I have always loved songs that tell a story. Many songs over the years have told simple stories. Thinking back to my childhood, “Silhouettes,” “Leader of the Pack,” and “Society’s Child” come to mind. But I’m not talking here about songs that tell simple stories. I’m talking about songs that could qualify as bona-fide short stories. Harry Chapin was the master of this genre with songs like, “Taxi” and “A Better Place to Be,” and many others.
One of my favorite story songs is one that was a hit for the Dixie Chicks in 2003. It’s a song by Bruce Robison called “Travelin’ Soldier.” Although written in the 1990s, the song is set during the Vietnam War. It’s about a boy, “two days past eighteen,” waiting in his army uniform for a bus that will take him off to war. He walks into a café, and is waited on by, “a girl with a bow in her hair,” who takes his order, and smiles at him because she can see he’s shy and all alone. This encourages him enough to ask her to sit and talk because he’s, “feeling a little low.” She tells him that she gets off in an hour, and she knows a place where they can go and talk. So they go down, and sit on the pier. There, the young soldier asks if he can write to her because, “I got no one to send a letter to.” She agrees and the young man catches his bus. Soon the letters start to come from an army camp in California, and then from Vietnam.
The young soldier pours out his heart to the young girl. He says that he may be in love with her. He also tells her of the things that scare him. He lets her know that when things get, “kinda rough over here,” he thinks of that day sitting on the pier with her. He tells her, “Don’t worry but I won’t be able to write for awhile.”
Of course, the last verse of the song is the most poignant:
One Friday night at a football game
The Lord’s Prayer said and the Anthem sang
A man said folks would you bow your heads
For a list of local Vietnam dead
Crying all alone under the stands Was a piccolo player in the marching band
And one name read but nobody really cared
But a pretty little girl with a bow in her hair.
I have to admit that I get a tear in my eye every time I hear the song. “Travelin’ Soldier” was the last hit the Dixie Chicks had. While they were introducing the song at a concert in London on March 10, 2003, lead singer Natalie Maines said that they were ashamed that George Bush was from Texas. Country music stations immediately stopped playing the song, and it dropped from the charts. The Dixie Chicks never recovered from their shunning from the country music community. But their recording of “Travelin’ Soldier” remains a musical work of art.