In the War Zone (2017)

In the War Zone

Nhoj Morley

This PRCA is composed of slightly updated tunes from the Reagan Era that addressed the social and political issues of that time. Thirty years later, well… there we go again. Songs and incidental music are filled with voices from the archives of C-SPAN. In speaking to the future, voices from the past warn us about the present.

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In the War Zone was a grand and pretentious project born in the scary days of the early Reagan Era, which history might now remember as trump-lite and a mere premonition of what was to come. A famous and elderly entertainer with strangely colored hair has moved into the White House. Everyone's attention is drawn toward Russia's aggressive moves on its neighbors. Folks speak about the 'inevitability' of nukes landing somewhere. A new Caliphate vies for attention on the world stage. The public is trying to understand Islam as something other than a native voodoo practice. Videos of ninja-suited swordsmen are scaring everybody. A grassroots movement rises against the financial elite who are taking too big a helping for themselves. An explosion of new information sources begins to drown the public with agenda-driven formats of truth. That's right! It's 1983!  

Politics is a combination of chapters and incidents. Sometimes we have a plan and we compose the next chapter of the story we think we're living in. Just as often, a single incident can occur that changes the direction of the story or changes the book altogether. Democracy is no longer a crucible of what we want. It’s a cauldron to boil your enemies in when you win. So few of us really wanted it anyway. For most, it was only a temporary compromise until their Super-Magic-Messiah-Person finally shows up. Every knee shall bow. That way, no one can see to fill in the voter ballot. 

The music accompanies the story of Strumbozo and Ahklem- a rock musician and an Afghani freedom fighter who cross America heading for Washington DC to change politics forever. They arrive just in time to embark on an outer space adventure.  A synopsis of their story is here
 

Book One-
 

Tr1- Chapter 1: In the War Zone

Two pairs of songs in this album are musical palindromes. If the President says down can be up, then forwards can be backwards. That means play either song backwards and hear the structure of the other song forwards. But that's not the point. It means that for each pair of songs there will be a single organ track that plays forward in one song and backwards in the other. There will be two grungie chord guitar tracks in each song. One track is the song's guitar part recorded forwards. The other track is the other song's guitar part played backwards. Chapter 1: In the War Zone is Chapter 4: Red Shift backwards. Chapters 6 & 8 are the other pair, which are also heard (boogie section only) in Incidents 2 & 4 actually rolled backwards.

Narration by Ambassador Keyes.
 

Lyrics...

Hey Sailor!
Put on a happy face
'cuz we're gonna win us a war!

Our prayers have been heard
the balloons have gone up
Dash out from the trenches
it can't hurt that much
Real soon we'll have peace and then
we'll have Christmas at home

Like a beacon
these happy face notions
will guide the way

We'll help you put on
your happiest face
if it costs us both an arm and a leg
Receive a welcome rest 
on a hill that overlooks the Parade

Put on a happy face
The walls will come down
the roof will cave and let havoc in
Our lives will be done
and we'll try to run down streets of fire

We've stepped in it now
On this road of no return
Stand down from pen and plough
In the war zone we say let it burn
All the air goes dark with din
Voices call for heads to roll
As angels dance on pins

Cash to ash and trust to dust
and balls to walls

Did you see what it's all about?
say you looked
say you have no doubt
Strike the others from the list
Strike a match if they resist
Prepare to close the open door
if we want things like they were before

We've stepped in it now
We'll never scrape this off our shoes
Happy facedown in the mud
In the War Zone where the titans cruise
We'll fight teeth for tooth when
skeptics threaten a helpless truth
Must keep those angels dancing

Cast the doubters from the list
Cast a stone if they resist
Say the words and we'll forgive
Think these thoughts and you can live

Happy happy happy face
My face is so happy
My happy happy happy face
will keep me safe inside

 

Tr2- Incident #1: The Vapors

The Veep and his pal discuss right and wrong.

 

Tr3- Chapter 2: No Safe Place

The intro skit includes the sound of real PRK missiles taken from their newscast. A translation is provided. 

Lyrics...

There is a place that's warm and cozy
if that is your desire
Those who've seen the dangerous visions
will find it very dire
We find it tough to live there
among the safe and sound
the web has unraveled
and the Heavens have crashed down

Leaving no safe place
This is the story where
we get spaced

I've got no way, no path, no guide, no chase
no up nor down and no safe place

Buzz the bank and say I won't save face
I've stepped out of line in the credit race
Gotta get my shit together in case the missiles fall
Maybe get my sins forgiven
Just in case of a curtain call

This is no safe place
This is the party where we get faced

I've got no creed, no oath, no cause, no case
no mind to change and no safe place

This is the party where we
put on a happy face

No, I know a nomad man as
distinct from a known madman
I have no wish to rile
My fellow rank and file
Don't call me a deserter
I just need space to think
But I'm not holding ground
that is standing on the brink

No safe place this land is lost in space
Just in case, put on a happy face, happy face

 

Tr4- Incident#2: The Fog

The President cautions us about the present future, or is it the future present?.

 

Tr5- Chapter 3: Keep Still 

I was looking for a rubbery, pitch-bendy first half and a crunchier second half. I told myself to go ahead with the plan and don't worry about making something horrible. The arrangement is as planned in 1984. 

Lyrics... 

"People are not, under their own momentum, good people. Though they are quite capable of goodness with some firm shepherding from the community at large, or a single influential person. Once this magnetic alignment is established, the result is an orderly public pulled onto a Vector of Goodness. This common motion must be maintained without deviation. It is the current and the push that allows the Goodness in us all to have a good place to be good in."

This is the way we've gone forever
this is the span of our stride
until we reach the shiny city
this ugly road is our guide
move along

This is the path
this is the way
this is the speed
we travel at today
never deviate a single step
or skip a frame of mind
should anyone lose sight of us
they must be left behind
move along

We are in motion 
we did the deed
a dose of dread
and regret is what we need
to chafe the senses like an ugly melody
we sung into a bottle and cast into the sea
until we reach our point of view 
this the road
this is the way
move along now

"Our Good Place is only there when we move together and at the same pace on the Vector of Goodness. If you move a little bit faster, or a little slower, or turn to the left or right even a smidge, the Good Place will blur and vanish from view. As will you, blur and then vanish from the sight of others who stay focused on The Path and do things at The Pace. This is The Way. Move along now… nothing to see here."

Keep still ya little varmints
we can make this merciful and quick
the speedy bullet is kinder to you
than the old club and stick.
your simian kinetics means
the target is in motion
like the rest of us

This is the road to the shining city
this is the speed of enlightenment
our destination is our nation's destiny
that waits for us forever
this is the path
this is the way
this is the speed
we travel at today
it chafes the senses like an ugly melody
we sung into a bottle and cast into the sea
until the end comes into view
this the path
and the pace
move along now

We are stillness in motion 
you best keep still ya little varmints
like the rest of us

We take the path
we know what to do 
We call it simian kinetics
but it's a vanishing point of view

apes in motion
locked in limbo
always kept safe and sound

Keep the speedy bullet
locked and loaded
the target is in motion

 

Tr6- Incident #3: The PreAmble 

The Red Shift Suite started out in '81 as a scrawled timeline that mapped out the sequence and proportion of the musical sections. For a handful of outings in '83 and '84, The PreAmble was the band's opening number and The Post Mortem was the closer. A bomb casing wore a Reagan mask but plans for a pantomime submarine never materialized. 

  

Tr7- Chapter 4: Red Shift 
  
Back in the early 1980's, as always, the USSR was working to impose a red shift anywhere they could. A different sort of red shift occurred in 2016. 

Lyrics... 

Once upon a time… 

Jimmy told us not to feed the bear 
The grain stays on the farm 
he said our oily debt 
was a greater threat 
a sweater will do less harm 
Then we polled the great electorate 
and Jim was cast away 
next time we chose to zap them with a Reagan (horn dive) 

Ronnie promised peace 
peace through strength 
everybody feared that  
we might take a red shift 

Hey sailor, did you see the news? 
of strutting Ruskie troop reviews 
tanks rolled in Gdansk again and 
the mountains of Afghanistan 
Panic loomed in dangerous days 
Agendas advanced in crazy ways 
Sending troops and raising flags 
and putting boys in body bags 

Will you please keep still 
while the Titans cruise their nuclear destiny 
With your hands tied behind your back 
Tinpots for hire are paid by us the rhetoric buyers 
did we sign our lives away? 

Gorby let the wall fall down 
The bombs fell too without a sound 
The tanks were rolled across the bridge 
and up the road to Ruby Ridge 
Then they happened onto Putin Place 
Now they're pu'tin' on a happy face 

Time for us to 
put on our man pants 

Are you waiting still? 
Then stick around and brace yourself for war 
It isn't MAD anymore 
locked behind our bunker door 
we got the nukes to settle the score 
When the time comes to hit the floor 

Who left open 
the new Windows of vulnerability? 

A little man whispered 
"Come and dance… 
come and dance and clap 
those little hands with us 
We can set the world aflame 
then everyone will scream your name" 

Those lads 
they danced the Kremlin's way 
ta-ra-ra boom-de-ay 
they took our pants away 
this is not the KGB 
this pumpkin has a USB 
relax and enjoy the show 
When Jesus comes he'll wear the pants 
until then we drink and dance this night away 

Serf's up 
and they are angry 
but we are hot stuff 
let's set the world on fire 
the forgotten folk are on the march 
to a promised land for oligarchs 
who scream their names 
until one mushroom-cloudy day 
when the missiles rain… 

  

Tr8- Incident #4: The Post-Mortem  

A finale of nuclear bombast.

 

Book Two-
 

9- Incident #5: The Indictment

One of the tougher mission objectives of this PRCA was to summarize five days of hearings down to one and a quarter minutes and set it to music.

 

Tr10- Chapter 5: Waiting for the Castles to Fall

Lyrics...

Come and stand with us
and hold this fort til dawn
We'll table our disgust
and give our brain and brawn

In here the faithful wait
for God's point man to arrive 
while others postulate 
that all can stay alive

Come and stand with us
and hold this fort til dawn

With either side in charge
the other is under siege
Either way we get a world
that no one can believe

Partisans hope to win for keeps
with vitriol and taunts
Until then we shall defend
this fortress no one wants

When can we get on with it?
When the castles fall

When will there be room for all?
When the castles fall

When will it be enough?
When the castles fall

Who can tell it like it is
when the castles fall?

There will be no reckoning
No one up against the wall
All will be forgiven
When the castles fall

Two scoops for everyone
When the castles fall

 

Tr11- Chapter 6: Gravity and the Plight of the Working Man

Chapter Six is the palindromic sibling of Chapter Eight. 

Lyrics...

Which way is up?
Which way is down?
From Pittsburgh to Duluth
we sought an azimuth

We were safe inside our dens
but not from the wily Fox
He could sneak into the pens
by talking from a box
He polished shiny turds
with smooth gritty words
the Fox said
"Gravity don't make no sound
Gravity won't let you down"

Shadows march along the wall
with shouldered arms enough for all
Jutting chins and rolling eyes
that spin from Al Phaboy and Missile Thighs
What's going down? Who's going down?

Down is up and up is down
Gravity will crush this town

Which way is up is up to
the one who wears the crown
should it be a heavy anchor
or a levitating clown
A repulsive magnetism wins
as the moral compass spins, the Fox said
"Gravity don't make no sound
Gravity won't let you down"

 

Tr12- Incident #6: Incarcerated

A set-filling ditty from 1979. 


Tr13- Chapter 7: Here's How to Order

This sixth incarnation is supposed to be a sort of bluesy plum loco.

Lyrics...

Words for sale today here's how to order
Got words and facts and themes
and pictures of your dreams
Get some try some you can trust them
and believe

Rest upon our shoulders My Great Leader
While we carry on the burden on our backs
We will feed you follow and fear you
It's a bargain that we can't afford a miss

So we took some well-read dark upstarts
and errant sons and nailed them to
the fact transmitting tower
It said by word and deed concede
here's how to order now

Can't think about anything right now
Can't think about anything else
Don't want to go down in pieces
Just want to go down in peace
We're gonna get lost in space
We're gonna get torn asunder

I'll not buy your pitch today so sue me
Can't lose my freedom to the barrel of a song
We'll surpass your new world order
and we'll claim a space where everything
is up for debate

 

Tr14- Chapter 8: Soupline to Paradise

Back in the early '80's, my pal Frank (alias Sir Bubbles Varoom) had a fascination with abandon car plants in Detroit and books and stories about the Depression. He took polaroid photos of rusty buildings around Zug Island and then headed to the local bar to get more smashed. All that stopped when he fell through a rotted floor and filled his legs with pins and pain. Except for the getting smashed part. He favored little red brick bars near the Rouge River plants around shift change time. He liked to watch the workers. He learned to emulate their walk and dressed like them. It was one phase of a serious long-term Hemmingway-complex.

Along the way, he wrote song lyrics. They were mostly bits and pieces on cocktail napkins or little promotional flyers from a bank lobby. I would collect them when possible from the floor of his car. That way I could do what he never did… finish something. I stitched something together that finally met with his approval. He insisted it be clumsy and ungrammatical because that is how they talk down at the little red brick bar. I can tidy it up now because he can't stop me.

He also had a fascination with those two tiny ladies that lived in a box in the old monster movies.

Narration by Fiz Weld
 

Lyrics...

How can we be so cruel?
How can we be so kind?
Why can't we do what we're told?
why is our share served out in the cold?

In this land so pressurized
by tickling fingers on invisible hands
The New Deals of the demigods
always keep the soupline manned
We are handed out a dole
in a state-issued bowl
Get in line and pay the toll
to receive your own soul
The lesson that we preach
is life is not a peach

How can we be so cruel?
How can we be so kind?
Who bakes this corporate pie?

I never bargained for you
You never bargained for me
Let's write it off as manifest destiny

Work the line! Stamp it! Shape it!
Cold polled steel! For product and progress!
Mother's breast-assembly line-animal machine
Now don't confuse it!
Tow the line read the sign
Get in line this is fine 

Mechno-facture each artifact as a prayer
and a hymn to our steel sky

Ambition is a sinful lust
stay in line in God we trust
Here's a slice of moldy bread
stay in line better time's ahead
If life is not a peach
if the pie is out of reach
if a lie is what we preach
with excuses that we teach
For that we live and breathe
For that we must concede
Our surrender leads to victory
on the soupline to paradise

 

Tr15- Incident #7: Smoke 

This is one of only two items not composed in the 1980's. 

Help! It's the Police! 

 

Tr16- Chapter 9: Babylon Be Praised 

This 2017 version has the same arrangement as the original 1983 Casio duck-voice version. 

Lyrics… 

I come from out of the shadows 
down underneath far from all this glory in the Heavens 
I can't think and I can't breathe just standing here 
humbled by your overwhelming presence 
We'll hit the beaches… we'll come up fighting 
We'll take the blame for it all 
Until Old Glory stands on every flattened peasant 

Praise Babylon and Hail be upon our Great Leader 
A shake or salute, a wink or a nod, 
it pays to be right with God 
Praise Babylon with all of our last breath 

We don't want anymore speeches 
We've suffered a bad case of rhetoric constipation 
We won't be making anymore disposable lives 
or any binding arbitration 
We like a steady job, a plot of bricks and sod 
We like a room with a view 
and a screen full of happy news 
a team that will never lose might just do 

Praise Babylon and Hail be upon our Great Leader 
A shake or salute, a wink or a nod, 
it pays to be right with God 
Praise Babylon with all of our last breath 

Hey, Mr. President! Do you see these little guys 
underneath this Great Administration? 
No, you'd rather smash your fists 
into creeps and columnists 
A hero of a new Holy War 
Never speak the whole truth aloud 
Until every knee is bowed or broken 

Praise Babylon and Hail be upon our Great Leader 
A shake or salute, a wink or a nod, 
Pay to be right with God 
Praise Babylon with all of our last breath 

  

Tr17- Incident #8: Sonar 

Sonar was a set staple for two bands over a span of three years. The Vapors is one of its many rehearsal-night parodies. 

 

Tr18- Chapter 10: Don't Make Me Angry 

My pal Frank gave out one worthy piece of advice about seeing things through and getting things done. He said ya have to get angry. He's right. Thanks, Frank. I'm angry that you're dead so I saw it through and got it done. 

Lyrics… 

I will forget my thoughts 
I won't make is from ought 
I will make peace with me 
That's where I want to be 

It's time to clean the house 
I want my mighty mouse 
to have a tidy pad 
just like the righteous have 

I am a pond of stillness 
I am no source of willfulness 
I have no axe to grind 
that makes me one of a kind 

I am the eye in the storm 
I'm looking straight at the norm 
I'm neither hard nor soft 
so don't you dare piss me off 

my propeller beanie 
lifts me above the scenery 
I see where the war zone lies 
With my x-ray vision 
I can spot the division 
it's right behind your eyes 

It hurts to take it in 
It gets under my skin 
I need to make it stop 
or I will blow my top 

Shivering orphaned puppies 
puppies will make me sleep 
Wake up with a kitten video 
a daytrip to the clown rodeo 
then a nap under the gumball tree 
that will make me not angry 

dangerous brains bring bluster back bravely get me angry 
boisterous dudes duck dusty dirt deftly get me angry 
aggregate aides act as angular agents get me angry 
malodorous misfits make magnificent morons get me- 

Shivering orphaned puppies 
puppies will make us sleep 
Wake up with a kitten video 
a daytrip to the clown rodeo 
then a nap under the gumball tree 
that will make me not angry 

we need to sleep we want to eat 
we need to breathe and rest our feet 
No time for tea sound the alarm 
before our brains do further harm 

How come our brains can't see one view? 
Our blood and bone know what to do 

Get angry 

 

Tr19- Incident #9: The Pall 

Thanks, Ron. 

  

The accompanying story synopsis appears in full here.