because this decision meant changing how they are presenting to the world, and the world isn’t terribly accepting of those who go against the so called cultural norms. Especially concerning sexuality and gender. To do a thing that society at large and many individual people don’t understand becomes dangerous. It can even be life threatening. The war for acceptance within oneself made more daunting by knowing another war waits “out there”. The one with everyone else. Overcoming the fear of fighting that first, internal war is no small feat. 

This is a fear I can relate to in a way. The cataclysmic event of my youth was being rejected by my peers for simply being who I was. It left me in search of acceptance resulting in many instances of trying to be someone and something I am not. Those episodes being unsustainable usually ended badly. Bad enough to pick up and leave, removing myself from the environment I was in and the people I was surrounded by in order to reset the matrix. Fear of rejection, a desperate need for acceptance driven by an underlying belief of being fundamentally flawed are feelings I empathize with. Although my struggle has been difficult, any real danger to me has been largely self imposed, and it’s crucial for me to recognize that difference. My search for self puts me at odds with the system at times, but the system is not engaged in all out warfare against how I identify myself. 

I came away from the conversation that day with a deep sense of gratitude. What a gift it is to be entrusted with this truth. It was profound and I felt it deserved to be celebrated. I also wanted to show my support in a more tangible way. I was inspired to rewrite “Leslie”. To transform it from a song of defeat into a song of victory. I had originally chosen the name Leslie purposefully because it is gender neutral. It allowed the song to apply to every soldier, not only the men. The song was limited in application however to traditional warfare. Now I wanted it to be for anyone fighting a personal war. My hope is for the song to be inspiring. To say it’s good and right and necessary to embrace your true self. There is no need to silence your true voice. The world will be a better place when we all sing our unique songs. 

When Les came back from the war we all cheered the whole crowd roared 

There’s no wondering anymore 

Since Les showed up for the war 

Les showed up for the war 

Les went and won the goddamn war 

It sounds simple. Acceptance. We all say we practice it. And in the broadest sense it’s basically true. But we all set parameters; our acceptance has its limits. Many of us will make exceptions within our personal circles. When those closest to us push the boundaries of what we are willing to accept we can be inclined to break our own rules. But it’s far more rare to extend those considerations beyond that individual. As an example, the love for and acceptance of a gay sibling doesn’t automatically equate to a belief that LGBTQA+ people have rights and deserve protection under the law. Those contradictions are often influenced by our own desire for the acceptance of others. We mold our personal identities for and tie them to those we wish to be accepted by. What is identity politics after all if not choosing to be accepted into one group through the rejection of another? How much oppression do we justify through the dogma of our chosen religion? The examples are endless of people being left out by those trying to fit in. 

I’m not in the habit of writing songs meant to be uplifting, or particularly positive. So the lyrics of Back From The War are still a bit uncomfortable to me, I’m afraid they’re cliche and a bit cheesy. But now the song feels right.

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