Charlie Hatcher, R.I.P
shattered many young men's dreams/ We've got no place for it today/
They say we must fight to keep our freedom but Lord/There's just
got to be a better way."
Edwin Starr, 1942-2003
can still remember as a kid living in Detroit watching Edwin
Starr motor through our neighborhood in his little purple MG.
Motown, Starr’s label, was
huge back then, but Starr’s soulful style was closer to Motown’s
competitive rival, Stax,
than it was to the pop/soul sound of the self proclaimed "Hitsville,
USA," (It is now officially known as the Motown
Historical Museum, and has no official connection to Motown).
was the hey day of what some would later call "white bread
soul," (a reference to the cross cultural appeal of Motown),
and the "Sound of Young America," of which Berry Gordy
and his coterie of stars from the aptly named "Hitsville"
was the preeminent example.
was also the time of the Vietnam War. I was much too young to care
about such things. The big dramatic moments of societal intercourse
stick out, as they do for most folks, but not much else. I can still
remember sitting in my Aunt’s house in North Little Rock, Arkansas,
the day Elvis died. It was the first major news story I can recall
as a child. I sat with my cousins in front of the boob tube dumbfounded
that such a rich and good looking man should die so young or look
so bad in the process.
greatest preacher I have ever heard, the Rev.
Albert N. Martin, once said that "few men end well who
begin well," or something to that effect. He, of course, was
referring to the unceasing discipline of the Christian life. I think
that insight could be applied to secular life as well, and Elvis
would work as exhibit #1.
(my childhood buddies and me) used to like Elvis in his movies,
not because he could act, but because he had quite the way with
the ladies. I’m still amazed, after seeing her recently on Larry
King, just how stunningly beautiful Priscilla Presley really is,
after all these years. She must be old enough to be my mom, or awful
close. She noted in the interview that Elvis got hooked on drugs
while in the Army. So maybe it wasn’t the pressure of his fame that
ultimately killed him, but rather habits he picked up while in service
to the US Government. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
Starr, born Charles Edwin Hatcher in Nashville, Tennessee, and raised
in Cleveland, Ohio, would also spend time toiling for the United
States Militaryin the early sixties. Perhaps his experience as a
soldier laid the foundation for what was to become in 1970 the premier
anti-war anthem of our time. "War,"
would make Starr a permanent, if not high profile, member of the
worldwide music scene, and popular right up until his death on April
1, 20031, in Nottingham, England.
have been a number of anti-war songs over the years. But unless
you listen closely to the lyrics it is often easy to miss the message,
especially when the tune itself overpowers the lyrics, or is catchy,
quick listen of "War," and one realizes there is no such
problem with Starr’s hit. Part of the enduring nature of this song,
I believe, is the in your face directness of his lyrics. Try as
you may you simply can’t miss the message in his refrain:
is it good for? /Absolutely nothing
ha haa ha/War...huh...yeah
is it good for? /Absolutely nothing...say it again y'all
out...What is it good for?
nothing...listen to me ohhhhh
catchiness of the tune in no way obscures the message of the lyrics.
Even while casually listening to the song his lyrics won’t be missed
or misunderstood. Nor will these words:
War! It ain't
nothing but a heartbreaker,
It's got one friend that's the undertaker.
War has shattered many a young man's dream,
him disabled, bitter and mean,
is much too short and precious to spend fighting wars these days.
can't give life, it can only take it away!
Starr came out with the song, Motown was predictably nervous. According
to Starr, the song was not written as a protest to the Vietnam War
(although a follow up song, "Stop
the War Now," clearly was). It was originally recorded
and sung by the Temptations1
but Motown thought it too politically controversial for the groups’
image. But Starr’s version was a hit, and it became, despite the
popularity and glamour (as opposed to Starr’s soul shouting grittiness)
of Motown’s bigger stars, the most enduring single ever to emerge
from the Motor City.
spent 13 weeks on the charts, three weeks at #1 in the summer of
1970. In 1985 Bruce Springsteen did
a cover that climbed to #8 on the charts. Starr and Springsteen
did a duet of "War," at a Birmingham concert by "The
Boss" in May of 1999. Springsteen recently performed the song
in March of 2003 while on tour in Australia as a protest of the
US war on Iraq.
(according to his official website), along with fellow anti-war
Payne, was among the myriad of guest entertainers to perform
at Liza Minelli’s 2002 marriage to David Gest. And while Starr had
several top 10 hits in his career, this is the song for which he
will be most remembered. Just the weekend before his death he performed
before a crowd of 16,000 people in Stuttgart, Germany.
I think of Motown, groups like the Temptations,
and the Jackson
Five invariably come to mind. When I think of single artists
from Motown there is, of course, Stevie
Ross, and the early Michael
Jackson, who comprise some of the greatest hit makers in the
history of popular music. But when I think of a Motown song,
there is no question which single stands out. "War," is
the most enduring anti-war anthem of our time. God bless you Charles
Hatcher; may your soul rest in peace.
Several accounts list the date of his death as April 2, 2003.
But one news source, Rollingstone.com, dated April 2, noted
he had died the day before.
This is a fan's website. The official Motown website is devoted
only to the current group, and not to the music most would recognize
as the "classic" Temptations sound.
Miles [send him mail]
writes from Seattle, WA.
© 2003 LewRockwell.com