In announcing his new upcoming album High Hopes on his website, Bruce Springsteen wrote about one of the songs on the album and the inspiration for the song. After explaining that he wrote “The Wall” after visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., he describes how the song was inspired by his memories of fellow New Jersey musician Walter Cichon (pronounced Sha-SHONE). First, Springsteen tells how Cichon played in a local band called the Motifs.
Walter was one of the great early Jersey Shore rockers, who along with his brother Ray (one of my early guitar mentors) led the ”Motifs”. The Motifs were a local rock band who were always a head above everybody else. Raw, sexy and rebellious, they were the heroes you aspired to be. But these were heroes you could touch, speak to, and go to with your musical inquiries. Cool, but always accessible, they were an inspiration to me, and many young working musicians in 1960′s central New Jersey.
Below is a 1966 recording of the Motifs singing “If I Gave You Love.”
But there is more to the story. On his website, Springsteen continues discussing what happened to Walter and how it has affected him through the years.
Though my character in “The Wall” is a Marine, Walter was actually in the Army, A Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Infantry. He was the first person I ever stood in the presence of who was filled with the mystique of the true rock star. Walter went missing in action in Vietnam in March 1968. He still performs somewhat regularly in my mind, the way he stood, dressed, held the tambourine, the casual cool, the freeness. The man who by his attitude, his walk said “you can defy all this, all of what’s here, all of what you’ve been taught, taught to fear, to love and you’ll still be alright.” His was a terrible loss to us, his loved ones and the local music scene. I still miss him.
Springsteen has played “The Wall” in concert a few times, including this performance below from New Jersey on November 16, 2005. As in Springsteen’s other songs about the Vietnam War, the song captures the complex emotions still attached to the war, just the way that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, i.e. “the Wall,” does. In the song, Springsteen remembers how “Billy” and his band “Was the best thing this shit town ever had.” And he recounts how the war took that all away: “As the rain falls / And apology and forgiveness have no place here at all.” Before playing the song in the video clip, he explains the inspiration further.
You may read more about Walter’s service and disappearance on the POW Network website, and his photo is on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website. “The Wall” is a beautiful song, with a touching back story. Like others, we look forward to the official release.
Photo via National Park Service.
What do you think of “The Wall”? Leave your two cents in the comments.
(Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)