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Parlor Soldiers (revisited...)


dhanners623
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When writer's block strikes, go back and fix songs that are broken....

 

A little over a year ago, Buc posted a fine song he'd written about Sherman's March to the Sea, and that made me realize it was something I'd always wanted to write about in some way. I came up with a song that went through several iterations, winding up with the title "Parlor Soldiers." That was a derogatory term soldiers (primarily in the South) used for wealthy officers who might look good in their fancy uniform but were of little use in battle.

 

I was never really happy with the song. It always felt something was missing. A couple of weeks ago, I realized the song needed some more description of the protagonist, so I wrote a new first verse telling the listener the guy's name and some details of his life. I'm still trying to figure out whether the song needs a chorus, what key I should sing it in, whether it needs a more formal ending, etc., but here it is as it stands now. Wish I had a fiddle player....

 

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=MDYKgZ0_NSU

 

The lyrics:

 

My name is Harris Bragg, I had a wife and son

They died in childbirth in the spring of ‘61

They rest in peace and never saw the ravages of war

Where parlor soldiers get the glory, poor man gets the gore

 

I sharecrop two acres east of Sandersville

Georgia asked for volunteers to fight and I said I will

We starve on their rations, march holes in our shoes

While the rich man’s safe at home ‘cause he bought a substitute

 

General Philips said we’d give the Federals their due

We were no match for their Spencers and their Henrys, too

Griswoldville was nothing but a harvest of death

Every night I think of slipping out, I do confess

 

Rich man brings the African to work his land for free

Those same wealthy men never did a thing for me

We go hungry while they plant more cotton than before

Takes a special kind to profit from this war

 

This soil is my home, it is where you’ll bury me

I would defend it from any enemy

Parlor soldiers get the glory, we just get the gore

Philips can keep his damn militia; he’ll not see me anymore

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I think it's terrific, though do encourage you to think more about a chorus. Do you know Warren Zevon's Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner? It's a tale of a character during war, like yours. It's a good song without its simple chorus (which if I remember is just a repetition of Roland's name), but its immeasurably better with it. It just provides a little bit extra emotional punch. Your composition might benefit similarly. I'm sure with your lyrical prowess, you could use the chorus to make Harris' conflict immediately clear and emotionally visceral to a listener that didn't have the benefit of knowing or being able to read the verses' intricate lyrics, or having a definition of parlor soldier.

 

As i say, there's no harm in experimenting with it. You have an already enviable baseline to start from. Great job.

 

Red 333

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I think it's terrific, though do encourage you to think more about a chorus. Do you know Warren Zevon's Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner? It's a tale of a character during war, like yours. It's a good song without its simple chorus (which if I remember is just a repetition of Roland's name), but its immeasurably better with it. It just provides a little bit extra emotional punch. Your composition might benefit similarly. I'm sure with your lyrical prowess, you could use the chorus to make Harris' conflict immediately clear and emotionally visceral to a listener that didn't have the benefit of knowing or being able to read the verses' intricate lyrics, or having a definition of parlor soldier.

 

As i say, there's no harm in experimenting with it. You have an already enviable baseline to start from. Great job.

 

Red 333

 

Thanks, Red. I might try some simple chorus. (And, yeah, "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" is a classic and some great songwriting.)

 

I have to admit I have a problem with coming up with good choruses. They need to be summative (at least to an extent) and I sometimes feel that's hard to do as the narrative develops. Then again, I look at a song like "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" and think maybe I'm overthinking the chorus thing....

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Exactly! Car Wheels is a great example. Like the Roland chorus, it's not a lyric that furthers the narritive. It provides a way to express emotion. Maybe this is where the summarization comes in, no? A chorus can stand apart from the trajectory of narritive but summarize its emotional impact. Plus it provides additional melodic interest and a repetitive hook.

 

Love that song, too, by the way.

 

You have a great gift. I'm sure whatever you do will be right for the song.

 

Red 333

Edited by Red 333
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I am really digging the song, melody, geetar playing and most everything. I especially liked the instrumental progression between the verses. There was one bit that didn't resolve - the what/why. What a Parlor Soldier is and why he is called such a thing?

 

I wonder - a song opening with a chorus describing to the listener what a "parlor soldier" is and why he is called such? And then roll into your verse with that massive human element and I'm looking for a razor. (JK about the razor)

 

I really hope I did not overstep my bounds. My sincerest apologies if I did. Sometimes I have all the social graces of a dog fart.

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I am really digging the song, melody, geetar playing and most everything. I especially liked the instrumental progression between the verses. There was one bit that didn't resolve - the what/why. What a Parlor Soldier is and why he is called such a thing?

 

I wonder - a song opening with a chorus describing to the listener what a "parlor soldier" is and why he is called such? And then roll into your verse with that massive human element and I'm looking for a razor. (JK about the razor)

 

I really hope I did not overstep my bounds. My sincerest apologies if I did. Sometimes I have all the social graces of a dog fart.

 

You did not overstep your bounds (we have bounds here?) and your point is a good one. The few times I have performed the song live, I introduced it by telling folks what a "parlor soldier" was. But that kind of violates one of my rules, namely, that a song should be able to stand on its own without any type of explanatory introduction. As I sometimes say, if you have to explain a song, you probably didn't do a very good job writing it. Maybe I need to deal with the issue in the song via a chorus.

 

The song's protagonist is pissed at a social/economic structure that treats him little better than the slaves the Confederacy was fighting to keep. He's angry that rich Southerners can avoid military service by paying somebody else to take their place. He's angry that he and his comrades are starving because large land owners would rather plant cotton than food crops because they could get more money selling cotton to Europe. (The problem got so bad that the Georgia legislature actually passed laws limiting how much cotton could be planted. Wealthy landowners ignored the law and planted cotton anyway.)

 

As a member of the Georgia Militia, the protagonist has no use for officers who talk of glory on the battlefield when he and his comrades are the ones who wind up dying.

 

So, yeah, you've given me something to think about....

Edited by dhanners623
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You did not overstep your bounds (we have bounds here?) and your point is a good one. The few times I have performed the song live, I introduced it by telling folks what a "parlor soldier" was. But that kind of violates one of my rules, namely, that a song should be able to stand on its own without any type of explanatory introduction. As I sometimes say, if you have to explain a song, you probably didn't do a very good job writing it. Maybe I need to deal with the issue in the song via a chorus.

 

The song's protagonist is pissed a social/economic structure that treats him little better than the slaves the Confederacy was fighting to keep. He's angry that rich Southerners can avoid military service by paying somebody else to take their place. He's angry that he and his comrades are starving because large land owners would rather plant cotton than food crops because they could get more money selling cotton to Europe. (The problem got so bad that the Georgia legislature actually passed laws limiting how much cotton could be planted. Wealthy landowners ignored the law and planted cotton anyway.)

 

As a member of the Georgia Militia, the protagonist has no use for officers who talk of glory on the battlefield when he and his comrades are the ones who wind up dying.

 

So, yeah, you've given me something to think about....

Your description in the second paragraph is something I knew. I never, ever heard of a Parlor soldier before your song. Your song gave me all of that information. Not easy to do, but you did - and you made us feel sorry for him before he ever signed up. That's some super song-writing. But where is that term "Parlor Soldier" come from, or why is he called that (social stratosphere hard at work, yes, but why "Parlor" instead of "scum-bag" or "bottom-feeder" soldier? Something to tell us what he is before jumping into his story, whether in a verse or chorus.

 

I actually woke up with the thought this morning of looking at Bob Marley's "Buffalo Soldier" to see how he told us what one was. As long as I don't have to listen to it. Over-played to to no end.... heehee

 

And then into some of my songs to see how they can be improved. I've learned a big lesson on this thread with how you attached the listener to the character. So thanks!!! [biggrin]

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I don't think there is a need to explain the term Parlor solidier. English is not my first language, but I understood what it meant. Sometimes it is not necessary to spell everything out for the listener. If you can create an interseting story, which this song definetly can, the listeners will start thinking for themselves and eventually pay more careful attention to the lyrics. If the meaning should still pass someone buy, there is always Google... [biggrin]

 

Lars

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dh - I just love all your stuff, you've got a way with storytelling, and always have a great bass / rhythm line going. Tangent question, are you playing that guitar strung upside down (low E on the bottom)?

 

 

Yep, the low E is closest to the floor. The only thing left-handed about my guitar is the pickguard. Just the way I taught myself to play.

 

As to PB's question, they were called "parlor soldiers" because while they talked a big game in the parlor, they were of little use on the battlefield. Also, they generally wore fancy uniforms that they didn't like to get dirty.

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Yep, the low E is closest to the floor. The only thing left-handed about my guitar is the pickguard. Just the way I taught myself to play.

 

As to PB's question, they were called "parlor soldiers" because while they talked a big game in the parlor, they were of little use on the battlefield. Also, they generally wore fancy uniforms that they didn't like to get dirty.

 

 

Started a trend didn’t they

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