Combat rock: music by Iraq war veterans

Conflict is no stranger to creative endeavour. The First World War produced great poetry, the Spanish Civil War great literature, and in Iraq a vast number of young soldiers – brought up on videogames, free music downloads, YouTube and dubbed Generation Kill by Rolling Stone magazine – are turning to music as a way of making sense of their war.

Everyone has an iPod or CD player and laptops and video cameras are common. Humvees are routinely jerry-rigged with tinny speakers and even sub-woofers, zip-tied to the ceiling, which pump out rock music as units charge into battle. And because you now don’t need expensive equipment or a professional studio to record music, these soldiers, armed with just a microphone and a copy of home-recording software such as GarageBand, can produce a song in the combat zone and email it home.

When he returned from his own tour of duty in Iraq in January 2006, Sean Gilfillan – who lost seven of his friends and comrades – was shocked at what he calls ‘the disconnect between civilians and returning members of the military.’

‘If you didn’t want to know about the war in Iraq,’ says Gilfillan, who was part of the first occupying force to enter Baghdad after the fall of the city in 2003, ‘you could ignore it. Only 9 per cent of the US population has any experience of serving in the military. The other 91 per cent have no idea.’ In an attempt to bridge this gap and humanise the soldiers, Gilfillan decided to set up a label to put out music made by members of the US armed forces as a tribute to their fallen comrades and to reach out to the general population.

To The Fallen Records was founded in January 2007 by Gilfillan and business partner Sidney DeMello and takes its name from the large tattoo Gilfillan had etched across his back to honour his friends who had died. The label offers a conduit of expression for young men and women whose voices are never normally heard in an attempt to expunge the stereotype of the typical American soldier.

This is a long, eloquent story.

Read the tale. Even if you’ve been sheltered from war and battle and life in the military, you’ll learn something about an undesirable – but often survivable – part of life.

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