Ed#431 Music and Memories

26 April 2013 Alan Attwood

Ed#431 Music and Memories

Image courtesy of BBC/BBC Worldwide

When I was a boy in the 1960s, TV news bulletins would often feature items on the Vietnam War. It was not uncommon for these to describe the movements of enemy troops. One report, describing guerillas advancing from the north, caused me confusion (at first) and then lingering embarrassment (when I realised my error). For I thought the newsreader had said “gorillas”, and I didn’t understand why this would cause concern. I was young; we all make mistakes, many even sillier than this. The Vietnam conflict is sometimes described as the first TV war, played out on small screens around the world. Over many years we saw footage of soldiers, then demonstrators and finally of tanks in the streets of Saigon. We came to understand that this war had not been won. Now, 38 years on from the Fall of Saigon, the remaining Vietnam veterans are old. They stick to familiar groups at Anzac Day ceremonies, where all conflicts are remembered. Inevitably, though, much of the commentary is focused on the Gallipoli landing of 25 April 1915, and this emphasis will become even more marked in the period leading up to the centenary in two years’ time.

Australia’s World War I veterans have all gone now; every Anzac Day, those Vietnam vets can see and hear younger servicemen and women with stories to tell about more recent conflicts like the Gulf War and Afghanistan. Such stories are often told from the same perspective. But, of course, there are at least two sides to every story: our understanding of events on the Gallipoli peninsula 98 years ago was immeasurably enhanced when historians began including accounts by Turkish soldiers who were, after all, resisting an invasion. And although I now know much more about the Vietnam War than I did in the 1960s, when we prepared this edition I realised how little I knew about the lives of Vietnamese civilians. Sheila Pham’s story about Vietnamese music and her mother’s experiences during the war (see p20) is like an alternative soundtrack to a movie I thought I’d seen, which is ironic as Pham describes growing up listening to music from the movie Forrest Gump. Sheila’s story, which reminds us that both civilians and soldiers are casualties of war, coincides both with the echoes of another Anzac Day and also the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, which in Vietnam today is known as ‘Reunification Day’.

It isn’t only confusing news items I recall from TV in the 1960s. I also remember the eerie and somewhat unsettling theme music from a show I never watched but which, I suspect, might have preceded the evening news. This was Doctor Who, which marks its 50th anniversary this year. I’ve heard that theme quite often recently: it seems I’ve raised a ‘Whovian’, a term used for fans of the long-running series. There are a great many Whovians – and to all of them we dedicate this edition, which pays tribute to a show that has a lot going for it apart from impressive longevity. An anniversary episode, expected in November, is eagerly awaited. Meanwhile, old episodes are attracting new audiences. But not everyone is happy. Early in April, a director of some of the first episodes decried “an element…of sexuality” which, he believes, “has crept in”. The thing about the original Doctor, he continued, “was that you never quite knew about him and there was a mystery and unavailability about him”. Some things remain mysterious, however. His name, for example. After all these years he is still just ‘The Doctor’.