Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My Military Experience

My three brothers, whom I have not mentioned before, all became military men. Blond Brother stayed in the Army long enough to retire, but he had to be a peacekeeper in Bosnia and do two year-long tours in Iraq before he reached that point. He retired as a colonel, and I suspect he would have stayed in long enough to become a general were it not for all that sand.

Twin of Blond Brother is still in the Navy, and probably will be for life. Why not? He lives on the ocean and has a sweet niche carved out for himself.

SWAT Team Brother was an MP for most of his time in the Army, and now he is a peacekeeper in Texas. You may have seen him on Court TV.

While the two Army brothers worked their way up the ranks, I kept track of where they stood in the overall scheme of military things by referencing two works of art: Gomer Pyle, USMC and today’s song.

Gomer Pyle helped me remember that rank goes up from private to corporal to sergeant to lieutenant. (This was my take on things, not the precise order of real-world military rank.) And today’s song states that “There’d be a colonel and a major and a captain, too, following me.” Once Blond Brother got to lieutenant, I knew what was in store for him, thanks to one of my favorite 45s, “General of Broken Hearts” by Marlin Greene.

This song is fraught with memories, old and new, so many that the discussion of the other side of the single will be longer than a usual Saturday post so I can fit everything in. As I said last time, I have been looking forward to getting to March 19 so I could write this reminiscence.

I’ll start with how the song first impacted me. Neither side of “General of Broken Hearts” (Philips 40103, 1963) charted. My 45 is a regular copy, not a DJ copy, but it is a cutout: note the hole punched in the label. I liked that label. I don’t know what the logo, with its stars and wavy lines, is meant to indicate, but three-year-old caithiseach appreciated the clean layout and the rainbow stripe across the diameter of the label.

In fact, this experience with Philips carried over into vicarious pride when I learned in the early 1980s that Philips was co-developing the compact disc with Sony. That’s why I buy compact discs these days. Well, maybe it’s the music, but I haven’t forgotten the Philips contribution.

Of course, I liked the song, or the label wouldn’t matter to me. The drumming has a martial cadence to it, as one might expect from a song about an army, and that synched up nicely with an album of military music I owned, probably thanks to my dad’s own time in the Navy.

What the drumming in this song did, by the time I turned five, was make me decide I would like to learn to play the drums. And once I started my lessons with Keith Leach at Sparks Music on Broadway in Gary, Indiana, “General of Broken Hearts” was one of the first songs I tried to learn at home.

My hands were so small that Keith found me slim drumsticks, very elegant ones with nylon tips, to use instead of the clunky thick ones that were standard beginner fare. I took them home with my practice pad and played to the music in the book, then tossed my favorite 45s on the record player and played along.

I remembered just now that, before I started playing the drums, I used to ride a rocking horse I had in time to the music. Depending on the song that was playing, the horse bouncing against the floor could make as much noise as my drumming, so it was pretty much an even trade noise-wise when I started using those sticks.

When I thought I had figured out “General of Broken Hearts,” I asked my mom to come to listen to me play along with the record. By then I had received for Christmas a real stereo with a Garrard automatic changer. I turned on the stereo and sat beside her on my bed. I played the song, and she nodded approvingly.

About three years later, my mother died, and in the chaos leading up to her death, my drum lessons fell by the wayside. But this first foray into public performance, with an audience of one, and one I thought I could count on for a good review at that, flows back into my conscious mind instantly, 40 years later. Marlin Greene’s voice woven into the rolls on the snare drum, matched by my thumps on the rubber practice pad, my mom’s patient smile, her hand tapping the beat on her knee.

If she were still around, this memory might not be so significant to me.

The song was written by Bruce Gist. He has registered a respectable 123 compositions with BMI, but none shows signs of having been a huge hit. There is no production credit listed on the 45, and since no one has seen fit to reissue the Philips sides on CD, I don’t have any liner notes to work from. Thus, one of my favorite 45s, a true Survivor that escaped the fate of being Ground to Dust because I played it mostly on a good turntable, is keeping as many secrets as it reveals.

And yet, I haven’t mentioned the singer, Marlin Greene. I’ll tell you that I love his voice, and I love the album he released in 1972. But there’s so much to say about Marlin that I’m going to hold it back for Saturday. For now, enjoy this tune and this voice, and forgive my decision to split the story into two parts. See you Saturday on the flip side!

Marlin Greene, General of Broken Hearts

General of Broken Hearts label scan


yah shure said...

Just last week I was putting together a want list of college radio faves from the early '70s, and "Jonathan's Dream" from Marlin Greene's 'Tiptoe Past The Dragon' LP made the cut. It was a real treat to hear a much earlier Greene effort.

"General Of Broken Hearts" immediately reminded me of "Flying Blue Angels" by George, Johnny & The Pilots (Coed 555; #108 in 1961.) You would have loved to have drummed along with that one, too.

That has to be one of the least intuitive fadeouts I've ever heard on a record. The key had just changed, Marlin had begun singing again and... there went the song! It was as though Marlin's three-hour session was up, and they just faded it out wherever he happened to be. At 2:13, there certainly was enough room on the 45 to let him at least finish the line. Either that or they faded it early to cover up a faux pas.

The Mercury/Philips family of labels was never known for being generous with label credits on their 45s. They *were* known for showing up in the cutout bins quite often (fortunately, for us.)

I'm looking forward to part two!

caithiseach said...

Yah Shure, thanks for the tip on the other song. I'm posting from out of town, so I can't put up Jonathan's dream tonight, but I have the LP, so if you don't have it yet, let me know . . .


stackja1945 said...

is still in the Navy, and probably will be for life.

Billy Joel
And he's talking with Davy who's still in the navy
And probably will be for life

stackja1945 said...

Marlin Greene reminds me of Johnny Horton, Leroy Van Dyke and Ferlin Husky.

Anonymous said...

Bruce Gist is my father-in-law, and would be thrilled to see this post - you can check out his latest, and get in touch with him via link here:
- Lori Gist