Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Synapse to the Beat: Coven's "One Tin Soldier"

I wonder what high school and elementary school is like today.

I went to school in the 1980s, taught by teachers who came of age in the 1960s. They were idealists who couldn't get over the hippie dream, I guess. When contemporaries were 'selling out' and reaping in the cash in the greed-filled 1980s, they chose the more altruistic route. With their second-hand Hondas and threadbare corduroy slacks, they probably couldn't help being a bit resentful.

But in classes, they were able to be as radical as they wanted to be. Memories fade; I can't point to too many examples, but I know that I was schooled almost entirely by pacifist neo-Marxists. I was too young to know that, but it's infused me to a degree that I think a lot of 'conservative' tastemakers would find horribly offensive.

An interesting sidebar, though: in grade four or five, I can't remember which, we had a music teacher. Whatever path in life led her to employment in an elementary school I cannot know, but she was religious. This in istelf was a novely, but not one I took to too kindly. I can recall her playing Stryper for us (Christian poodle-rockers who wore bee costumes, I kid you not) and talking about Jesus. I and two of my friends, who would have been nine or ten at the time, went to the principal's office entirely of our own accord to complain that the teacher was proselytising in class. In retrospect I'm incredibly proud of that.

Anyway, I was less offended by songs like 'One Tin Soldier'. Quite the opposite: when we got to grade six or seven, i can't remember which, we had a music teacher who seemed intent on instilling hippie values in all of us. 'One Tin Soldier' seemed to take up an inordinate percentage of our class. As I recall it, she made us sing the song countless times. I actually loved the song (I was a kid; I didn't have the best critical faculties) and got no small amount of pleasure from singing it in class. But it's really quite radical a song: not just pacifistic in nature but also quite anti-religious as I see it ('Do it in the name of Heaven; you can justify it in the end') - a topic we might as well spend a minute looking at.

Although the song is Canadian and was recorded originally by a band called the original Caste (Ooh! Hinduism!), it's best known in a version by a band called Coven (Ooh! Wicca! - wait...) Coven, whose début album was called 'Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls' and included songs with titles such as 'Pact with Lucifer' and 'Satanic Mass'. Wikipedia also, though, says that the song is popular as a Christian camp song. Which makes little sense to me. But what do I know?

Anyway, it strikes me as a pretty controversial song, one that certain people might find offensive, might consider propaganda. It wasn't the only one. There were other pacifist songs, ecologist songs, songs I can't quite remember. I do remember the same teacher introducing us to Bruce Cockburn's 'If I Had a Rocket Launcher' - and that, in retrospect, is a pretty radical thing for a teacher to do: to play for 12-year-olds a song that says, 'If I had a rocket launcher, some son-of-a-bitch would die'.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining. I'm actually thankful that somehow my educators were able to carry on 'indoctrinating' us without anyone, seemingly, stopping them. I'd like to think it created a generation of progressives.

But according to polls, 31.5% of people aged 25-44 support the Conservatives, scarcely below the overall nationwide number of 35.4%.

So like everything else the children of the 60s did, it hardly mattered in the long run.

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