Reading about American and military history is hobby of mine, probably the lamest hobby for a 20-something woman to have. There’s something about it that’s fascinating to me though. The drama, the blood, the hardship, the victories. It’s a life so close to us but completely unfathomable for our iPhone worshiping, internet shackled, comfy and relatively simple lives. But there are others that enjoy history as much as I do and saw fit to put it into their music, making it far more interesting than any history professor ever could. So I give you…
Songs that make history bad-ass
— Astronautalis – “Thomas Jefferson”
In fairness, all of Astronautalis’ songs about American history are bad ass, but “Thomas Jefferson” from This is Our Science is fantastic. It’s a lovely song about a hardened soldier turning a new leaf and becoming a farmer, leaving his life of blood and gunpowder behind him. The beat, the lyrics, Astro’s growly voice pushing you forward with talk of guns and wheat – everything about it makes me want to buy an ox and yoke and start up a farm of my own.
Stand-out line: ” The first thing they was taught, was how to load and lock. Take that aim and shot, embrace the pain of shoulder blade taking stock”
— Say Anything – “Alive With the Glory of Love”
Only Say Anything could take a song about Jews in WWII and make it danceable and touching. Max Bemis chants “I won’t let them take you” throughout the chorus as he tells the story of a couple in hiding from the Nazis who are madly in love. But unlike a lot of WWII love stories, Bemis’ is optimistic and hopeful. Like the title suggest, it’s a song about staying alive for love.
Stand-out line: “Should they catch us and dispatch us to those separate work camps, I’ll dream about you. I will not doubt you with the passing of time.”
— Sufjan Stevens – “John Wayne Gacy Jr.”
I had a roommate in college that use to blast Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois all the time, putting “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” on repeat more than once. I’m still unsure if she ever knew that this song chronicles the killings of the famous Illinois serial killer, who murdered over 30 young men in the 70s, but I will say that it’s probably the most beautiful song about one. Either way, it’s probably better I don’t live with her anymore.
Stand-out line: “And in my best behavior I am really just like him. Look beneath the floor boards for the secrets I have hid.”
— Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor
The Monitor is rife with Civil War references, the name of the album itself namedropping the first American iron warship the USS Monitor. The band puts their own spin on US history by adding some stuff about their New Jersey roots and some power chords, but when “The Battle of Hampton Roads” comes on it’s all about historic naval battles with an undercurrent of punk.
Stand-out line: (from “The Battle of Hampton Roads”) “And in the morning the shells will wash up on the shore, and the mighty old earth will have no other recourse.”