Mary Gauthier hat über die Jahre sieben Studioalben veröffentlicht, auf denen sie ihre persönlichen Geister und Traumata in Songs aufarbeitete. Kein leichter Prozess, doch ihre Lieder wurden für sie zu einem Weg mit der eigenen Geschichte zurecht zu kommen. Da waren Adoption, Flucht, Alkoholsucht, die Suche nach sich selbst. Nun legt sie mit “Rifles & Rosary Beads” ihr neuestes Album vor, eine Platte, die sie mit US Veteranen aus dem Afghanistan und Irak Krieg und deren Angehörigen schrieb. Es ist keine patriotische, aber doch eine sehr amerikanische Platte. Das gesamte NZ-Interview mit Mary Gauthier können Sie am Ende des Beitrags lesen:
“I was bound to something bigger
More important than a single human life
I wore my uniform with honor
my service was not a sacrifice
But what saves you in the battle
can kill you at home
A soldier, soldiering on“
Mary Gauthier wurde vor fast fünf Jahren von der Organisation “Songwriting with Soldiers” eingeladen. Dabei werden Folk Musiker und Musikerinnen mit Soldaten und Veteranen zusammen gebracht, um durch Songs Erlebtes auszudrücken. Auf den ersten Blick ein gewagtes Unterfangen. Gauthier hat keine Militärerfahrungen und erklärt von sich, dass sie gegen den Krieg im Irak protestierte: „Aber das heißt ja nicht, dass ich die Soldaten hasse. Ich liebe die Mitmenschlichkeit und das bezieht Soldaten mit ein. Und wenn ich helfen kann, dann will ich auch helfen. Ich werde auch wieder gegen den nächsten Krieg protestieren, aber wenn die Soldaten zurückkommen, sie verwundet sind und ich helfen kann, dann werde ich das tun.“
“Who’s gonna care for the ones who care for the ones who went to war
land mines in the living room eggshells on the floor
I lost myself in the shadow of your honor and your pain
You stare out the window as our dreams go down the drain
Invisible, the war after the war”
“Rifles & Rosary Beads” ist ein sehr nahegehendes, gefühlvolles, ja, poetisches Album. Die Liedertexte sind alles andere als der Hurra-Patriotismus, der in diesen Wochen und Monaten in den USA verbreitet wird. Hier kommt nach 17 Jahren Krieg eine Generation zu Wort, die tief traumatisiert ist, die mit Problemen den Weg zurück in die amerikanische Gesellschaft finden will. Mary Gauthier hilft dabei auf eine sehr einfühlsame Weise, versucht Bilder im Kopf zu Worten werden zu lassen: „Ich habe den Song “Rifles & Rosary Beads” mit einem jungen 19jährigen Mann geschrieben, der nach seiner Grundausbildung nach Fallujah im Irak geflogen wurde. Und ich frug ihn, “Joe, was hast du gesehen, als Du aus dem Flugzeug kamst, beschreib es mir”. Und er meinte: “Da waren Jungs mit Rosenkränzen in ihren Händen und sie haben den Rosenkranz gebetet, die Perlen durch ihre Finger gerollt. Und da waren andere mit Gewehren in der Hand, die sie mit weißen Knöcheln ganz fest hielten.” Siehst Du den Song da, Arndt. Er nimmt Form an, wenn man das hört. Und ich habe ihm gesagt, wir können das Lied “Rifles & Rosary Beads” nennen. Ich habe diese Bilder von ihm bekommen, die er mit seinen Augen gesehen hat und ich konnte danach erkennen, was das mit ihm gemacht hat.“
“Rifles & Rosary Beads
You hold on to what you need
Vicodin Morphine Dreams
Rifles & Rosary Beads
White Knuckles wrapped around
Blackness that has no sound
Bombed out schools and homes
Kids in the street alone”
Mary Gauthier hat über die Jahre mit “Songwriting with Soldiers” nahezu 400 Songs gesammelt. Auf “Rifles & Rosary Beads” sind nun elf davon veröffentlicht worden, fünf wurden von Soldatinnen und Ehefrauen mitgeschrieben, sechs von Soldaten. Lieder, die sich um Erlebtes drehen, um den Krieg nach der Rückkehr, aber auch um sexuelle Belästigung und Vergewaltigung von Soldatinnen in Uniform. Mary Gauthier sieht sich mit dieser Platte auch in einer historischen Rolle, ihre Aufgabe sei es Missstände deutlich anzusprechen: „Ich denke, die schwierigen Fragen werden von Folk-Musikern gefragt. Ich sehe mich als eine Folk-Sängerin. Diese Geschichten sind in der Tradition von Woody Guthrie geschrieben. Ihre Aufgabe ist genau das, was Woody uns aufgetragen hat. Und das ist, die Aufgabe eines Folk Sängers ist es, die Gemütlichkeit zu stören und dabei die Gestörten zu trösten.“
“When the darkness draws near
And I’m shackled, chained to my fear
And the nightmares how and moan
She wakes me up and reminds me I’m home
It’s her love”
Sprecher: “Rifles & Rosary Beads” ist ein ermutigendes Album, für das man sich Zeit nehmen sollte. Denn es zeigt einen gerne übersehenen Teil Amerikas, einen zerbrechlichen, einen menschlichen. Neben all dem News-Getöse dieser Tage ist diese CD nicht nur mutig, sondern auch wichtig.
“I was an Army mechanic, I worked with the men
I worked on my back, I tried to fit in
Torque wrenches and ratchets, multi-meters and scales
Grease on my face, Grease on my hands, Grease under my nails
It was so hard to see ’till it attacked
But my enemy wasn’t Iraq”
Das NZ-Interview mit der amerikanischen Folk-Musikerin Mary Gauthier:
Mary, how did your new album “Rifles & Rosary Beads” come about?
Over the last four and a half years I’ve been working with an organization called “Songwriting with Soldiers”. And what we do is pair-up songwriters with veterans from all branches of the military and sometimes with their wives. We go to a retreat center and the songwriters sit with the veterans. We listen to their stories and take what they tell us and turn it into a song. And the veteran is the co-writer of the song. So, we sit with them and we listen. And of course, people who have been through so much, people who have been through war carry a lot of stories and a lot of trauma, oftentimes a lot of trauma. And the stories that come from it, the stories that come from working with them are real beautiful and incredibly intense.
What kind of experience did you have with the military prior to this project?
None, none (laughs). Zero. None of the songwriters so far have any military experience. But what we do have and a lot of, is songwriting experience. The goal is, to get the best songs from what we hear. I was invited, as just a songwriter to do this work and I fell in love with it. I just really fell in love with taking the skill set that I have and using it in service to those who have served.
The debate about military and war is often black and white. You are for or against it. Were you also tested in some ways about what you have heard?
Well, what’s beautiful about the program and the work that we do is, we never talk about politics. We are not interested in policy or politics. What we’re interested in is getting the stories told and really, really listening to what they have to say about how they feel and what they went through. So, we’re not discussing what they think about the wars or the politics of military engagement. What we’re discussing is where it hurts and where it lands on an individual. And how trauma will follow them around for fifty years. I have worked with Vietnam veterans, who’ve been home for 50 years and every night they still wake up screaming. So, we’re not talking about politics, and so no, it hasn’t tested me that way. But it has tested me emotionally, because some of these stories, I have to put my guitar down and cry. And it’s ok, ‘cause I’m not a therapist. You know, I’m not assessing them, I’m not a doctor. I’m just a human being listening to really difficult stories. If it didn’t make me cry, I think, there might be something wrong with me. And so, sometimes we cry together. And than, when we get through the tears we finish the song.
What you describe seems to me a good example of, what I have learned over here in the US: We support our troops. It doesn’t matter, how you see war or a military conflict, you don’t have this fight for or against a war on the backs of soldiers, because they didn’t make the decision to go to war.
Exactly, exactly…and I think what civilians don’t understand…and I think this is one of the big things I’ve learned is, that no one hates war more than a soldier. No one. The notion of being of service to those who have served, it’s not a political notion, it’s a human notion. These people have given so much and to be of service to them is a privilege really. It’s an opportunity to listen and to help them articulate what they’ve been through. You know, I wrote a song called “Mercy Now”, which was written as we were going into this war, where all these people got swept up. My political position was opposition to the war. But that doesn’t mean that I than hate the soldiers. I love humanity and that includes soldiers. And if I can help I wanna help. I’ll be out there protesting the next war too, but if the soldiers come back and they’re hurt and I can help, of course I will. The reason I would protest the war is, because I don’t want people to be hurt. Sometimes it’s very, very complicated and we want simple answers, don’t we? Like, if you’re against the military, you’re against the war, than you hate soldiers. Well, that’s just childish, it’s immature. These are good people, who got swept into something, that was way bigger than them.
How can I imagine these song workshops, are you all sitting around and are talking…how does a song develop out of this?
You know, it turns out, that people who carry a lot of trauma, people who carry a lot of hurt, they are just dripping in songs and song titles. And so, as they speak, the song just takes shape really quickly. There’s something about really listening to someone, where you can hear the song coming in. Or I can hear the song coming in. For example, I wrote the song “Rifles & Rosary Beads”, which is the title track with a young man who served in Fallujah, Iraq, during the surge. He’s 19 years old, he went through basic training and they flew him to Iraq during the surge. And so I asked him, “Joe, what did you see, when you got off that plane? Just give me the visuals”. And he said: “Well, I saw this yellow smoke and this orange haze everywhere.” And he said: “At sunset the bombs would whistle in and I couldn’t trust the sky.” And I wrote that down. And he said: “There were guys with rosary beads in their hands and they were praying the rosary, just rolling those beads in their hands. And there were other guys with rifles in their hands, and they were squeezing the rifles with white knuckles, holding them tight”. You see, Arndt, you see the song there. It just starts to take shape, when you hear these things. And I said, “Look, we can call this song “Rifles & Rosary Beads””. And I got these pictures from him, what he saw with his eyes and I was able to start to see what happened to him on the inside.
So, you’ve worked with the veterans on the lyrics, but how did that become a song, how did you put the music to the texts?
For me the music and the lyrics start to take shape about the same time. If you understand music intuitively, like I do. I don’t have a classical training, I can’t read music, so my understanding is intuitively. But I know what notes attach to what feelings. I can find the soundtrack on a very simple cord to what you’re telling me you feel. And as I strum those notes, and what I’m doing is letting you know that I understand how you feel. And this than opens you up further to tell me more, because you feel seen and hurt. The process is pretty quick. If we do it right, we have over 400 songs, so we’re doing it right. If the music is right, that opens up the soldier to talk more. And if they talk more, the music expands, and than their words just began to take shape into a song. I write down as they talk what they say, and than I just sit for a little while and structure it. I play it back to them, ask ‘em, if it’s right and if it is keep going, and if not, I’ll start again and try to find what it is they’re trying to say. They don’t know what they’re trying to say. So I help them to say it and find the words for what it is, their soul needs to say. It takes shape in like two hours, we have their song. It becomes pretty clear what it is they’re trying to say.
To work with a veteran on a song, what is this all about? Is it more to put experiences in that moment into words or is it more a longterm strategy how to deal with your own trauma?
I think, it’s the second part. For so many, what has to happen first is, they need to have a sense that they are being seen and heard. And what they have to say matters. So, when we sing their experience back to them, they get a sense, sometimes for the first time in a really long time, that they matter. And that their experience can be used to help others. This brings hope, becomes purposeful. And this infusion of hope than opens the possibility for them to do other things that can help them deal with their trauma.
You’re talking about 400 songs, how did you select the 11 songs on this album?
Difficult. I wanted to tell the story of the last 17 years of war, that meant, I didn’t put any Vietnam era songs in here, although I got quite a few really powerful ones. I decided not to put the Vietnam era songs in, because I wanted to focus really on the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, that we’re still in. And I wanted to get both female and male soldiers, so we got five women songs, six men songs. And I wanted to get the wives story told, so I got two songs that were co-written with a group of wives, veterans wives. I wanted to discuss the impact of this war on those who are serving in it through the stories on this record. I think, that’s how I narrated down. I wanted to get different viewpoints, different experiences, so, we’ve got the story told in as clean as way possible.
So, is there a second part about the Vietnam war coming out?
If I did the Vietnam era, that would be the whole thing, and certainly I have to do a record of all songs written by female combat veterans. And their experience includes massive amount of sexual harassment and rape. They weren’t raped by Iraqis, they were being raped by people in the same uniform. We’ve got a huge military sexual trauma problem. As #metoo gets talked about in the United States and around the world, we haven’t really heard from our female soldiers yet. I feel, that it’s something should blow the lid off of what’s happened to our female veterans and our female soldiers. And there is just not a conversation that’s been started around that really, not yet. But I would expect that it’s going to happen, I just don’t know how or when.
Beyond all these songs are life stories, that people right in front of you went through, suffered through. What was for you the toughest part listening to these stories?
Very hard to narrow down. I think, one of the things that stays with me the most is how war creates moral injuries in our soldiers. They are asked to do things, that they don’t….that they have trouble reconciling who they are with what they did. And these moral injuries are profound. And this is what we always ask of a soldier. This is the international and timeless challenge of everyone who’s been to war. It’s how to reconcile what they did in war, with who they see themselves as being, as they reenter civilian life. It’s called a moral injury and it’s a big, big subject. The military is aware of it, VA addresses it, and psycho-therapists are working with veterans on this very thing. We came back from Vietnam with so many soldiers with moral injuries. And now we’ve got this next generation of young people. And they are young people, they are significantly younger than I imagined them to be. They could be my kids, you know. Very much could be my kids. And they are struggling with some of the things that they find very hard to live with, that they did. My heart goes out. I understand from listening, not from personal experience, that when you put into that position, part of what happens is out of your control. And so, that sticks with me. And how much suffering is involved in that, how much suffering is involved in that…
Country music – in Germany – is often considered to be this happy, patriotic American music. Your album is quite different, showing the “reality” of life. How do you see this?
Well, you know, I think, “Hooray America is great” is one side of the story. But the other side really hasn’t had a chance to be heard. I think that nationalistic, patriotic songs don’t ask the hard questions. And I think the hard questions are gonna be asked by Folk singers. For me, I think of myself as a Folk singer. And I think of these stories, they are written in the tradition of Woody Guthrie. I think their job is to do what Woody asked us to do, which is, your job as a Folk singer is to disturb the comfortable. By doing so, you comfort the disturbed. Unquestioning, songs that are unquestioning, that are escapist in nature, that are just pure entertainment, that’s what I would call commercial music. And the purpose of commercial music is to sell a lot of copies and get played on the radio and not challenge the status quo in any way. I think that’s fine and people need that. Sometimes you just need to escape. But music can do something else too, and that’s what I’m up to. I think, if its brave it can help work through really deep traumas, but you have to tell the truth. And the truth is, that war has a price. And the price is paid by the soldier and their families. We need to know what that price is. That’s what these songs, I’m trying to shine the light on what is the price, that the individual pays. You’re not gonna get that in a “Ra-Ra” song, because it’s not the purpose of that song. The purpose of that song is something else.
On your previous albums you have worked through your traumas and ghosts you’re carrying with you. How was this for you, to be for this album in this different position to listen and to work on the traumas and experiences of others?
I think, maybe the way to look at it is, my whole life has prepared me to do this work. I’ve worked through my own traumas with my music in the last eight records. I’ve worked through adoption trauma, I’ve worked through addiction, I’ve worked through the things that, the blows that I’ve taken personally. And I learned what music can do to help steady me. I learned the power of truth telling in songs and what it can do to connect people and to disturb the comfortable. And comfort the disturbed. I’ve been disturbed, I know how music can comfort the disturbed, because I’ve been disturbed. I reached a place in my life, where I’m pretty steady. I’ve been sober almost 30 years, I’ve done a lot of work both in recovery and in my art to prepare me to take my skills and use them in a way that is of service to other people. And specifically to people who are dealing with trauma. So, I’m prepared to go to the very deep place with these veterans and I’m not afraid. And so they feel, I think, in some sense, there is a safety with me, because they know I’ve been there in some way. Not in their war, not in a war, but certainly I’m no stranger to trauma. I’m not gonna flinch and I’m not afraid and so they can lean into me. I’m able to be the conduit and so are all the other songwriters, who do this work with songwriting with soldiers. We are able to be the conduit for these stories. Because of the way I write, it’s gonna come out musically quite simple. It does sound like Country music, but it really is a very simple, old-fashioned way of going about it. Three chords, minimal words and going straight to the heart of the matter, quickly. That’s what I bring. They bring me the stories and I bring that skill set to help them tell their stories.
You are going to tour now for this new album, will you bring some of your co-song writers on stage with you?
Yeah, I’m gonna try some of that. When I’m in town, where they are near, I’ll invite them, absolutely. And it’s still coming into focus how that’s gonna look. I’m not sure. Because, see, they’re not singers and they’re not songwriters and most of them really hate a lot of attention. They’re soldiers, they’re trained warriors, they are not attention grabbers. They work behind the scenes. A lot of them are incredibly humble and they don’t like the spotlight. So, I’ve got to figure out a way to do it, that’s respectful for what they need. But I’m thinking of ways, and ja, I think it would be beautiful to have, at least, acknowledge them and introduce them quickly in a way that’s comfortable for them.
Is “Rifles & Rosary Beads” your project or a co-owned project with the involved veterans?
There is only me. I am the record company. I am the artist manager. The record is owned by me. The publishing is co-owned by the veterans, but I’m the one, who made all the decisions. So, if it’s any good I get to celebrate some success. And if it’s a total failure than you gotta blame me. This is my project.