Why Elvis Presley's Army career was remarkably unremarkable - We Are The Mighty
MUSIC

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

There’s no doubt that if there were any American to have truly “lived the dream,” it was Elvis Presley. He was born into poverty and rose to stardom. His songs were omnipresent, his films were everywhere, and, on his 21st birthday, he became eligible for the draft.


On Mar. 24th, 1958, the day his fans would call “Black Monday,” Elvis Presley was sworn into the U.S. Army. He had all the power and money in the world and he became a regular ol’ Private, just like everyone else. He even gave up his beloved hair.

The Pentagon was well aware of his star power and offered him a role in the Special Service. Basically, he would have been free to continue his music career, receive special treatments, and, essentially, just wear a uniform as a formality. The Navy offered to create an “Elvis Presley company” and the Air Force wanted him to just tour recruiting centers.

But that’s not how The King rolled. Even though thousands of fans wrote to the Army asking for his release, he thought it would have been “unfair” if he got out in any way other than completing his two-year commitment. He became a cavalry scout and left for Friedberg, West Germany.

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable
You know, just a regular Cav Scout… with 50 million fans. (Photo by Mark Holloway)

That’s the most beautiful thing about The King of Rock and Roll’s service. He trained just as hard as everyone else. He qualified as an expert with his rifle. He took up karate classes to pass the time, which later became a life long hobby. He even donated his Army pay to charities while using his rock-star money on the men in his unit.

Presley made it very clear he was there to be a soldier first. Towards the end of his career, they offered him a role in the film, G.I. Blues. It was essentially a musical comedy, starring Elvis, that told the story of his joining the Army. Paramount came all the way out to Friedberg with hopes that they’d get some “on location” shots of Presley, but he wouldn’t be discharged for another few months. So, his stunt double took his place for all the scenes that were shot in Germany.

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable
Hail to the king, baby! (Courtesy Photo)

Sgt. Presley made a lifelong friend in fellow soldier, Charlie Hodge. Hodge had been a small-time musician before his service (nowhere near the levels of fame of Elvis enjoyed in his prime). When Elvis left the service in 1960, Hodges came with him. Hodges was one of the few friends Presley could count on and became a key member of the Memphis Mafia and the TCB until Elvis’ passing in 1977.

Articles

Who Said It: Winston Churchill Or Kurt Cobain?

Did the prime minister or the grunge icon say these things?


On the surface, the two have nothing in common. The Washington-born front man for Nirvana led the group to rock stardom. Eventually becoming known as “the flagship band” of Generation X, and Cobain as “the spokesman of a generation.”

On the other hand, Sir Winston Churchill served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and led Britain to victory over Nazi Germany during World War II. Both Cobain and Churchill were student of literature — Cobain a poet and Churchill a writer. Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953 for his overall, lifetime body of work.

Besides their different walks of life, the two seem to have a similar outlook. We gathered some of their most famous quotes to make this quiz. Can you guess who said what?

MUSIC

The top 5 military-themed songs that aren’t written by Toby Keith

Music is such a powerful tool in our society. It is absolutely crazy how lyrics on top of a melody can turn our brain into a mental time machine. For me, I can never listen to “Cherry Pie” by Warrant and not go back to that dive bar in Ohio where I slow danced the night away with a girl I assumed was my next ex-wife.


Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

For many of us veterans, hearing a song might take us back to when we served or where we deployed. I spent many days in 2005 sitting by my tent in Iraq, enjoying one of those cold, delicious, non-alcoholic Busch beers while enjoying some fine tunes.

Music artists have usually gone out of their way to release one song “for the troops!” While many are not nearly as good as country music superstar Toby Keith when it comes to producing a ‘Murican tune, some have succeeded. Today we will honor 5 of those artists whose names don’t rhyme with Kobe Teeth.

1. Kenny Loggins — Danger Zone

You gotta be careful listening to this one, especially after watching the music video. Sometimes I think I’m Maverick and I’m getting ready to do a lot of cool things in an F-14. Then I look down at my Prius speedometer and see that I’m only doing 55. Kenny nails this song though. You cannot listen to it and not think of Tom Cruise and those other handsome flyboys in Top Gun.

2. Dixie Chicks — Travelin’ Soldier

Alright, before you go getting outraged and calling for my head because I included the Dixie Chicks on this list, hear me out! If you listen to the lyrics in this song and don’t get a little misty eyed, YOU might not be American! This is one of the greatest love songs ever written about the love between a deployed soldier and his lady back home. This is also one you have to be careful listening to. You might end up singing it at the top of your lungs while sitting in traffic, and it’s embarrassing the first four times it happens.

3. Creedence Clearwater Revival — Fortunate Son

I don’t even have to explain how great this song is to all members of the military. As an Iraqi veteran I am insanely jealous that this masterpiece was released during the Vietnam era. This is the song I listen to right before I get ready for an intense night of ping pong.

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

 

4. Johnny Cash — I Won’t Back Down

The Man in Black brilliantly covered this Tom Petty song which saw heavy radio play following the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. Rumor has it that if you listen to this song three times in front of the mirror, you will actually re-enlist. You will probably also fail the urinalysis too which should have been expected if you were sitting in front of a mirror in your bathroom listening to this song.

5. Toby Keith — Brought To You Courtesy of The Red White and Blue (The Angry American)

OK, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make a list of military themed songs without listing Toby Keith. I mean it’s Toby Keith! Anyways, let’s get to the last, bonus song on the list.

BONUS: Lee Greenwood — God Bless the USA

This is the song every veteran should be listening to at their local Waffle House every single Veteran’s Day when they’re enjoying those sweet sweet waffles. If this song doesn’t hit you right in the feels then I just don’t know if there’s a place for you in this country.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How ‘Hail to the Chief’ became the Presidential anthem

The song that many of us identify uniquely with the President of the United States has a surprisingly controversial history. Chester Arthur hated it, Ronald Reagan thought it was a necessary tradition for the office, and President Trump enters a room to Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA more often than not. But this essential piece of Presidential entrance music is almost as old as America itself.


During the President’s Inauguration, “The President’s Own” Marine Corps band plays Hail to the Chief after 45 seconds of four Ruffles and Flourishes. The song is also most traditionally played when the President of the United States enters an official event, but there are no real rules for the song outside of the inauguration. The Department of Defense only asks that the song isn’t played for anyone other than the sitting President.

You wouldn’t know it from the orchestral renditions, but the song actually has lyrics, written in 1900 by Albert Gamse:

Hail to the Chief we have chosen for the nation,
Hail to the Chief! We salute him, one and all.
Hail to the Chief, as we pledge cooperation
In proud fulfillment of a great, noble call.
Yours is the aim to make this grand country grander,
This you will do, that’s our strong, firm belief.
Hail to the one we selected as commander,
Hail to the President! Hail to the Chief!

The song itself can be traced all the way back to our sixth president, John Quincy Adams. At the time, the song was pop music, much like Greenwood’s song is to President Trump today. The Marine Band played it at the opening of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in 1828, an event attended by President Adams. The first time it was played in honor of the Commander-In-Chief was for Andrew Jackson, at a similar canal event the next year.

Martin Van Buren was the first President to hear the tune played for his inauguration in 1837. John Tyler, who ascended to the Presidency after the sudden death of William Henry Harrison, was much derided during his term for the unelected way he came into power. To remind people who was in charge, First Lady Julia Tyler ensured the song was played whenever he arrived at events. The same was done for James K. Polk, who was a short guy. His wife Sarah wanted to make sure everyone knew when he arrived so he wasn’t overlooked.

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

Hail to that mullet, President Polk.

By the time Chester Arthur came to office in 1881, he hated the song so much, he opted to replace it with another song. Luckily for him, the leader of the Marine Band just happened to be the “American March King” John Philip Sousa. He commissioned Sousa to write a replacement, which the band leader did.

How well did that replacement go over? If you’ve never heard of Presidential Polonaise, you’re in good company — because most of America hasn’t either. The Presidents quickly went back to using Hail to the Chief.

By 1954, the Department of Defense made the song the official music of the President. Of course, that doesn’t mean they have to use the music. The President is the boss, after all.

He isn’t really bound by law or tradition to have the song played for him on every occasion. President Gerald Ford asked the U.S. Marine Corps Band to play his alma mater’s — the University of Michigan — fight song, Hail to the Victors, instead. Jimmy Carter preferred the tune Jubilation by Sir Arthur Bliss. Ronald Reagan, however, felt the office required more tradition and reinvoked Hail to the Chief.

MIGHTY TRENDING

3 things to keep in mind when dealing with butter bars

As a prior butter bar, I want you to know that I have no regrets about my career choice.


Sure, when I signed up for the military, I thought I was going to get to do a little less paperwork and a little more single handedly saving the entire world from terrorism for all time with my bravery, but hey, we all have our roles to play. Mine was to ensure my people were able to conduct mission ops — and deep down, I know that’s important, too.

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

I was very calculated about which branch I would serve in (Air Force, duh — I’m not a masochist) and how I would earn my commission (on the beaches of Southern California, like a BAMF). We trained on Fridays, and I was super into it (ROTC nerd to an extreme level) so I also attended optional Saturday morning training, which meant I missed out on the collegiate Thirsty Thursday, Friday night parties, and Saturday night shenanigans (because I was tired from all that training, bro).

So it really wasn’t until active duty that I realized how much lieutenants could party.

Also read: How to not be a dirtbag CGO

1. They like to have a good time

When we were at intel school at Goodfellow AFB, Texas, we set up a “pub crawl” where everyone served signature drinks from their dorm rooms — everything from a shot of Jeremiah Weed to a game of flip cup to Vodka mixed with Airborne tablets (“to help our immune systems.”)

My first Gin and Tonic was consumed in the SCIF while cramming for the Navy test (does one really need to be sober to learn about boats? I mean ships…).

In Korea, the pilots partied so hard I started carrying a sharpie with me so I could make a tic-mark on my palm to track my drinks. Most nights left me waking up with a bar code across my palm.

But beyond the drinking, the butter bars in the office are more likely to liven up the office with pranks and jokes — and let’s not forget who keeps the snack bar full.

Related: This musician and veteran invented Jell-O shots to beat base alcohol rules

2. It’s not their fault they’re n00bs

Butter bars have it great. They have enough training under their belts to feel confident about testing themselves but not enough experience for any serious responsibility. It’s a carefree time. The good ones acknowledge their shortcomings and learn quickly. The crappy ones… well, you can read some of their stories in the comments on this post (and add your own — it’s hilarious!).

The point is, butter bars are precious. They’re bright eyed and ready for a good time. They don’t know that the sh*t is about to get real. Look out for them. Show them the way.

3. They’re the future brass

Four-stars have to start somewhere, right? Their experiences as CGOs will have an effect on their leadership style down the road, so help them out. Teach them the mission. Remind them of what’s important. Show them the value of mutual respect.

They’ll remember it later and we’ll all be better for it.

And for all you 0-1s out there, work hard before you play hard. You might be at the bottom of the officer ranks now, but you’ve still got men and women who rely on you.

Oh, when you do just want to have a little fun, here’s a playlist for your partying needs (it’s okay to admit you like pop songs — you’re in safe space):

MIGHTY MOVIES

This Marine turned from scout sniper to singer songwriter

You know the old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover”?  That’s precisely what you should remember when you meet singer-songwriter, Brandon Mills.


The six-foot-tall dirty blonde haired blue-eyed Mills isn’t just another pretty face; behind those blue eyes, there is a bad ass who was once known as Sergeant Brandon Lanham, Marine Corps reconnaissance scout sniper.

He goes by Mills because, as he puts it, “Mills is my middle name, all my favorite singer songwriter’s names are 3 syllables, not sure why but I think there is a method to their madness.”

Mills joined the Marine Corps with his brother and they attended boot camp together and were later reunited in the Recon community.

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable
Photo courtesy of Brandon Mills.

Mills served his first tour in Afghanistan with Golf Co. 2nd Battalion 3rd Marines out of Hawaii. After some continued motivation from his brother, he took the leap, passed the requirements and indoctrination process, and got to 1st Recon Battalion, with whom he would deploy to his second tour in Iraq.

Also read: This musician and veteran invented Jell-O shots to beat base alcohol rules

All along the way, Mills was writing lyrics and honing his craft as a musician.

“I just wanted to travel and play music for everyone,” Mills said about his desire to perform.

“My youngest memory of recorded music is a Beach Boys greatest hits tape that I spent my lawn mowing money on,” reflects Mills as he explains his earliest passion for music that has stuck with him since playing the saxophone in school.

The love of music and the desire to create it has been a lifelong aspiration for Mills even before he joined, so it would make sense that he leave the Marine Corps and become a musician. Right?

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable
(Photo courtesy of Brandon Mills)

Even after all his success and accolades in the Corps, Mills was not ready to aimlessly jump straight into the music scene when he left the Marines. He admits he was nervous — even scared — to chase the dream without a safety net, so he did what many Veterans do: he became a contractor.

Eventually, the bug bit harder and he found it impossible to not take the risk and pursue his true first love.

Now managing his own gigs, website, and social media, Mills has made his transition from Marine to musician rather successfully.

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable
(Photo courtesy of Brandon Mills)

He has played shows all over the country, supporting non-profits like Intersections International, Force Blue, and Society of Artistic Veterans. He has recorded several tracks and even shot a few music videos of himself performing.

Recently Mills finished a residency at Umami burger in Brooklyn and Manhattan, “That was just me hustling, literally going from business to business asking, do you guys do live music? If not, why? If you do, how do I get involved?”

That’s the work ethic and resolve all warriors take to their tasks.

(Brandon Mills | YouTube)It might go without saying that the persistence, determination, and even stubbornness are strong character traits in most, if not all, of our elite warriors.

You don’t make it into our military’s special units without being resilient, steadfast, and dedicated — Mills without a doubt carries those same values and characteristics into his music career.

I asked Mills if the transition was hard, going from stone cold warrior to writing and performing love songs. I wondered if there was any identity crisis there and how he dealt with it.

Also read: 8 songs that are essential to any successful military convoy

He explained that it was difficult dealing with other ideas of masculinity and letting that warrior machismo block his flow, but he has learned to temper those instincts and allow himself to feel the positive vibes and let his creativity through, not worrying about what others think and only focusing on great storytelling through song.

I don’t think Brandon would mind the comparison of his sound being somewhere between John Mayer in his vocal delivery and Jack Johnson in his light-hearted muted acoustic.  Mills’ vocals have that bluesy, gravely register that urges the listener to lean in and feel the lyrics, while his guitar style is playful and rhythmic like a campfire sing-a-long.

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable
(Photo courtesy of Brandon Mills)

Mills isn’t commercially successful yet, or famous for that matter; however, he understands that it’s a long road in the music industry, requiring a ton of work — but he feels he has all that in him.

He wants to help veterans tell their stories through music and let them know that it’s okay to express themselves through art, using himself as an example. Brandon’s music is all about spreading positivity, uplifting spirits, and connecting people with passion.

“I hope that I can give some people what they need,” Mills said, when discussing his forthcoming album. “I’m so critical of myself, I know what I want — if it’s not good enough I will do it again.”

It’s relentless drive and focus like this that will push Mills into the spotlight, eventually.

The strength, tenacity, and perseverance saturated in his warrior spirit will undoubtedly meld with his passion and creativity to help Brandon Mills become a renowned singer-songwriter for years to come.

MUSIC

This is how US Presidents almost got to choose their own entrance music

A Marine Corps band first played “Hail to the Chief” for Andrew Jackson as he walked off on his way to Ohio. It earned three cheers from his adoring crowd. After President John Tyler adopted it for his 1841-1845 term in office, the tradition stuck and American Presidents have been associated with the song ever since.


But before that, they tried to choose a personal theme song. Thanks, John Tyler.

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable
Admit that you don’t know what John Tyler looks like.

George Washington almost had “Hail, Columbia” as his theme, with lyrics like “Let Washington’s great name ring through the world to loud applause.” And Jefferson tried to get “Jefferson and Liberty” as his theme song, with lyrics like “But join with heart and soul and voice, for Jefferson and Liberty!”

Some Presidents had special songs written for their campaigns that would have worked as an entrance theme, like Warren Harding’s “Harding, You’re the Man For Us,” Richard Nixon’s “Nixon Now,” Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can,” and the ill-advised “Get On the Raft With Taft.”

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable
He’s fat. That’s the joke.

In the January-February 2017 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, Abigail Tucker detailed the history of the song and how it came to be played for the President of the United States. In the early days of our nation, the general population wasn’t too fond of the British. So when a theatrical version of the 1810 poem “Lady of the Lake” premiered in Philadelphia, it really caught on.

The show was an epic historical story about the life of an anti-British elite who is destined for greatness but whose life is tragically cut short by a power hungry villain. The stage show was a musical production that American audience immediately fell in love with and soon the whole country was raving about the show and its songs. So it was basically the “Hamilton” of the 1800s.

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable
Which sucks for the real Alexander Hamilton. You’d think he’d at least be considered, but Lin Manuel-Miranda is *so* talented.

After the War of 1812, anti-British sentiment was still riding high and even though “Lady of the Lake” was about an anti-British Scotsman it hardly mattered to Americans. He was an awesome character and that was enough. The lyrics were changed a number of times, however. Poetic olive trees eventually replaced Scottish pines and the hero of the song stopped murdering British people.

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable
I bet May dies fighting

Eventually, people completely forgot the official lyrics of the song.

Today the Defense Department mandates that “Hail to the Chief” only be played by the Marine Corps band in B-flat major and only for a sitting President in a “stately context” and at Presidential funerals.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Kiss Army is now really helping defend America

The 2019 government shutdown is going on for so long, federal employees are about to miss their second paycheck. There are a group of crucial, dedicated employees who are showing up to work every day because their job is just that important – the Transportation Security Administration.


These people have to go to the airport every day and put up with thousands of people who hate them. Now they’re not even getting paid.

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

I apologize for all the fitness standards jokes I made countless times, TSA.

While it’s true that a record number of TSA personnel are calling in sick, there are still enough of them showing up to work unpaid to keep America’s airport flowing throughout the shutdown. This, to me, is an amazing feat and one that should not go unrecognized. The good news is that someone is recognizing this dedication to service: KISS.

Yes, the 1970s arena rock legends KISS, the Demon, the Starchild, the Spaceman, and the Catman – also known as Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss.

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

You might have heard of them.

Whether you like their music or not, KISS is one of the best-selling bands of all time and they lead a rabid, dedicated nation of die-hard KISS fans, known as the KISS Army. KISS and its legions of fans are known to be able to accomplish almost anything through sheer force of will – the KISS Army was founded to ensure KISS songs were played on the radio during the band’s early years. The band itself has always supported the U.S. military and those who defend the United States.

Over the years, the band has been dedicated to hiring military veterans, supporting the effort known as Hiring our Heroes, offering military discounts for their shows and appearances, and even visiting veterans hospitals to buy vets lunches and cars. Now the commanders of the KISS Army are turning to help TSA members in their time of need.

Two members of KISS, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, helped found the Rock Brews restaurant chain back in 2012. The two rockers took to facebook to announce that their restaurants would be serving free meals to furlough TSA employees for as long as the government shutdown continues. All they have to do is find a standalone Rock Brews, and they can choose from one of two meals.

“They touch our lives daily, and as long as they are working without pay, the least we can do is provide them with a delicious meal to show our support,” says frontman Gene Simmons.

Choosing between one or two free meals may not seem like much, but going without pay for two cycles can really put a strain on a family’s food budget. If every restaurant could give a little, America’s first line of defense just might make it through this.

Articles

Katy Perry’s USMC Recruiting Video

Bad breakup, lady? Skip ‘Sex and the City’ marathons in your jammies and gal pal ex-bashing wine parties. Wanna forget that jerk in a hurry? Join the Corps!


This KP video (see what we did there?) was shot in 2012 at Camp Pendleton with official Marine Corps blessing, which makes it either a stroke of recruiting genius or a huge waste of taxpayer dollars.

Watch and decide:

MIGHTY TRENDING

Check out the new hard rock EP from the vets of Jericho Hill

Jericho Hill is a band created by Army veteran Steve Schneider and Navy corpsman McClain Potter. They began writing music together in 2012 while attending college, bonding over their military experiences.


True to form, they’ve just released a new EP that touches on themes of anger, mental health, and losing comrades and loved ones.

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable
Jericho Hill in Nashville, Tennessee, recording a track for Mission: Music, a music competition for veterans and their families. Jericho Hill made it to the finals after a nation-wide search. (Image courtesy of USAA and We Are The Mighty)

Loss comes up a lot for Jericho Hill — as it does for many veterans. One of their traditions during their shows is to dedicate a song to the fallen.

The EP, named Dvda@ the BB, contains three songs that demonstrate their diversity within the hard rock genre:

Devil in Disguise shows a bit of attitude with a taunting tempo and lyrics like “I’m from the land of the wicked ones, and I’ve come out to play.”

The second track, Fuel to the Fire, amps up the intensity both in instrumentals and tone: “You’re only adding fuel to the fire. Tonight we light the funeral pyre.”

Finally, there’s Sins of the Son, a mellow piece that starts with a confession and continues with questions: “What do you get out of running away? I don’t know.”

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable
Jericho Hill vets from left to right: Steve Schneider (U.S. Army), McClain Potter (U.S. Navy).

Jericho Hill is currently hustling, playing gigs in the Pacific Northwest, and planning their full album. Check them out on Facebook and let them know what you think of their new tracks.

Speaking of which, the EP is on Spotify (or other streaming services like iTunes, YouTube, and Pandora). We’ve also embedded it right here for you, because we’re cool like that:

MUSIC

How Taco Bell influenced a rapper to become a Marine


Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Stitcher

In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake speaks with The Marine Rapper a.k.a. TMR about how he went from wrapping tacos to rapping music lyrics.

“I joined the military because I was working at Taco Bell and ironically as a [taco] wrapper,” TMR recalls. “I wanted more, so I became the manager. I [wanted to go] the same route as the [Taco Bell] founder did and become a Marine.”

Related: How to kidnap Marines — according to a combat training role player

If you’ve ever surfed the internet looking for military rap songs, chances are you’ve come across the unique sound of “The Marine Rapper.”

Known for sporting a red mohawk and wearing an American flag bandana, TMR served 10 years in the Marine Corps as a Combat Correspondent where he earned a Combat Action Ribbon and two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals during his service.

After successful tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, TMR left the Marine Corps in February 2014. After entering back into civilian life, TMR began focusing on music as a profession and for cathartic expression.

Also Read: This is how drunken shenanigans influence pilot callsigns

The Marine Rapper ‘s Action Figure is a bouncy, hyper, fast-paced journey that chronicles the making of his identity. Each song is accompanied by a music video that will be released weekly on YouTube starting Sept. 29.

TMR’s Action Figure will be available for purchase on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Tidal and everywhere where digital music is sold Sept. 29. In addition, a limited run of signed physical copies and merchandise will be exclusively available on TMR’s website: themarinerapper.com

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable
The album cover. (Source: TMR)

Check out The Marine Rapper‘s video below for a taste of what you can expect when his record drops Sept. 29 for yourself.

YouTube, The Marine Rapper

Hosted By:

Articles

She loves her rifle…and this killer playlist

Editor’s note: Kayla Williams is an Army war vet and author of Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the US Army. This list originally appeared on her blog.


Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable
The author (right) rockin’ her rifle while tooling around Iraq back in the day.

When I was speaking at a university a few years ago, a student who DJ’d at the local college radio station and had read my book asked me to come on as a guest. He had me put together a list of music I listened to in Iraq, and then interviewed me between songs. It was a really cool experience for me to revisit my deployment through music.

This isn’t limited to my time in Iraq, but is evocative of both my deployment and homecoming. Here it is:

1. Live, “Mental Jewelry”

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

I started listening to Live in high school and have fond memories of seeing them play. For some reason, the lyrics came into my mind often in Iraq, always making me feel a little melancholy.

2. Bad Religion, “The Process of Belief”

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

This album came out while I was at DLI, and I listened to it throughout the summer of 2002 while I was at AIT in Texas. Once we got to Iraq, this song in particular made me ache.

3. “Story of My Life,” Social Distortion, Social Distortion

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

This is one of my favorite albums. Went to see them play in Dallas the summer of 2002 – and spent the whole time feeling a little alienated from civilians. As for this particular song, I left my hometown when I was 15, and every time I’ve gone back have felt that weird sensation of my old neighborhood not being the same. That got even stronger after I joined the Army. I like how this song captures a particular feeling of frustration.

4. “So What,” Ministry, The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

I was angry as a teenager, and spent a lot of time angry while I was in the Army, too. This is a great song to be really pissed off to. (Random aside: I saw the movie this song has samples from on Mystery Science Theater 3000 once, which was awesome. It’s totally absurd, you should check it out: The Violent Years.)

5. “Holiday in Cambodia,” Dead Kennedys

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

So there isn’t a lot of DK on Spotify that I could find. The song I wanted to put was “Life Sentence” (the lyrics “you don’t do what you want to but you do the same thing every day” could describe half my time in the Army!), but this is a good one, too. Fits in with the theme of anger.

6. “Jaded,” Operation Ivy,” Operation Ivy

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

As angry as I got, I never gave up those hopeful kernels, and still clung to that conviction that I could make the world a better place. “Sound System” is another good one off that album, about how music can bring you back up when you feel shitty.

7. “Cactus,” Pixies, Surfer Rosa

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

I have no idea why this particular Pixies song is the one that I got totally fixated on in Iraq. The mention of the desert? Who knows.

8. “Then She Did,” Jane’s Addiction, Ritual De Lo Habitual

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

When I was younger and, um, enjoyed experimenting with mind-altering substances, the song “Three Days” was what I loved the most – it took me on this whole mental odyssey. But in Iraq I fell in love with this one, a more reserved and introspective one.

9. “In the Arms of Sleep,” The Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

I would listen to this one over and over and over in Iraq, longing to … be there, have those feelings.

10. “I Know, Huh?,” The Vandals, Hitler Bad, Vandals Good

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

This reminds me of the giddy, heady, happy days of being just home from Iraq, before the bad parts of reintegration kicked in. I have memories of driving around with Zoe singing along with this, being goofy and ridiculous.

11. “8 Mile,” Eminem, 8 Mile

Why Elvis Presley’s Army career was remarkably unremarkable

When things started to get really shitty, I would listen to this song (oh, so cheesy! I know!) and tell myself I could push on for just a little longer and couldn’t give up.

Listen to the playlist:

Articles

This is the playlist that got this SEAL out the door

Here’s a short list of things we already knew about
Kaj Larsen:


1. He’s a former U.S. Navy SEAL

2. He’s an Emmy-nominated producer and war correspondent for
VICE and he has a masters from Harvard University.

3. He’s
a total hottie a founder of The Mission Continues, an organization that empowers veterans who are adjusting to life at home to find purpose through community impact.

But you might not know that he has rather eclectic taste in music and even learned to play while deployed.

“We’d sit around as a platoon. A couple of us played guitar, and we’d play and sing and that was extraordinarily significant for me on that first deployment. It helped carry us through.”

In a conversation with We Are The Mighty, Larsen shares the songs that meant something to him at different moments during his military career — whether it was the shotgun rack in M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” hitting home before a mission, or the patriotism of Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” during a controversial time in American history.

Larsen easily carries the gravitas of a combat-experienced SEAL, but he isn’t concerned about being vulnerable. He can laugh about being afraid of his jump training and how R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” helped get him out the door.

That’s the thing about music — in many ways, it becomes the soundtrack to our lives
, and Larsen’s has been a rather inspiring one.

Check out what he had to say about music and his SEAL career in this video:

And here’s his Battle Mix, just in case you’ve got some ass kicking of your own to do:

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