Michael Herr’s memoir on the Vietnam War, Dispatches has provided the inspiration for a previously unreleased track by Wendy James called “Schneider’s Ride.”
“This song was provoked in me by reading, many years ago, and then re-reading Michael Herr’s incredible account of Vietnam: Dispatches,” Wendy tells Dangerous Minds.
“Vietnam is such a flashpoint for transformation around the world, whether viewed by the Vets that served time in it, or the cultural and political shifts that were happening around them and it and the world.”
The title comes from an incident during the War, recorded in Herr’s book, when photographer John Schneider:
“...fixed a white flag to his handle-bars and took a bike from the top of Hill 881 North over to Hill 881 South during a terrible battle, in what came to be known as Schneider’s Ride.”
Herr worked as War Correspondent for Esquire, and Dispatches was hailed (by John Le Carre) as the best book written on men and war In our time. It is the personal stories of the soldiers involved in war which appealed to Herr.
War stories aren’t really anything more than stories about people anyway.
Herr’s writing on soldiers, their lives, and the horrors witnessed, also the book also inspired Wendy James’s song-writing.
“I enjoy very much that team spirit, the brotherhood that arises out of the basic ranks of the Marine Corps, the ‘Grunts’. I think I could handle that stuff… and in Michael Herr’s book, stationed as he was into different postings around the occupation/invasion, he is eye witness to philosophical revelations and frankly, downright absurdist gallows humor. The cynicism the troops feel with the so called leaders in Washington and the full realization that these guys, most often black guys, would be water-hosed back in USA or set on by Strom Thurman’s dogs, are out there serving their country, facing death, and also yukking it up with rock ‘n’ roll and drugs and booze and pictures of sweethearts and far-away pin-ups. What else are you going to do?
“But still these guys, these soldiers, they are match-fit every call of duty. I cannot claim it for myself, but in any war, I imagine, facing death and witnessing the millisecond randomness of living and dying is a soul-changing experience. The one upside is the team spirit with your fellows that you bring home, and carry for life. Maybe the discipline, too.
“Anyway… this song strikes me as a perfectly beautiful moment, not necessarily attached to anything else, but existing in its own space… and so… here it is.”
After his time in Vietnam, Michael Herr returned to the US, then went on the road with Ted Nugent, writing the experience up for Crawdaddy. Dispatches was published in 1977, and Herr then wrote the narration for Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), then co-wrote Full Metal Jacket (1987) with Stanley Kubrick, which contained elements of Dispatches.
Wendy James, meanwhile, is currently recording her latest album with an selection of famous and seasoned musicians.
“The line-up is Glen Matlock from the Sex Pistols on Bass, Jim Sclavunos from the Bad Seeds and The Cramps on drums, for now I’m on rhythm guitar, but maybe Judah Bauer might come in after his Jon Spencer Blues Explosion dates, if not, then…TBA! It’ll be someone fabulous!!!
“We’re recording down in the East Village so I can walk Broadway each morning, which is pretty magnificent in itself… New York City is my home-town now, no doubt, it embraces me, captures my imagination, captures my heart. I belong here.”
Wendy has also written eleven new songs (inspired by books, films and some of her favorite bands), which have been described as her best songs yet.
“My fingers are raw and calloused! My voice is pure and strong! My mind is fully charged and focused, and I am happy.”
Wendy then gives a breathless listing of what we can expect.
“Glen and Jim on rhythm section and so much more… these men are so, so talented,” Wendy begins.
“Songs ranging from down-home Howlin’ Wolf dirty blues, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins devilish raconteur-ing, heavy and bad-ass rumbles on guitar, stepchildren of the Stooges and Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, a little Who-like odyssey at the top of the album, and journeying on through West Coast desolate surfer Dogtown and Z-Boys music inspired by Joan Didion’s short stories, when the waves are an act of ferocious and glorious nature and human life is tossed about at their will: No Guts, No Glory. Then comes a little Cowboy edge, out there on the high plains drifting with William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody! and my own little personal moment with a song called “Screamin’ Back Washington” which is so deep it cannot be explained… you know, an orphan child…
“Anyway… in a few weeks, it will be done, and then… I’ll be shouting from the rooftops in NYC… Eureka!!!”
And we certainly look forward to that!
Photo of Wendy James by Ricardo Gomes.
Bonus: Michael Herr explains why he went to Vietnam.