Before I even heard the song ‘Hey America ,’ I knew that it would be timely and I knew that it would be poignant for this generation. I’ve known James Corbin since he was a teenager, when I was a youth pastor working for his father at Calvary Baptist Church in Asheville , North Carolina . Even then, James had zeal about everything he did. And though we’ve differed in many things ideologically since then, I have always respected James for his sincerity and his devotion to the principles with which he was raised.
When his brother Matt first told me about the second round of ‘The Other Brother Sessions”,’ I couldn’t wait to hear them. When I finally heard ‘Hey America ‘ a few weeks later, I started working on the video before I even listened to the other cuts.
I’ve known for a long time that James was one of the greater songwriters of this age. I made two films to primarily highlight his song ‘Lesson Learned’ which has become something of an anthem for me. One was on my struggle with Attention Deficit Disorder called “Life at a Different Pace”, the other about the war in Iraq called, what else, “Lesson Learned”.
When James first joined the military and was sent off to battle, I thought it was a tragedy that America was missing out on such a prophetic voice. Now I thank God that James has been tried, tested, and sharpened, and now has the chance to bring us music once again.
Though I am unsure if Captain Corbin would even want me to add my own sentiments to his music, I find this song important for many reasons. I think that the length of this war has allowed our emotional attachment to it diminish, and it often only measures as a footnote in our democratic process. I think it’s important to remember that American lives are being taken and forever changed because if it. Lives are lost, spirits are broken, and families are destroyed. We have now lost more American lives in this war than in the tragedy that served as its catalyst.
Though it may be argued that the men and women who sign up to serve in the military do so voluntarily and have no room to complain of the situation they are in, we must at least try to believe that they volunteered with noble intentions and keep that in mind as we decide their fates from the comfort of our homes. We must exceed the nobility they have shown and keep their safety, health, and wellbeing at the forefront of our minds as we seek a way out of our precarious predicament.
Years ago, as I marched with thousands of others against going into this war, I heard many voices raised, beckoning for those against the war to support the troops. Now more than ever, I think it is vital that we give them the support they need. These are human lives being laid down for sacrifice on the pyre of national security. May those of us who stayed home find a fraction of the courage they have in their hearts, and give them the hero’s return that they deserve.
It is hard for me to speak of the fact that we are simultaneously fighting two wars without shaking my head in amazement. Harder still to comprehend that both are under the guise of an ideological war that seems only to be further fueled with every bullet spent, bomb dropped, and missile fired. I wish there were any easy answer to how we can disencumber ourselves from this military industrial complex that serves as our department of foreign affairs. I can only utter a hopeful echo of a whisper that was once uttered by gun-silenced lips: “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”
It’s been hard for me to get to a point where I say that I support the troops because I do believe that at its essence, the whole military industrial complex is the single most cause for many of America’s ails just as President Eisenhower warned that it would be. I think it’s a tragedy that anyone should feel obligated to play that game because it is the only way they can get an education or help their family or feel as if they are contributing something to life. However, I still hope that it is part of our cultural evolution and keep even higher hopes that we are evolving past it.
James and I have had a few words over the last few years. I remember us really butting heads when I was in LA and at the height of my anti-war movement and he was in Iraq. When the war went on despite my pleas, I kind of threw my hands up. I saw it as a political and business move more than anything. Though it may be that on the grandest scale, there are still much narrower stories in the subtext. And though the whole epic might be that war (or occupation) is a dreadful thing where untouchable men of power move other men around like pieces on a chess board, each of those knights, rooks, pawns, kings, queens, and bishops have stories. I think that’s where James’ story falls. That’s why it moved me. Because it’s a little voice amidst a raging cacophony.
I don’t think this is a protest song. I think it was an emotional shout from a man who went to serve and feels forgotten about. I think it’s about a boy who went into battle with wide eyes and came out on the other side a pretty jaded man. His opinions on the military before the war and now show a marked maturity.
I’ve just seen the whole Iraq debacle grow smaller and smaller in the newspaper bylines as we’ve moved onto other things. I feel that we sometimes need a shot in the arm of another reality in order to more fully appreciate our own.
James’ song could have been a lot of things. I think it was honest. For me, as long as a poet is honest, he can say whatever the hell he wants.