Written by Ramie Payne. 11 November 2014.
Although written in 1996 by Bruce Robinson and recorded in 2002 by the Dixie Chicks for their Home album, the song “Travelin’ Soldier” and its topics are appropriate for when it was released. At the time, the United States was considering going to war with Iraq after the attacks of 9/11. The song, in verse-chorus form, details the story of a Vietnam draftee and a young girl who fall in love before he leaves to fight in the war. The boy then dies and the girl is the only one to mourn his death. This song is linked with the speech made by Natalie Maines in London when she stated that the band was “ashamed that the President of the United States is a Texan” because unlike President Bush, the girls did not want the war (Reid, 348). The song discusses the negative effects of war on soldiers and their loved ones and Maines most likely chose to discuss her feelings about war while introducing this song for this reason. Because of the controversy, Bruce Robison describes this song as the “fastest descending number-one country single in the history of the Billboard charts” (Willman, 24).
The song aims to use emotion to tell the story and to allow the audience to feel the pain that the young girl feels. This syllogistic song uses emotion and differing musical styles to relay its message and lead the listeners to the conclusion that the soldier has died at war and the girl he loves will never love again. In the last verse, it describes a reading of a list of those killed in Vietnam while the young girl cries alone after the boy’s name is read. The chorus is then repeated twice, with the last line stating “never more to be alone when the letter said a soldier’s coming home.” These clues lead the audience to the conclusion that the boy was killed and that the only one who cared was the girl. The lyrics used in the song have some clarity in leading the audience to this conclusion, but falter in the last verse and the chorus. The audience must listen closely to the lyrics, “crying all alone under the stands…. one name read but nobody really cared, but a pretty little girl” and “never more to be alone when the letter said a soldier’s coming home” in order to understand that the soldier has died and the girl was alone in mourning.
The use of this structure and clarity allows the narrator to describe the negative effects of the war on soldiers and their loved ones and the emotions they feel. The girl crying alone shows that she is heartbroken over the young soldier’s death –she’s “never gonna hold the hand of another guy” because this young soldier is the only man she’ll ever love. For this reason, the young man’s life isn’t the only one that is over. The girl’s life is also over in a sense because she will never be able to experience the “young love” that many people feel and she may never marry and have a family because her one true love is dead. The symbolism shows that the Dixie Chicks want the audience to understand that war not only ruins the lives of these soldiers, but also the lives of the ones who love them. When a soldier dies, their parents lose a child, their siblings lose a brother or sister, their husband or wife loses their partner, and their children lose their mother or father.
“Travelin’ Soldier” uses emotion to relay the message and does so through ornamentation and delivery of their song. The song opens with a single, soft guitar strum before Maines begins to sing gently and slowing, introducing the sad and heartbreaking feeling of the song. The first and second verses feature only Maine’s voice and the guitar, continuing the calm nature of the song. The chorus then begins immediately after the second verse and although it is louder and faster, it is still quiet and slow. This allows the song to build, but indicates that this is not the climax. The third verse introduces the banjo and percussion and is faster and louder than the first two. The song repeats the chorus, but this time, Maines puts emphasis on the word “home” by making her voice louder and holding the note, stressing the idea of home. The whiny sound of the fiddle during the instrumental section continues the sad nature of the song and gives the audience time to think about the words of the chorus. The fourth verse describes the reading of the soldier’s name in a list of those who died in Vietnam and because it is quieter than the chorus, the audience can easily feel the gloom of the verse.
The chorus is then sung twice. The firs time, Maines between the words “to” and come” in the line “waiting for the soldier to come back again.” When the chorus is repeated it is much louder and Maines slows when she sings “travelin’ soldier” and raises her pitch, putting emphasis on this word. She then pauses before “come back again” and holds the word “home”. Through these stylistic differences, the audience is able to feel the emotion and subconsciously focus on important words.
Through the use of style, the Dixie chicks are able to show the sentiment of the song while leading the audience to the conclusion that the girl and the boy have fallen in love, but can never be together because he has been killed in Vietnam. The song makes the audience think about the effects of war through the lyrics and the emotions of the song and shows that war is detrimental to both soldiers and their families. The song relays this information relatively clearly, but the audience does have to think some in order to understand what is going on, which adds to the emotion and feeling that the song is trying to relay.
|0:00||Introduction||Guitar strum||The song opens with one single guitar strum and then Maines immediately begins to sing|
|0:02||Verse 1||“two days past eighteen”||Just Maines’ voice and the guitar in the background. Very calm and relaxed. Gives the background to the story and sets the mood|
|0:36||Verse 2||“So they went down..”||Guitar leads into this verse. Gets a little bit louder and faster. Gets more into it and build up the emotion|
|0:56||Chorus||“I cried”||Immediately goes into it. Louder. Backup singers. Builds up more and shows the emotion and depth of what they’re singing about.|
|1:29||Verse 3||“So the letters…”||Unlike first two verses, there is the banjo too. Louder than the first two and more fast paced.|
|2:02||Chorus||“I cried”||Immediately goes into it again. As loud and intense as the last chorus. More emphasis on the last word of the chorus, “home”|
|2:30||Instrumental||Banjo and Fiddle||Makes the listeners think about what they’re saying in the chorus. Brings out the emotion and leads back into the story very slowly and quietly|
|3:08||Verse 4||“One friday night..”||Very quiet, even more quiet than the first voice. Mainly just Maine’s voice and some guitar. Has a small instrumental part as a moment of silence as mentioned in the song|
|3:45||Chorus||“I cried”||Louder than the other choruses. More emphasis on certain words and pauses before others.|
|4:11||Chorus||“I cried”||Even louder. Slows at “travelin soldier” and raises pitch. Pauses before “come back again” holds “home”|
|4:43||Outro||Violin and drums and some banjo||Makes listener think about story. Sounds like a military march.|
Reid, Jan. The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 2010. Ebook.
Willman, Chris. Rednecks and Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music. New York: The New Press, 2005. Ebook.