In 2004, Bruce Springsteen performed at rallies for presidential candidate John Kerry. And in 2007, on his Magic album, he released “Last to Die,” which takes its title from a famous speech Kerry gave to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.
In ’71, Kerry — who had served as a Purple Heart-winning Navy lieutenant in the Vietnam War, which was still going on — was a spokesman for the organization, Vietnam Veterans Against the War. In the most famous part of his speech, Kerry said:
“Each day, to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam, someone has to give up his life so that United States doesn’t have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we cannot say that we’ve made a mistake. Someone has to die so that President Nixon won’t be, and these are his words, ‘the first [American] President to lose a war.’
“And we are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? But we’re trying to do that …”
In the song, presumably set in the War in Iraq, Kerry’s voice “from long ago” is heard “drifting up” from a radio, amid horrific wartime scenes.
“We don’t measure the blood we’ve drawn anymore/We just stack the bodies outside the door,” sings Springsteen.
He adds later, “The sun sets in flames as the city burns.”
Lots of songs on Magic — including “Livin’ in the Future,” “Long Walk Home,” “Devil’s Arcade” and the title track — can be interpreted as concerned or angry comments on the direction of American political and social life was taking at the time. But “Last to Die” is its most direct, forceful anti-war song. A protest song, pure and simple.
“The wise men were all fools,” sings Springsteen, making his point as bluntly as he can.
Background facts: Springsteen released “Last to Die” on his 2007 album, Magic. According to Brucebase, he performed it 108 times between 2007 and 2013.
On each of the 70 days leading up to Bruce Springsteen’s 70th birthday (on Sept. 23, 2019), NJArts.net will do a post on one of The Boss’ best songs of the last 30 years. We’re starting with No. 70 and working our way up. For more on the project, click here.
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