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fighting a war

This is a song I should have written many years ago, but at least circumstances provoked me into writing it now.

Last winter I learned some really slick boogie-woogie riffs on the piano and I made a mental note that I should write a song that incorporated my cool new moves. So a few weeks ago I started thinking about a swing beat and it seemed obvious that the words should start with, "I wanna tell you all a story 'bout ..."

And then I have to ask: About what?!?

If I was to tell you all a story, who or what would it be about?

The answer came back as quickly as the question was asked: I would tell you all about Jeff Paterson.

all about jeff paterson
I am so freakin' proud to be Jeff's friend, but it was not an accident. I made it happen, and he had no choice.

In August 1990, when Bush Daddy was making noises about attacking Iraq, I was utterly against it from day one. I believed then, and I believe now, that Bush's main impetus for that war ("the good Gulf War," folks think of it now, although I certainly never did) was to rid us of the Vietnam Syndrome, our fear of getting involved in a quagmire like Vietnam all over again.

I didn't want us to get over the Vietnam Syndrome. We should really not want to be in war if it's remotely avoidable, and it almost always is.

So I was involved in rallies and teach-ins from the very beginning. And it was at a Middle East Teach-In in Petaluma, California, toward the end of August 1990, that I first heard the name Jeff Paterson. He was a Marine grunt who had announced that he believed the Persian Gulf War was wrong and illegal and if called, he would refuse to participate. Then, sure enough, it was announced that his platoon, stationed in Hawaii, would be deployed to Saudi Arabia.

Jeff said no.

To see what happened next, you'll have to watch this video.

Anyway, at the Petaluma teach-in they announced that we had a phone connection to Jeff from his cell in the brig, and we heard his voice over the loud speaker during a brief interview. I was inspired by Jeff's courage and convictions.

Of course, Jeff's refusal to fight was not well covered in the media as the war drums beat ever more loudly. So I was very surprised, four months later, when we switched on CNN and there was Jeff on Larry King's show! I raced over and threw a videocassette in the machine and taped the interview, which I watched several times as America raced into another ill-advised war.

A couple months later I turned on KPFA-FM Berkeley, and the morning show hosts announced that at 8:00 their guest would be GI resister Jeffrey Paterson. My eyes grew wide. I grabbed a purse, my keys, a coat, and was out the door in minutes. I zipped down the freeway to the radio station, where I was a fairly well-known volunteer programmer. They were already interviewing Jeff by the time I got there. I slipped into the control room and plopped myself down in the chair next to him.

The hosts, Kris Welch and Phil Maldari, were accustomed to seeing me around the station and thought nothing of my impertinent behavior, but I could see Jeff looking over at me as if to say, "Who the hell is this person?!?" I listened quietly to the remainder of the interview and didn't say a word. Then it was over, they thanked him, and Jeff got up to leave. And I got up and went out with him.

I told him I really appreciated his stance and was inspired by his courage. I told him I enjoyed his appearance on Larry King. "I never saw that ..." he replied wistfully.

"I have it on tape!" I said.

He perked up. "Could you make me a copy?" he asked. Of course the answer was yes, but that wasn't enough. I told Jeff that whatever anti-war activity he was taking on next, I would be happy to help. He took me up on the offer, and I ended up working with him on a little newspaper he put out for a while, the AntiWarrior. I also did a lot of benefit performances for GI resisters in the Bay Area, so our paths continued to cross fairly regularly even when we weren't working on the AntiWarrior.

One of the reasons I admire Jeff so much is because once he took up the banner of GI resisters, he never put it down. It is his cause; it is his life. He is not in it for the money. He just wants to, y'know, save the world and stuff.

now, back to the song
The ironic thing about this song is that I wrote it to take advantage of my boogie-woogie keyboard skills, none of which you will hear on the recording. The song kinda got away from me and took on a life of its own.

I wanted to do something in the style of the Andrews Sisters, because it seemed appropriate and because I love to do three-part harmony. I got the whole first verse in my mind and when I heard the words ("fighting war is his gig") I knew I had something I liked. So then it was a matter of telling you all a story about a man named Jeff.


fighting a war
janice leber 2014

I wanna tell you all a story 'bout a man named Jeff
He's the anti-warrior that I love best
Sat down on the tarmac and refused to deploy
even when the sergeant said, "We're gonna beat you up, boy"
So they picked him up and they threw him in the brig
then they let him out, now ending war is his gig

He's fighting a war, he's fighting a war on war
He's fighting a war, he's fighting a war, he's fighting a war on war

Jeffrey he grew up in small-town USA
when he became a teen was kinda going astray
so he made a crazy choice to get his act clean
He went down to the station and he joined the Marines -- ooh!

So then he found himself stationed in the far east
and he wondered why the locals thought GIs were all beasts
so he watched, and he listened, and he read a few books,
saw from the other side how America looks
Figured out the real reason we go into war
is to protect the privileged and keep down the poor

And so he's fighting a war, he's fighting a war on war
He's fighting a war, he's fighting a war, he's fighting a war on war

It's plain to see all wars can be won
Only when every soldier throws down the gun
Jeff's waitin' for all the wars to be done
He's not the only one!

Do we really want America to be known
Only for our missiles, tanks, bazookas and drones?
Jeff can't stop from thinking it would really be cool
to spend less on the bombs and more for fact'ries and schools
we could feed the hungry and do oh so much more
but first we gotta study something other than war

That's why we're fighting a war, we're fighting a war on war
we're fighting a war, we're fighting a war on fighting
doncha know we're fighting a war, we're fighting a war on war
We're fighting a war, we're fighting a war on, fighting a war on war.

recording the song
Again, this was recorded on the ipad using GarageBand. It was for this song that I discovered the "swing" option in Garageband. It has opened up a whole new world for me. I would love to have had my friend Ken play a groovy trumpet solo, for which I could have synched up clips from the Andrews Sisters video of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." I would also have loved to have my pal Tracker, with his luscious basso profundo voice, singing backup. But even more important was getting my damn video for August up in a timely manner, so I sang the basso profundo lines an octave higher and played flute instead of the far-preferable trumpet solo that would have been so nice if I'd had the leisure of time.

So what I'm saying is, it went from "boogie woogie bugle boy" to "rootie tootie flutie girl."

Almost all the vocals were recorded in my back yard, and somehow the sound of birds chirping and trains in the distance did not make their way onto the tracks. I must be living a virtuous life. (There can be no other explanation.)

I do not have a proper MIDI setup yet, which is why my cool boogie-woogie keyboard riffs are absent from this recording. Someday. I've only said that for about 20 years now: Someday: MIDI.

making the video
I did not want to do another animation this month! IT'S REALLY HARD!!! And as this video fell together I thought how lovely it is to compile existing material, as opposed to creating one's own visual element from scratch. Oh dear god, have I mentioned lately that animation is a major pain in one's ass????

I wrote to Jeff and told him a video about him was in the works and I was stealing photos from his Facebook page. He did not seem terribly alarmed by this news -- no more alarmed than when I plopped down beside him at the radio station in 1991. "Of course I am honored," he said.

Well, Jeff, I am honored to be your friend. Every time I think of the courage it took for you to sit down on that tarmac and quietly refuse ... well, excuse me while a wave of deepest respect washes over me yet again.

Jeffrey, please do the world a favor: Live long and prosper. You are simply the best. Thank you for being my friend.