Pianist/composer Dave Brubeck died on December 5, one day before his 92nd birthday. The following reprint is from 2005 (RRC 204).
PASS THE BUTTER, PLEASE…
On the eve of the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day, Dave Brubeck has released the solo piano exploration Private Brubeck Remembers (Telarc). Brubeck served in Europe during World War II as an infantryman, although he was usually playing for the troops, music such as the songs heard here: “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” “Where or When,” “Something to Remember You By.” Placed in a wartime context, these tunes transcend nostalgia and become often-intense expressions of yearning, loneliness, and fear.
In his liner notes, Brubeck places the war in a context of both hypocrisy and heroism. He notes how Japanese-American friends were placed in Stateside detention camps while also describing the liberation of slaves who worked in Nazi factories.
As Brubeck indicates, World War II did indeed have an agenda, one that FDR summarized as the Four Freedoms: freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom from want, freedom from fear.
Discussion of the need for those four freedoms was driven underground by McCarthyism in the early 1950s, only to be resurrected by rock and soul music. The civil rights movement—greatly accelerated by the return of black World War II veterans—spurred a nearly two-decade explosion of socially-conscious music that remains the moral axis of our popular culture.
That music also sprang from the fact that America was almost continuously at war—Korea, Lebanon, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam. Yet even though music inspired and infused anti-war protest, it couldn’t change the reality that the economy was booming and could provide both guns and butter.
Today, the boom in the economy is the sound of its implosion and Dave Brubeck must be experiencing déjà vu. Once again, American soldiers in foreign countries are turning to music to combat fear and loneliness. Once again the United States has internment camps (for suspected “terrorists” or people who are illegal only because they’re immigrants. Slave labor has returned to factories around the world, factories which are often used to produce music-related gear.
Once again, discussion of the four freedoms has been driven underground, this time more by music industry cowardice and the likes of Clear Channel than by government edict. All we hear is the sound of guns when what we want is butter. We can no longer have both. If we allow another world war to take place, no one will be around to make an album to commemorate its sixtieth anniversary.